A little bit about me

How to Everest…and not want to throw your bike in a fire straight after

Everesting is actually just an eating competition on a bike. If you want to complete this and not be in an 8,848-m deep hole by the end, then you need to be chewing almost as much as you’re pedalling.

I didn’t know until about August that in September I’d be attempting to Everest. If you follow my socials then you’ll know I was training to ride the Tour de France a day ahead of the pro men with the InternationElles, an amateur women’s cycling team whose goal is to protest about the many inequalities in cycling.

L to R: Heather, Jules, Rhian, Me, Lucy, Lou, JA, Jen, Carmen and Michelle aka the InternationElles 2020

Due to the COVID pandemic, our plans were foiled and we decided to do a Plan B. As a team of 10 (dispersed across the UK, America, the Netherlands and Australia) we were to cover the distance of the TdF as fast as possible, in a relay, on a virtual platform. After a day’s rest, each InternationElle was then going to attempt to do an Everest or a vEverest.

Everesting has been placed into our lives and vocabularies by Hells 500, aka The Keepers of the Clouds, and ‘is a fiendishly simple concept, and a fiendishly difficult ride to complete. Pick any climb, anywhere in the world and ride repeat after grinding repeat until you have notched up 8,848m vert. In one ride.’ vEveresting is the exact same concept, but you can ride a hill on a virtual platform and complete the challenge on your turbo trainer.

Me on a turbo looking worriedd.
My face at the thought of vEveresting. Huge kudos to my team mates, Heather, JA and Michelle who completed the feat on turbo trainers.

If six of our team completed an Everest/vEverest then cumulatively, we’d have covered the elevation of the entire TdF.

Pretty. Cool.

By the way, this isn’t about training for an Everest, but about getting things right on the day. If anyone wants to know about my training, just let me know!

Alright, let’s get to it! My seven S’s of Everesssssssting:

  1. Strategy

As with most endurance events, fitness is just one aspect. Planning and meticulous attention to detail are critical. And, like any sporting challenge, there are rules. You can check all the nitty-gritty out on the Hells 500 website, but the main ones are 1) ride 8,848m 2) do it on one hill 3) do it in one ride (i.e. no sleep) 4) only entire ascents count.

Lou Gibson, aka InternationElles Boss, picked the climb, recce’d it, checked the segment, calculated the ascents required and double-triple-checked with Hells 500 that the planned number of reps (27) would definitely get us there. To add a cherry on top, she contacted a friend nearby who ensured there wouldn’t be any road works or issues that might prevent us using the whole climb. If you’re going to attempt an Everest, I’d definitely recommend putting in lots of groundwork at the planning stage.

Lou Gibson!
  1. Support

If you’re lucky enough to have people around you that will allow themselves to be roped into helping with mad challenges like this, grab them with both hands and book their calendar out for the day (and night). The less time you spend off the bike, the sooner you’ll be done. So, a support squad come in really handy for passing you food, filling bottles, grabbing layers or lights, driving to nearby villages for ‘emergency chips’ and generally getting you through the ordeal in one piece.

Not only does a support squad cover off the sustenance side of things, but seeing friendly faces, and even riding with supporters for some of the ride, will really help you mentally. To do an Everest is challenging. To do it alone is legendary. Kudos to all the soloists out there, particularly our non UK-based riders, JA, Carmen, Heather, Michelle and Jen who all did exactly that. The Wales-based group were so lucky to have Rob, Mow, George, Gareth and Lesley supporting us for the entire event, as well as guest appearances from Katie, Juliet, Ava and her dad, Daren, Clare, Lisa, Louise and a few others whose names I’m afraid I didn’t catch. To all of you – the biggest of thanks!!

Gareth and Lesley cheering us on from the very beginning – 04:00 am!!
  1. Snacking

Everesting is actually just an eating competition on a bike. If you want to complete this and not be in an 8,848-m deep hole by the end, then you need to be chewing almost as much as you’re pedalling. It’s likely you’ll be riding for many, many hours, so I’d suggest having as big a variety of food as you can muster. I’d really recommend as many real foods as possible too; gels and energy products should be last-ditch emergency options IMHO. They wreak havoc with your insides and you just can’t fill your bod with all that processed crapola and then expect it to be hunky dory. Pack sandwiches and wraps, crisps, cereal bars, chocolate, nuts, sweets, fruit, CHIPS…just things that you’ll actually want to eat. If you’re somewhere cold or going late into the night, have hot water in a thermos to make warm drinks or noodles/soup.

Eating is everything.

Hoovering some* banana bread.

*A lot.
  1. Sensible

It’s easier said than done, but just hold your horses, okay. Setting off like a rocket isn’t going to serve you. It’s a mountain, not a molehill. So just take your time, settle in and find a rhythm. I knew from coach Ken, that if I sat at a specific heart rate and ate, ate, ate (see above) then I should be able to complete the distance. So even though your brain is saying, ‘Go on, babes. Just smash a few quick reps out because then it’ll be over sooner.’ IGNORE IT. Pacing is paramount. The fact is, it’s going to take a while, so just sit in and get used to that thought. Hurrying up now will probably slow you down later.

Even though we’d all trained separately during the year, the group stayed together for the vast majority of the ride, with mechanicals being the thing that caused us to become slightly separated towards the end.
  1. Spares

Make sure you’re ready for anything. Spare lights if your batteries run out. Spare tubes in case you get a puncture. Spare food in case you eat more than you think. Spare bike in case yours really has a tantrum… (This isn’t necessarily realistic for everyone, but InternationElle, Jules had issues with her gears and ended up jumping on Rob’s bike, which was brought along just in case). A spare set (or two) of kit. I put a whole new outfit on at about half-way through and it felt like a new lease of life! Basically, if space isn’t an issue, bring as much as you can to cover any possible scenario.

I ended up with a head torch on as my front light was flickering ominously with a couple of ascents to go!
  1. Smile

If you’re doing an Everest, mind-set is mega important because ‘Your mind gives up long before your body does.’ (Unknown author, sorry, sorry). If you get into a neggy brain space, then your chances of succeeding hit the floor. If you’ve followed suggestion 4, then you should be safe in the knowledge that you’ll complete the challenge (accidents and mechanicals aside), but it won’t prevent you from having low moments. Try to distract yourself if you’re going down a rabbit-hole of pessimism. Think about why you might be doing the challenge. Think about what treats you’ll have when you’ve finished. Listen to some music. Have a little chat – whether that’s with yourself or a fellow rider. Eat a bit more. Take a deep, cleansing breath. Namaste. Everesting is an emotional rollercoaster, so buckle up and settle in for the ride.

Gosh, I miss this!
  1. Celebrate!  (I know, I know, but… “sel-a-brate”)

Enjoy the little milestones.

Woo, daylight!

Yay, quarter of the way there!

Wow, I really love this 19th mini malt loaf. So. Delicious…

Huzzah! Half way!! Etc. etc.

These little outbursts of joy will give you boosts and get you from one milestone to the next. Before you know it, you’ll be celebrating the biggest milestone of them all – the finish. And what a feeling that is! A mixture of relief, disbelief, joy…and probably a bit sick.

Also, tired.

In the end, my moving time was 15 hours and 54 minutes, and the elapsed time was 17 hours 36 minutes. Check out the Strava file here.

Onwards to chips!

I hope these little tipples will be helpful if you decide to take on this awesome challenge. The thing that’s ace is you can just decide to do it and then…just go do it. You don’t even need to tell anyone beforehand. You can do it slowly or quickly, by yourself or in a group. Near home or somewhere you’ve never been. If you’re struggling with the current lack of certainty in the future, perhaps setting yourself this challenge is the answer?!

All I know is, you’ll finish and say, “I’m never doing that again!” and then 2-3 days later you’ll be planning where to do your next one…

We certainly are!

J x

Dream Team. Fingers crossed for next year and riding the full Tour de France with the whole of the team!

Lots of lovely links to go and look at:

Our Equality video: Click me

Katie Kookaburra’s video: Click me

Juliet Elliott’s video: Click me

Lou’s post: Click me

Circuits Royale: For Littles!

This is a REALLY short blog post. More of a continuation than a post…

After unleashing Circuits Royale into the internet, I had literally twos of messages from parents requesting a kid’s version. WELL, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I set to work and transformed it into a fun activity for little people that might help pass some time during this… coronavirus hiatus.

Just like the Original Version, you can make this last as long as you want to suit you and your minis – it all depends on how many times you throw the dice.

How does it work?

  • Firstly, decide whether you want to include all of the columns (Let’s Pretend [pretty active], Animal Moves [also pretty active] and Body Shapes [more chill]).
  • Then, with the columns you’re including, decide which order you’ll do them in.
  • Now it’s time to roll the dice!
  • If you’ve decided to do all 3 columns, in the order they’re shown and you roll 4, 1, 6, 2, 2, 5 your activity will look like this:
  • Sailing a boat, Jump like a frog, Arrow shape, Astronaut on the moon, Walk like a bear, Make a star shape.
  • Alternatively, you can just do one at a time, picking a column and throwing the dice.
  • Basically, you can play however you like!

I’ve included a suggestion for how long to spend doing the different movements, but that’s really up to you too (and their attention spans).

You don’t need any apparatus, just a bit of space, which can be inside or outside!

I hope you find it useful and, most of all, loads of fun.

Hugs,
J x

Circuits Royale

Hello Friends,

I started writing this whilst sat in Alicante Airport waiting to fly home from Spain. I was feeling lots of feelings at that moment and one of those was guilt. Perhaps we were blinded by our eagerness to get out and ride in the sun, but I didn’t really ever think about not going. I’m hoping that by travelling to/from Spain we haven’t put ourselves or others in unnecessary danger. There’s not much we can do now, other than take all the right precautions.

We live a pretty isolated existence as it is, residing in a small village and working from home, so, in that sense, our lives won’t change much. But lung health in my immediate family isn’t the best, so I’m definitely going to be keeping my distance for the foreseeable.

I’ve been meaning to include this next thing in a blog post for a while and I suppose now is a pretty good time. At the moment, the UK government isn’t prohibiting outdoor sports, so absolutely keep riding, running, walking, exploring whilst you can. It’s a perfect way to keep the brain and bod happy, and as long as you don’t go out in a big group, is a great way to adhere to any isolating measures you might need to take.

However, if anything changes and we’re confined to our homes (or even if we aren’t), here’s a fun twist on strength and conditioning that I thought up a while ago to try and motivate myself to keep on top of basic strength and mobility.

It’s called Circuits Royale!

NOW, I’ve created it as part of my training towards riding the TdF, meaning all the exercises are geared (pun not really intended, but I’ll take it) towards cycling. If you like the idea, but not the cycling specificity, then by all means use the structure and incorporate your own moves.

Firstly, decide a rough outline of how long you want to spend training, maybe you have a few minutes to spare after your run or turbo session, or perhaps you’ve got 45 minutes to really go full HAM on your muscles.

Then the rest is down to chance! OoooooOOoooh.

You’ll need a dice (just a standard 1-6 one, not one of those mad shaped ones that goes up to like 20) and either a screen or a print out of the following:

I know you can’t read this, but it’s colourful. Click the link above to download the more visible version!

As you can see, exercises are grouped into Core, Glutes and Mobility.

Each row corresponds to a number between 1 and 6.

How many exercises you’ll do will depend on how long you want to spend (I’d recommend a minimum of 15 minutes a couple of times per week).

You can pick which order you do the columns in, but I recommend alternating between the columns, so you don’t overload one area.

For example: I want my circuit to be: Mobility, Core, Glutes, Mobility, Core, Glutes…

Now roll the dice!

Let’s say you roll a 5, then a 2 and then a 6.

You could leave it at that and do multiple rounds of Hip Opener (and balance), Plank: Toe Tap and Alternate Lunges.

Or you could roll 6 times and get a more varied circuit. It’s really up to you!

Do all the dice rolling before you start, and memorise/note down your circuit – that way you know the full extent of what you’re doing before you get going.

And that’s that! The beauty of the dice roll is that you can’t favour the exercises you like and ignore the ones you don’t. And every training session is slightly different. Yayyyy.

Don’t mind me, just being REALLY strong.

If you decide to do this regularly, I’d recommend progressing the circuit over time, so you’ll really see improvements. You can do this by:

  • Adding more exercises into your circuit
  • Increasing the number/length of reps
  • Reducing recovery time between exercises
  • Adding weights e.g. a can of (stockpiled) soup in each hand, or a backpack filled with books!
  • You can also do Stage Training, where you do all 3 sets of one exercise before moving onto the next (CORE CORE CORE, GLUTE GLUTE GLUTE…etc. You’ll really feel the burn)                        

What is a rep?

If you’re doing Bird Dogs for example, the spreadsheet states 8 on each side; so, that’s 16 reps altogether.

For something like a Plank, where you perform a sustained movement, one rep = 30 seconds.

What is a set?

A set groups together all the reps of one type of exercise. So, if you do 3 sets of Bird Dogs, you’ll do 8 on each side, 3 times, separated by rest and/or other exercises.

Some notes…

All these exercises can be found online, so if you need a demo, head to Google and type in the exercise name.

You’ll need a resistance band for some of them, these are cheap to buy or you’ll probably have got one from a physio at some point!

A yoga mat might make some exercises more comfortable to perform.


A few weeks ago, we printed this out, stuck it on the wall and left a dice in the room with the turbos in, so if the mood takes us, we can just chuck the dice and see what fate has in store for our tums, bums and joints!

I hope you like the idea! Please share it with your friends, families and team mates, and let me know if it helps to get you in the habit of doing a bit of strength and mobility. No matter who you are or what your goals might be, these kinds of movements are pretty useful for good posture and efficient movement.

That weight was actually 5,608kg so.

Why not organise to do a circuit session #TogetherButApart. You can set a time, call your pals on Skype/FaceTime/WhatsApp video and lunge, squat, cat-cow simultaneously?

OR instead of a dice, ask someone to pick a number between 1 and 6 for you. They can be your coach without knowing what a Boat Crunch even is.

This next **unknown period of time** is going to be strange and new for all of us. I know a lot of events are already cancelled and many things will continue to be up in the air for a while, but we’re going to have to find ways to keep positive, stay busy and I’m certain we’ll all come out the other side just fine (and with bodies of STEEL after intense Circuit Royale-ing).

Stay well. Be good. Thanks for reading!

J x

Route Planning for the Navigationally Stunted

A little while ago I blogged about all the many apps I use and rely on for my outdoor activities. One of those was Komoot, which is my preferred app when it comes to routing.

I’m not a great navigator. At all. I’m that person you see in the street, staring at their phone, slowly rotating until the little pointy thing on the screen sends me in the right direction. I also don’t know where the compass points are unless I chant, ‘Never Ever Support Wednesday’ whilst jabbing at the air in a clockwise direction. It’s quite embarrassing really, especially since I was a Girl Guide for years, but the map reading stuff just went right over my head as I mainly wanted to light fires.

I didn’t get the navigating patch. Oddly. Really good at fire though.

Anywho. Since I’ve been a bicyclist, I’ve managed to get by pretty well by conveniently going on rides with people who know where they’re going OR having navigationally blesséd mates who appear to enjoy making routes even when they’re not coming on the ride. I have tried to use other apps to create routes, but without much luck and lots of frustration as I accidentally delete what feels like hours of painstaking mouse clicking.

More recently, however, I’ve started to dabble in creating routes on Komoot and I’m proud to announce I now feel confident enough to do it. You can tell it what type of sport you’re doing and it’ll use magic algorithms to suggest the best routes. Since moving to the Peaks, it’s been a great way to discover roads, lanes, gravel paths and bridleways. I use it when I’m trail running too.

So, when Ele from Komoot asked whether I wanted to take part in their Spring Campaign, I said, “Heck yes!” So, I’m sharing with you all a route that I’ve created on Komoot for my longest ride whilst I’m away on Training Camp. On the final day (savage) after a week and a half of riding (savage) Coach Ken has put in a 6-hour ride (savage).

There are a few things I need to achieve on this ride, such as a hill climb at threshold, minimal stops and… some more climbs throughout the ride. It’s going to be hot and I’ll probably need to eat and refill my bottles, so café stop(s) and water fountains will be useful. I also don’t want to be caught out by any super busy, scary roads, or by a random single-track/gravel section. This is where Komoot really comes into its own.

There are 5 different map views (including Open Cycle Map and Google Satellite) in Komoot, which allow you to see exactly the types of road you’ll be riding on. Once you’ve created your loop, Komoot also categorises every way-type and surface. I’m looking for zero Single-track and as much Road and Cycleway as possible.

The Highlight function is really cool too. It’s a collection of fun roads, impressive views, interesting monuments, bike-friendly food stops etc. etc. recommended by other Komoot users, which show up on the map as little red blobs. At the click of a button you can choose to include them on your route and they’ll be incorporated.

Finding Coffee – ALWAYS critical.

The final function I’ll mention that I find super useful is the ability to ‘Replan This Tour’. This opens a copy of the route, which you can then make changes to without fear of losing the original route. It’s a really nice way to check out all your options (e.g. when I think I’m shortening a route by dragging the waypoints in a different way, it always seems to get longer because I’ve accidentally included an extra giant climb. Classique).

We’re planning to do this ride on Monday 16th March, which is the last day of camp, so look out for the completed route then. But, in the meantime, if you haven’t checked out Komoot yet, definitely give it a look and make friends with me on there! You can find me here: HERE and we can look at each other’s rides.

And this is the route I’ve made if you want to check it out: CLICK

I’ll be posting photos from the rides and there will be a big Training Camp recap blog post once we’re home.

As ever, thanks for reading!

J x

** Update: 15/03/2020 **

Well! I’m sat at my laptop, in a (very) warm apartment in Spain, looking at my route that I had planned to do tomorrow. In the midst of the Corona Virus situation, we’ve been told we’re not allowed to go anywhere unless it’s to get groceries or medication, and anyone found taking part in sports will be fined! So, as much as I love riding my bike, I don’t have €3,000 to spare to risk it.

We’re supposedly going to be allowed to fly home on Tuesday, so I will create a NEW route on Komoot, to enjoy once we’re back in the Peaks. Will post it soon!

Stay safe, stay well.

J x

Naturally Cycling

That’s right! Today’s post I’m talking about periods. Sort of. I’m actually wanting to hone in on the complicated, but prevalent topic of hormonal contraceptives. “WHAT?! WHY?!” I hear you exclaim, “Last week you were talking about turbo training and training apps, and now you want me to sit here and read about PERIODS and THE PILL?”  

Yes, folks, I do.  And if you are a person that doesn’t have periods/take the Pill, then I hope you still carry on reading, because there’s a very high chance that people close to you do/are. I want to shed light on this topic in the context of sport and exercise, because I think we are vastly and hugely under-informed. Through no fault of our own, I might add. The science world has done a number on us over the years. Not including women in studies, essentially because it’s too awkward. Yes. The fact that women have menstrual cycles/hormonal fluctuations makes it more difficult to control study parameters, so the solution tends to be, you know, just don’t include them. FANTASTIC. However, the (sort of) good news is, in 2016 the National Institute of Health (NIH) mandated that ‘…any research money it granted must include female animals.’ Well, that’s a start, I suppose.

This post shouldn’t be too long (she says), because I can’t possibly do the subject matter justice and I don’t want to be having to write a reference list, bibliography and getting a peer review, if you know what I meannn.

The purpose is to introduce you to some of the things that blew my mind, prompted me make a pretty big decision, which I’ll tell you about, and point you towards the pieces of writing I have read (or am currently reading). I hope that you’ll go away from this post inspired to read a little more, dig a little deeper and potentially discover some things you didn’t already know.

Back in November I picked up a copy of Roar by Dr. Stacy Sims, whose mantra is ‘Women are not small men.’ Touching on the idea that you can’t study men and simply extrapolate the findings to women. [Please note, when I say Men and Women in this post, I’m referring to the chromosomal basis of gender: males (XX) and females (XY)]. Roar is the first thing you should put on your reading list, okay? Write that down. It is an extremely interesting book about how women can enhance their training by monitoring their menstrual cycle and working with it. She describes it as an ergogenic aid (broadly defined as ‘a technique or substance used for the purpose of enhancing performance’). For example, knowing that at certain times of the month, we respond better to high intensity training and at other times to endurance. It suggests how best to fuel at certain times of the month and when it’s critical to keep an eye on protein intake.

If you’re not a big reader or don’t have a lot of time, then check out this YouTube video or this Podcast (there are more, just Google her name).  Whilst I was making my way studiously through this fascinating book, I came across a SHOCKING stat.

In a study of women on the Pill vs. women not on the Pill, those that were on the Pill experienced 50% less muscle gain during the same duration and type of training than the women that were not on the Pill. WHAT!? To me that was insane. I’d dedicated a LOT of my youth to competitive running and the idea that I’d potentially scuppered myself for no real reason made me pretty mad.

I had been on and off various types of Pill for years. Since I was about 17 when I got it to help bring some regularity into my life. It wasn’t a form of contraception back then (I was too busy running all the time for boyfriends), just a way for me to not get caught out (I also thought my boobs might grow, but no luck there). Also, everybody was on it, so it seemed like the obvious thing to do.

This is where my first issue lies. The GP I saw way back when, was quite happy to prescribe me the Pill, she told me how to take it and that I would need to come back in a few weeks to check that my blood pressure was okay. Other than that, I wasn’t given any other information. She didn’t ask me about my lifestyle or whether I was sporty etc. etc. This is NOT meant to be a slur against my GP or any GPs anywhere, I know they are under immense pressure and simply do not have the time to spend hours talking about this kind of thing. But I think the Pill has become something that women are expected to be on and, actually, we should be educated far more about it and given a lot more guidance around what might be best on an individual basis. Whether that’s in school or at a special clinic, I don’t know. But it’s a far bigger commitment than the 10-minute (if you’re lucky) appointment at the docs.

“[the contraceptive Pill is] a vast uncontrolled experiment, unparalleled in the history of medicine.”

Barbara Seaman, 1969
How I feel about vast uncontrolled experiments.

I had no idea that taking this tiny Pill would have such an effect on my entire body. I had no idea it would affect my sports performance (I genuinely wouldn’t have gone on it) and I certainly had no notion that if I felt like crap on it, that was normal, in fact, very probable, and I could come back and try another one. And another one. And another one… if need be, to find one that suited me better. It was just assumed (hoped) that I’d be fine and not come back.

Do you know there are 42 different types of hormonal contraceptive? No. I didn’t either. I learned that the other day in this book: This Is Your Brain on Birth Control, by Sarah Hill. This is the second book for your reading list. This one is less sports based and focuses on the numerous ways in which hormonal contraceptives addle our brains; how they influence our decision making, ability to react to stress, our capacity to retain information, who we are attracted to (and vice versa) and how we feel about our appearance, whilst also physically changing our appearance (weight, chest size, skin). Some of these things you might have experienced, and quite happily and consciously put it down to Pill taking, but some of these side-effects might be affecting you without you really knowing it…

* Jess you said you would keep this short *

Okay, yes, yes. SO. For a while I’d been feeling not quite myself. George and I had been going through a lot; moving house, changing jobs, deciding to do ridiculous cycle challenges, and I kept describing to him that I didn’t feel right. I felt fuzzy. Cloudy.

Flat.

Actual image of my brainium.

I thought I was just not coping very well with all the change, and was just waiting for it to pass once we’d settled into our life properly. I was also enduring a ‘period’ (actually a withdrawal bleed. Hormonal contraceptives suppress your genuine period) every two weeks pretty much, preceded by a week feeling physically in pain in various parts of my bod. NOT JOYOUS. Again, I just kept telling myself it would eventually pass.

But after reading that fact in Roar (the one about the 50% less muscle gain) I started to wonder whether I was feeling so odd because something tiny and shoved inside my right inner arm 18 months previously was having more power over me than I could ever have imagined. With this big TdF challenge looming ahead, I didn’t want to encumber myself in any way, especially when I was seemingly experiencing so many other downsides.

Possibly the worst selfie ever taken? Possibly. I think I sent this to George, like, “LOOK AT MY MASSIVE WOUND.” But it was quite deep and has left a scar.

THUSLY (great word), I decided in December to have the tiny monstrosity extracted from my arm. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but the Doctor was literally digging around in there for what felt like hours until she triumphantly raised the match-sized BRAIN-FOGGER into the air.

“Got it!”

She asked why I wanted it out and I explained that I’d done some reading and had decided I wasn’t too happy about what I thought the hormones were doing to me. That I believed I wasn’t myself whilst it was in there and, also, I wanted to get hench.

Just kidding! I will literally never be hench.

50% more muscle please.

She was pretty keen for me to go back on some other type of hormonal contraceptive, but I said, ‘No thanks.’ And skedaddled. I know too much now and I’m not going to put myself through it again. Plus, there are other ways and means for, you know, stuff…and things… *awkward snuffle*.

Also, I’m intrigued to see whether I notice any differences in my performance now I’m synthetic-hormone free and having normal periods. [Check out this article about the England football team training around their menstrual cycles (nice one, Neville)].

It’s been a couple of months now and I can honestly say I feel so much better. The brain fog has lifted, I feel more alert, generally happier and my periods come just once a month (hurrah!).

I wanted to write this not to scaremonger (scaremong? Scaremongerize?) or sensationalise. I’m not saying everyone should immediately whip out/halt their hormonal contraceptive (I cannot take responsibility for lots of new born babies, although I WOULD happily cuddle each and every one of them), but I am saying make sure you’re really and truly aware of its influence on you. If you’ve been on one for years and years, it can be hard to know what normal is. If you feel like you’ve been on them all, there are probably others that are better! Keep trying.

So, if this has sparked your interest, definitely read the books and articles I’ve included in this post. Google around, there are more books and more articles, and make sure your brain and body are living their best life.

“By altering our natural hormone levels, the Pill induces in us a different biochemical and psychological stage of life we’re in and may affect our unfoldment thereafter…While it may be difficult to prove the effect that taking the Pill has on our psychological development we can see that through its profound hormonal impact the Pill may also be interfering with the fundamental chemistry of who we are and what we can become”.

Maeve McKeivor, from here

Thanks so much for reading!

J x

Training for the Ride of a Lifetime

I thought I’d do a blog about how I’m preparing for this summer’s trip around France! The challenge is a) keeping it short enough that you don’t fall asleep mid-way through, b) keeping it interesting enough (for the same reasons) and c) including enough info that it’s potentially useful, without giving a blow-by-blow account of every single training session – ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, I did what any Millennial would do and crowdsourced my blog post strategy from Instagram. What did my lovely followers want to know from me about my training for the TdF, if indeed, they wanted to know anything at all? So, I’ll start by responding to the questions from there and then I’ll do some more posts later down the line, filling in any gaps and providing insight on how everything is progressing.

As I type, I’ve completed 38 sessions as prescribed by coach Ken. By way of a very brief background: I spent the summer riding evening Time Trials and doing Road Races on weekends. It was great, but all the high-intensity riding, combined with travel to events and then moving from London to The North, pretty much wiped me out and I needed a gigantic rest once I’d completed my season (which culminated at Revolve24 in September). I took some planned time off, then unfortunately became ill, which lasted for an extra 3 weeks.

We then started riding, hiking and running. Gradually building up some fitness whilst exploring our new surroundings; however, I was finding everything way more difficult than I wanted to, and was becoming exasperated with my apparent lack of fitness! By this time, George and I decided to start working with Ken, who wanted to kick off our training with a baseline test. We did a Ramp Test, which you can watch our video of here. Based on the findings of that, he’s been able to formulate a strategy and create a plan to get me ready!

Coach Ken testing my blood lactate during the Ramp Test last December.

So, onto these questions:

Definitely interested to hear about your training: Types of training. Whether by TSS or time and the amount of training you’re doing.

This first section has been about building my endurance base, whilst getting some consistency of riding into my days. As I was completely out of the routine of regular training, part of this was getting used to fitting in riding most days.

We started with riding 5 days a week and, a couple of weeks ago, that went up to 6 days. My sessions are put into Training Peaks by Ken, and he specifies:

  • Warm up duration
  • Intervals and rest durations
  • Warm down duration
  • I have specific heart rates (HR) and power numbers to hit during the entire session
  • The session will have a TSS associated with it, but I don’t take notice of it pre-session

When I’m training, I use an InfoCrank power meter and a HR strap, which all connect up to my laptop/Wahoo so I can see all my numbers. If I’m indoor, I ride on a RevBox turbo trainer and stare at Zwift on my laptop!

The above graph shows the increase of planned TSS/duration over time. It’s pretty linear, gradually increasing week on week. Week 3 is a bit of an anomaly, as George and I decided to do a 100-km Audax. This racked up over 400 TSS and took almost 6 hours (lol, 2,000m elevation will do that to you) causing that spike. I’m currently in Week 8 and Week 9 is a rest week (yayyyy).

My ramp test results indicated that my ability to work hard at high intensity was pretty good (thanks to the TTs and racing), but my body was pretty confused at the lower intensity zones, producing lactic acid when I wasn’t working that hard. The goal therefore has been to improve my efficiency whilst riding at lower intensities. This has meant lots of rides of 90 mins to 3 hours trying to keep my heart rate nice and low. This has been a challenge. Living in the Peaks is ace, but a flat route doesn’t exist. So, I’ve spent a lot of the time on the turbo, as keeping it easy enough outside has proved pretty difficult. I’m not a huge fan of winter riding, as I get cold easily then stay cold, so the turbo isn’t all bad. But anything over 90 minutes feels pretty. Long. I try to turn this into a positive by considering it as brain training, which I’ll go into for the next question. 

Always good to hear about the mental training, as well as the physical!

A massive part of succeeding in endurance events is overcoming your own brain. Brains are great for lots of things, e.g. engineering, solving crimes, writing haikus, but not really sports, okay.

mage result for your mind gives up long before your body

By expecting your mind to give you a hard time, you can be prepared for it! Here are a few techniques that I’ve developed over the years:

CHUNK IT: Reduce any training session, event or race into bitesize manageable pieces. Create arbitrary mini-goals to aim for and pat yourself on the back when you nail them, then go onto the next chunk. For the TdF itself, I’ll chunk each day into two rides. A ride to lunch. And then a ride to dinner. Straight away that seems much more achievable! You can create chunks around anything and for any duration or distance. It really works.

BANK IT: Everything that happens in the run-up to the main event is experience to draw on. Have an awful day on the bike? Get so incredibly cold you can’t squeeze the brakes? Bonk so monumentally you sob your way to the next petrol station? Destroy your rear mech so you only have one gear to ride 500 miles on? Log these rides in your brain bank. These experiences make for great comparisons later down the line. The more bad experiences you save up, the more other situations will feel easy in comparison.

BLOCK IT: I wouldn’t recommend for real life, but sometimes, when it comes to sport, ignorance is bliss. If thinking about an upcoming goal gives you the jitters, don’t focus in on it too hard. Know the big picture, so you can make sure you’re preparing adequately, but don’t bog yourself down in (scary) details. This may not work for everyone, but it definitely works for me.

OWN IT: It’s easy to compare yourself to everyone else these days. You can see all the stats in the world on apps like Strava and psyche yourself out. Some of the best advice I’ve had about this was at a trail running event back in my running days, and a super, mega ultra-runner essentially said, ‘As long as you get to the start line and believe you have done everything you can do, then it is enough.’ Have confidence in your own process and don’t fret about what other people have done.  

It would be great to hear about how you stay motivated through the winter months, please?

Having something to aim for definitely helps! I’ve always had something in the diary that keeps me going and, in moments where I didn’t really want to train, provides that little pang of fear. You know, ‘Shitttt. In 20-something weeks I need to get through 23 days of mountainous cycling.’  That kind of pang.

Following a plan really works too. If it’s one you’ve created, found online or had specifically created for you, just taking the decision process out of the equation removes one more barrier when your mind is not at its most positive.

Another tool in my box of motivation is essentially this:

mage result for you never regret a workout"

It’s really true. You always, always feel better after getting your HR up and adrenaline pumping. Try to remind yourself of it when you’re not in the mood. The only time you should talk yourself out of training is if you’re ill or injured. In which case, get onto the sofa and snuggle down.

Definitely interested in the training. Most of my rides are Zwift these days.

Zwift is an awesome tool, and I can really see how it’d be easy to get drawn into doing a hard session every time you climb onto the turbo. At the moment, most of my training is on there, as I follow my plan and completely control my output. It also reduces the risk of getting ill (by staying out of the cold and by not overcooking any of my rides) or injured (crashing, ice, crap drivers etc. etc.)

A beautiful day out in the Cold Dark North…

Without knowing anything about you specifically, my general guidance for training is gradually building up the duration, then the intensity and don’t underestimate the importance of recovery rides. That’s where you grasp onto the gains you’ve pedalled towards during the harder sessions. There’s little point doing hard session after hard session after hard session. Your body can’t cope with it and you’ll soon hit a wall, which will present itself as either getting ill, injured or so fatigued your mental health takes a hit.

At the moment, two of my sessions are hard, one is medium-hard and three are super easy. Hope that helps!

Would love to get an idea of maybe how many hours you do, do you kill yourself at every session, how long are the sessions, tips to stay motivated. I hope you share the highs and lows with us, not just the highs of which I’m sure there will be many.

I’m doing between 8 and 12 hours a week on the bike at the moment. I think this will increase slightly, but not majorly. I also do a 1-hour yoga class once a week and try and add in a few rounds of 15-minute strength/stretch/mobility work (usually in front of the telly!)

The shortest ride I’ll do is 90 minutes and the longest is 3 hours. I definitely don’t kill myself every session. Almost the opposite. Everything is pretty steady or controlled threshold efforts (the point just before I create lactic acid). In a few weeks, we’re heading to Calp for warm weather training and I’m going to be doing some back to back, long days to start getting my brain and body used to that side of things.

Staying motivated is a tricky one. Some days I do NOT want to ride (e.g. on a Friday after a long work day), but I just remind myself of why I’m doing it. I tell myself that I always feel good once I’ve done it. I also pat myself on the back. Regularly.

I’ll definitely share all the ins and outs, ups and downs, so keep following the journey on here and my Instagram account.

Some Ups so far have been:

  • Starting to see improvements in my fitness
  • Coping better with spending longer on the bike
  • A glorious ride outside last weekend
  • Finding new routes around the Peaks when I have gone out

Some Downs so far:

  • Riding inside on some BEAUTIFUL days and staring longingly out the window
  • Mechanicals! So far my pedals and cranks have fallen off (you couldn’t make it up) during different rides, meaning I needed saving from the side of the road

More videos about your training and what plan you follow would be great. My biggest problem is every Zwift session is a smash fest. I need help with easy/endurance training through using a turbo / Zwift.

More Vlogs coming soon!

As far as easy/endurance rides are concerned, I completely relate. They are so hard to do on Zwift, more so mentally than physically. However, just yesterday actually, I joined a 100-km Zwift event! I popped myself in the right W/kg group to keep my HR nice and steady, and sat in a nice e-group, chatting on the app amongst ourselves and the time went by pretty quickly! I’d really recommend it.

It’s easy to get carried away on Zwift when people are whizzing by. But just stick to your guns, know your goals and pedal it out!

I’d like to know how to train to climb up hills.

The short answer to this is to just ride up hills. Often. Ride up long ones, short ones, gradual draggy ones and stabby ones. Ride them at the start of rides and at the end of rides. And ride them at your own pace. Find your rhythm, get control of your breathing and focus on each pedal stroke.

Revolve24 – A good mental strength test! Went up this 9% gradient 52 times over the course of the event.

Staying in the saddle as much as possible is good strength training, but make sure you’re comfortable getting out of the saddle too. On long days, it’s important to be able to change position and derive power from a variety of sources. Speaking of which, core strength helps! Make sure you’re getting those planks done in front of the telly!

Right, that’s all for this training blog post! I’ll do another one after warm weather training camp. After what feels like a long winter already, I’m really looking forward to some sunshine and long days on the bike OUTSIDE!!

What are you training for this winter? Are you getting outside a lot or training inside? How do you stay motivated? Let me know in the comments.

J x

Well Connected

There was a time when I used to be a pretty serious runner (you may have heard me go on about it in the past) and it’s crazy to think back on how I went about analysing and recording my training. You see, the thing is, well…I didn’t.

I didn’t keep a training diary, much to the annoyance of my coach. It was just one effort-step too far after a hard track session or a long run, to write down what I’d done and how it felt. I occasionally tried to rectify the situation and would keep a diary for about a week, then I’d forget and return to my usual non-record keeping ways.

I didn’t even wear a watch! I know!! It’s mad now I think back on it. But, when I was training at the track, my coach would shout my times at me as I ran past. The cool thing was how accurately I could pace myself, everything from a 200m rep upward, I could run through the line bang on target almost every time, based purely on feel.

No watch! Pure happy though.

If I was off out for a longer run, I’d check the clock on the wall at home, head out of the door on a route I approximately knew the length of and would check the clock when I got back home. I didn’t carry a phone (e.g. Nokia 3210) either, so the usual conversation as I left was:

Mum: “How long should I leave it before I get worried?”

Me: “Expect me back in an hour, start wondering where I’ve got to in 90 mins and call the police if I’m not back in 2 hours.”

Ahhhh, such simple times.

Fast forward a few years and a change in sport, and I’m writing a blog post about the myriad training apps and gadgets that accompany my every pedal stroke.

mage result for that escalated quickly"

So, here goes!

Strava

Every. Single. Thing. I do gets uploaded to Strava. Pretty much immediately. It happens automagically, once I complete some kind of activity, and zings straight out of my watch or bike computer and into the ether. I then have to quickly name the thing (because you can’t possibly leave it as Morning Ride, no siree) and assess whether I’ve achieved any crowns, trophies, or little medals. Not going to lie, I don’t care for the medals, but those symbols of trophies and gold crowns under an activity got me like:

mage result for smug meme"

I mainly like Strava. It’s a fun, stalker-ish way of seeing what your mates are up to and, if I’m in the right frame of mind, appeals to my competitive nature with its segments and rewards. I must admit though, if I’m ill or injured or not exercising for some reason, I don’t go on Strava. I do naaat want to see everyone’s activities because I get jealous!

Want to be Strava friends? Find me here.

Training Peaks

This is fully Bizzniss. Some serious shit goes on in here, most of which I don’t understand. There are a lot of graphs, calendars, scales, boxes, sections… Coach Ken has access to this app too and this is how he sets my training for me. I can see all the things I’ve done and how well (or not well) I did them and look ahead to what I’ve got coming up. The combo of data from my heart rate monitor (which I MUST wear at ALL times) and power meter, as well as the individual comments I input after every ride all inform Coach K of how I’m progressing and allow him to make decisions on what comes next. This is purely personal, there’s no community aspect. No one can give me a thumbs-up or follow my progress, it’s just me and coach and lots and lots of SCIENCE.

Komoot

This is my route planning app of choice. I’m not a great route planner. It’s an art. A skill I don’t really possess. I’m a bit too slapdash so, when I used to route plan with Strava, often found myself riding along less than ideal roads wondering if there really needed to be this many cars along with me. However, since Komoot came into my life (and my phone) things have significantly improved. It’s very much centred around adventure and exploration, encouraging users to share Highlights, with pictures and descriptions of wonderful roads and tracks they’ve found. Then, people like me can just click click click and join together all these Highlights to create an epic ride.

Wahoo

This is part app part hardware. For those that may not know, Wahoo is a brand of little bike computers. I got mine about two and a half years ago and onto it I can load routes, so I know where to go! It’ll also show me lots of numbers (SCIENCE) to make sure I ride hard enough or not too hard and, if I brave a training session outside, I can get it to beep at me when I need to do intervals. Magic. The app on my phone is how I tell it what to do. It also stores my zones (HR and power), as well as my age, weight and various other metrics, which enables it to work out calories burned and whatnot. Essentially it knows everything. It’s all very clever and is a far cry from my watchless days of years gone by.

Zwift

Okay, Zwift is an app I use more than I’d like. At the moment, it’s where I do most of my training during the week. From the comfort (well, I mean, I’m still sat on a saddle) of my own home I can ride around in imaginary worlds ‘with’ other cyclists who are also sat at home too. You can have little chats (although I still haven’t really joined in), organise group rides (like the NGNM Women’s Ride every Wednesday evening plug plug), climb Alpe d’Huez (Alpe du Zwift) and generally turn what can be a bit of a boring stationary bike ride, into a mildly enjoyable, sort of sociable experience. If I lived somewhere perpetually warm and sunny, I probably wouldn’t need Zwift, but I don’t, so I do.

FitrWoman

The more I read the (very small amount of) research around women’s physiology and the specific ways we can enhance our training (and lives) by harnessing the natural advantages afforded to us by our menstrual cycle, the more I want to track it alongside my activities and feelings. The FitrWoman app allows you to input your period, add any symptoms, such as bloating, sore boobs, foul mood, and all that other fun stuff, and advises you on what type of training you should focus on (endurance, high intensity, weight training) and how best to fuel and recover (fats vs. carbs vs. protein). It will also synch with Strava so you can see how you’re affected by your menstrual cycle. I won’t try to explain it here, because it’d take pages and pages and I wouldn’t do it justice, but if you have periods, definitely check this app out! It’s free and so SO interesting.

It does feel slightly excessive, as I write all this out, but this app accumulation has happened gradually over time, to the point where I didn’t really realise how many different ones I was relying on. There’s definitely something to be said for exercising… naked, as it were, without a watch or monitor of any kind. Learning to perceive your effort and pace, and locate yourself within the surroundings.

But at the moment I think all these platforms add value to what I’m trying to achieve on my bike. Part of me would like to be less connected, to spend more time thinking about what I saw and experienced rather than what speed I rode or whether I got a Peak Power. But the sports scientist in me likes to see data.

And the very bad navigator in me needs maps.

Perhaps once I’ve completed The Big Challenge in Summer, I’ll switch off my apps and shun the technology. In the meantime…Does anyone else use five billion apps? Do you use any that I’ve not included here? Let me know – although, I’m not sure I should be encouraged to get anymore…

J x

This Year’s Grand Adventure

As some of you might have already seen on social media; this summer, I’m riding (the route of) the Tour de France!

I’ll be part of the InternationElles team, a squad of 10 women from England, Scotland, America, South Africa and The Netherlands, who’ll be taking on each stage of the world famous race a day before the pro peloton, or should I just say, the men.

Keep an eye on the InternationElles Instagram page over the next week or so, as the team members get intro’d one-by-one. We’ll also be supported by a fantastic crew, who will be with us for the duration, driving support cars, helping us with fuel, mechanicals, logistics and general brain-based activity while we ride around France!

Arguably, one of the most well-known events in the world, regardless of whether you cycle, the TdF is an epic 23-day event, comprising 9 flat stages, 3 hilly stages, 8 mountain stages, 1 individual time trial (TT) and, amongst all that, just 2 rest days! The massive downside, is the distinct lack of a women’s race and the fact it clashes with the Giro Rosa; the most prestigious 10-stage race on the pro women’s calendar. In future blogs, I’ll aim to discuss in greater detail the structure of pro cycling, how it all works and the ways in which female cyclists are disadvantaged in this male-dominated sport.

With the Grand Départ of the official race starting from Nice on June 27th, our ride will begin the day before.

I’ve no idea how far we’ll ride or how high we’ll climb in total, because I haven’t worked it out yet and, to be honest, I’m not sure it’ll help my mental state if I know. From glancing at the route on the official TdF website, the average day will be around 150km, with the shortest being 122km, and the longest, 218km (not including the TT, which is 36km and therefore somewhat of a rest day for us, hurrah!). What I do know is, over the course of the 23 days, we’ll climb the 5 mountain ranges of France: The Alps, Massif Central, Pyrenees, Jura and Vosges.

Ooof.

I watched the InternationElles last year, following their progress predominantly on Instagram through stories and posts, noting how long the whole thing seemed to last. My lengthiest multi-day event so far has been LEL, which took just 5 days and, although I was averaging around 300km per day, it feels a far cry from 23 days on the trot with multiple mountain ranges chucked in.

However, I’m confident I can do it. It’s all in the preparation!  

Cyclist riding over the brow of a hill - Mam Nick

Speaking of which, I’ll be documenting the next 23 weeks (yikes, that doesn’t seem that long…) of training here on this blog. Sharing the ups, downs, ins and outs of my road to the start line in Nice. I’ll also be discussing the important reasons why we’re doing this challenge and what it represents.

It still doesn’t quite feel real and I expect it probably won’t until I’m stood in France, bicycle beneath me, staring at the road ahead.

J x

I’m really lucky to be supported by the wonderful No Gods No Masters Cycling, who provides all my lovely cycling kit to keep me riding whatever the weather! Check it out here: https://nogodsnomasters.life/

My Racing Year in Review

Scroll back through this blog and you’ll trace my short journey as a cyclist…starting with commuting, getting deep into distance riding and Audax, dipping my toes into competitive riding by doing some club TTs, then somehow finding myself on the start line of actual races.

You’ll see that I’ve always been reluctant to race. Without going on and on about it (because I think I already have), I’m extremely risk averse, never been one for adrenaline (adrenaline = fear, not joy) and I generally try to avoid all scenarios that could feasibly result in injury.

HOWEVER, all these feelings have gradually been worn down by my innate competitiveness and, I suppose, the relatively easy access I’ve had to racing:

  • Friends who race (encouragement and motivation)
  • A boyfriend who races (the above plus travel and logistics)
  • Working in the cycling industry (equipment to use)
  • A long history of competitive endurance sport (a decent fitness base to allow me to feel I could maybe do alright)

Add to that the feeling that I wanted to be part of trying to improve women’s participation in competitive cycling, and I think that sums it all up.

Here I am, summing something up. Blooh blah blah BIKES.

Since March 9th of this year, I’ve done 7 road races (including a stage race), 3 crit races and 11 time trials and, honestly, I am now TIRED.

Highlights

  • Being part of a team and enjoying the camaraderie of the Jam Cycling RT Ladies.
  • The absolute jubilation of completing my first road race without dying/crashing/puncturing/crying.
  • Coming 4th at the Team MK Central League road race. (No, I don’t know how that happened either).
  • Experiencing a stage race competing at the Tour of Sussex.
  • Finishing the Cold Dark North Masters National Champs. SO. HARD.
  • Completing my first 10-mile TT on my ‘proper’ TT bike.
  • Getting a PB on TT number 9 on the hottest evening EVER.
On my way to 4th place at MK RR. Won £20 i.e. Maccers on the way home. Yas.

Low points

  • Fear of being in the bunch. It never really got any easier.
  • Getting spat almost immediately in the first few road races.
  • Still struggling to corner, no matter how hard I tried.
  • Imposter syndrome (because points 1 and 3).
  • Cancelled events. It’s just disappointing.

So, what have I learnt?

A lot. There are so many feelings.

  • I am not cut out to be a bike racer. No. No. It’s not something I can ‘learn’. Bike racers are a different breed of person and I will be forever in awe. Yes, I could become a better bike handler, I could do drills, ride cyclocross, attend training sessions with cones on the floor for me to ride around. But unfortunately, my innate sense of danger is something that can’t be overridden and, at my age and stage in life, I’m not willing to take the risks associated with riding bikes quickly in groups of people.
  • HOWEVER, if I wanted to carry on racing simply for the pure fun of it, I now know I can. I might not be hugely skilled, but I know how to ride to keep myself and those around me safe. It doesn’t translate to placing very high up though…
  • A full bike season of racing (plus two house moves) has resulted in almost zero adventure/endurance riding. I feel like I’ve done nothing but ride my bike, whilst also having ridden nowhere in particular. And that isn’t why I started riding bikes. Bring back the 200-km and 300-km weekend adventures! I’ve missed them so much.
  • The organisation/structure/foundation of competitive bike racing is so infuriatingly messed up, I have run out of energy trying to engage with it. I don’t know how I can help, how it can improve or what it’ll take to see systemic change. It’s been exhausting engaging with it to the extent I have, and I’m sure compared with some people, that’s not even that much.
  • Although it all seemed very scary at the outset, the camaraderie amongst the women I have raced with has been lovely. Despite a lot of races being disappointing for various reasons, I almost always came away having met someone lovely during/after a race. There’s definitely something special about women’s racing and those that participate, and it’s one of the main things I’ll miss if I don’t race again.
  • Time trials are ADDICTIVE. I’ve tried hard to stay away from the must-buy-stuff-to-go-faster mind-set and I’ve done pretty well (I still haven’t even got a special helmet). I’ll definitely continue doing time trials and look forward to seeing my times improve: A, from better, more focused training then B, …BUYING STUFF.
  • Finally… CLICHÉ ALERT … but I have really experienced the whole, if you put your mind to it, you can do it…thing. I’d never in a million years have thought I’d be OK about riding on time trial bars (i.e. nowhere near my brakes) at speeds of up to 65km/h (that’s downhill, btw). I didn’t think I could ever be assertive at the start of the race and sit in the front of the group, but I did. And I often didn’t think I’d make it around some of the road race courses unscathed, but I always did. So that’s definitely been confidence boosting.

When I look back at the season I’ve done, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and how I’ve coped with so often being out of my comfort zone (more mentally than physically. I live for being physically out of my CZ, but avoid mental turmoil wherever possible). I don’t regret any of it and wouldn’t change it. I also would still recommend racing to anyone that shows an interest; I can completely see how and why other people love it. But now I firmly know that I don’t need to race bikes to feel like I’ve achieved something. From now on, for 90%* of my bike riding, I want to go back to the motto that got my cycling off the ground; that of 10000kmcc:

It’s not about winning and it’s not about the stats. It’s not about being the best. 
It’s about putting in the distance, consistently. It’s about the roads, the journey and the rest stops. 
It’s not about going fast. It’s about going far. 

J x

*The other 10% will be riding as hard and fast as possible for short amounts of time, by myself, on a silly bike!

The Women’s Tour of Sussex: The view from the back

The more of us that say, ‘actually yes, I can’, the better. It doesn’t matter if you get dropped. It doesn’t matter if you drop out. But it makes a helluva difference if you dare to try.

Hey, remember when I laughed in the face of bike racing?

Well a couple of weekends ago, I completed a stage race.

…Such a hypocrite.

I suppose the constant support of friends, the belief of fellow riders and the niggling and unstoppable competitiveness that dwells somewhere in the pit of my stomach compelled me to do it.

It was never meant to happen. I was busy with a work event on the weekend that it was organised.

Then the event I was meant to be at got cancelled.

My team manager wanted to enter 6 of us into the ToS, but I wasn’t planning to be one of them. I’d done a couple of road races and been well and truly spat out the back (in the neutral zone no less) so decided perhaps road racing wasn’t for me. That multiple races over a long weekend might be a step (or a pedal stroke) too far for my pride.

But illness and injury in my team whittled down our numbers, and we were down to only 3 potential entrants.

THEN the race itself nearly got cancelled due to lack of entries… and that’s when I gave in. Fine. I’ll do it! I must…for all womankind, and stuff.

In order for the race to be feasible for the organisers with around 45 entrants, it got reduced to 2 days instead of 4, and 3 stages instead of 5. I was happy and sad about this. My strength lies in being able to just keep plugging away, I’m not technical or powerful, but heck I can keep pumpin’, so a longer event would have suited me better. Shortening the event, however, meant that more people would enter and ensure it went ahead, so it was definitely the right choice.

In the weeks running up to the event I’d get sudden pangs of nerves. The usual stuff: What if I crash? What if I get a puncture in the middle of nowhere? What if my bike explodes?

Up to this point, my boyfriend had been at every race with me; driving us there, checking my bike, helping me into my skinsuit (difficult), pinning on numbers, understanding the course map. He wasn’t going to be with me for the stage race due to stag do obligations, so on top of all my very rational bike-based nerves, I was also contending with logistical nerves and the fear of not making it to the start line. My poor brain!

The weeks passed, accommodation was organised and I found myself winding along the country lanes towards Eastbourne. My bike was precariously shoved into the back seat and the boot was filled with kit, inner tubes, energy gels and well…pyjamas, essentially. I hoped I hadn’t forgotten anything vital, like wheels. Or my ability to ride a bike.

“Hellooo….so…I’ve forgotten my race licence. Can I still pick up my number?”

“Well, you’ll have to check with the Commissaire… it’s his decision.”

Fantastic. Well done me. We’d arrived at the race HQ and I realised my race licence wasn’t in my purse. Or the car. Or my coat. Or my bag. (It turned out to be in George’s wallet. Which wasn’t extremely useful to me at that point).

“You’ve done what?”

“I seem to have left my race licence at home…which is near Hastings”

“Why don’t you go get it…”

*Silence*

“Just kidding. If you’ve entered online it’s fine”.

Ahhhahahahahahahahah. Ha. Hmmmphg… Phew.

With less than an hour until the race briefing, we all started the pre-race fannying about process. We needed to attach transponders to the bikes, pump tyres, pin numbers, and try and fathom this weird bike-frame-number attachment that no-one could work out (not even the nearby dad), which we all ended up cable tying frantically to our seat posts.

If in doubt, yes put more gels in your pockets.
Photo by the awesome Victoria Creer (@Trixstix on Instagram)

I only started to feel nervous as we sat at the back of the hall and listened to the race briefing. My legs stuck to the plastic chair, my palms were sweating and my tongue turned into a sponge. I needed to drink, but I was worried about needing a(nother) wee. The women around me looked so mega hard-core and profesh. What am I doing here? I turned to my look at my team mates, Ali, Annie and Lyndsay, and smiled. Our mantra has always been just get round. Do your best. Enjoy it. It’s just another ride… Remembering this calmed my nerves a little, and we all trooped out of the hall towards our bikes.

Stage 1: Road Race – Ladies Mile, Ashdown Forest – 51 miles

  • 4-ish mile loop
  • 12 laps
  • Undulating
Photo by the awesome Victoria Creer (@Trixstix on Instagram)

My main goal going into this event was to not get spat out straight away and stay with the group for at least a little bit. Even a quarter of a lap would have been a success in my book. With a downhill start on Stage 1 though, the goal went out the window. The peloton zoomed away and I ended up in a group of 6, trying to find our rhythm and being caught between storing energy and not wanting to get lapped by the peloton.

Photo by the awesome Victoria Creer (@Trixstix on Instagram)

We got lapped.

This provided a new lease of life though, and everyone that had been dropped jumped onto the back of the group and it all got a bit more interesting. I managed to hang in there and stayed at the back until half a lap from the end. I kept chugging away, up the mystery hill to the finish and rolled over the line, pleased to have finished unscathed and in 27th place (out of 40).

Photo by the awesome Victoria Creer (@Trixstix on Instagram)

Stage 2 was later that day, so the key was to try and recover as much as possible, without stiffening up. I shovelled food into my face as I drove back to our little team house, forced a protein shake down and decided a little shower and a couple of hours in pyjamas would be optimal.

It was.

I managed a little snooze, drank loads of water and ate some more food and, by some stroke of luck, my legs didn’t turn to lead. I had kept telling them they still had stuff to do, so maybe they’d listened. Thank you, legs.

Doing the Wind Dance to appease the weather Gods.

Stage 2: Individual Time Trial – Beachy Head, Eastbourne – 2 miles

  • Hilly

Whilst we’d been resting, the weather had taken a turn for the extremely windy. We tried to warm up along the sea front, and our bikes were being blown all over the place. This is going to be…interesting. The TT began along the sea front (very exposed and slightly uphill), then after a zebra crossing (which you hoped no one was crossing at, because the rules stipulated we’d have to stop and wait if so) the road bent to the right and kicked up to the hill proper. This lasted about 1 mile, then turned left into more of a draggy section, with an insane headwind, into the finish.

Skinsuits are hardddddddd.

In pursuit of making my life a little bit easier up the hill for the TT, I’d swapped my front wheel (usually deep section) to a lighter climbing wheel, removed all my bottle cages, ditched my base layer and sunglasses, and wondered if there was anything else I could get rid of. Seems extreme, but it made me feel better and, as my bum muscles screamed, I thought well it would have been worse if I’d had allllll that extra weight on my bicycle. Some passers-by shouted encouragement as I hauled myself up the hill. I briefly got out the saddle and that burned even more, so I sat back down and kept churning. Finally, the finish line came into sight and I desperately tried to get under the headwind so I could get there as soon as possible.

Photo by the awesome Victoria Creer (@Trixstix on Instagram)

I came 16th in the TT, which put me in 25th for the General Classification. Lovely.

That night we ate loads (of pizza) in front of crap (awesome) TV and soon enough we were all dozing off.

The men’s support race was first thing in the morning, so we didn’t need to worry about waking up early, and had lots of time to get ourselves together. That pesky wind had hung around, however, and as I walked into the race HQ I heard people saying the men’s race had been completely blown apart and only 25 men remained in the race, the other 50-odd having dropped out already. It was brutal out there. There were rumours of our race being shortened because of the weather…

Dream Squad: Lyndsay, Me, Annie and Ali! Thank you Marta for this photo!

Stage 3: Road Race – Beachy Head, Eastbourne – 57.5 miles

  • 7-ish mile loop
  • 8 laps
  • Undulating
Photo by the awesome Victoria Creer (@Trixstix on Instagram)

We were escorted along the sea front as a sort-of parade, which was a nice idea but unfortunately the traffic and the fact it was a bank holiday meant we were constantly braking. This was followed by a cacophony of clicks as everyone came to a full stop and detached themselves from their pedals. After surviving this somewhat sketchy yo-yo parade, the race started up the hill we’d gone up the night before.

Do not get dropped in the neutral, Jessica. Don’t let them get away before the bladdddy race has even started!

I’d done my classic act of lurking at the back, but this time I didn’t allow myself to get left behind when I felt the pace quicken, I went with it and although the main group was slightly ahead, they were still very much within reaching distance. I hadn’t got dropped…but I hadn’t not got dropped either… 4 of us formed a chase group and headed into the mist and rain that had appeared gradually over the course of the day.

The front of the race! Photo by the awesome Victoria Creer (@Trixstix on Instagram)

We worked together along the top part of the course, battling the headwind and straining to see through the mist that had descended. The course then falls into a sharp left turn (the kind I had nightmares about, but survived when it came to it) and follows an undulating road, which eventually sweeps to the left into a long, draggy climb. We were moving well and were mid-way through the second lap; we’d just had a shouty conversation about giving it the beans for as long as we could, with the aim of not getting pulled out by the organisers, when we…got stuck in a traffic jam.

Ali leading her group through the mist! Photo by Alexander Sallons (@sallonsax on Instagram)

As we were outside of the main race, we weren’t protected by the race vehicles. Which meant the increasingly busy, bank holiday hotspot that is Beachy Head was becoming overrun with tourists and their vehicles. As we waited behind a three-point turning car, we were joined by another chasing group. More ladies to share the work! We eventually got moving again and started chugging up the hill, I was feeling surprisingly alright in the legs, so decided to move up the group to try and pick the pace up slightly. I was glad I did, because as we turned the corner at the top, the finishing flag was waving and our race was over! Instead of 56 miles, we’d done just shy of 20. To be honest, it was a bit of anti-climax! But you can’t control the weather, and the organisers felt it wasn’t safe with such low visibility.

My position in the race was 22nd and overall that put me as 22nd in the General Classification!

I was reyt pleased. Pleased I got roped into doing the race when I felt like it was beyond me and pleased I finished each stage in one piece. We’d had loads of fun in our team house, met some awesome ladies, I’d learnt a lot and, most importantly, felt that I absolutely did belong there. Without people like me lurking near the back, the race couldn’t have gone ahead.

I’m sure it’s bloody brilliant being in the top 10 of these things, winning prizes and mounting podiums, but without the rest of us ‘bringing up the rear’, well… you can’t have a race at all. With women’s cycling as it is, our strength is in numbers. The more of us that say, ‘actually yes, I can‘, the better. It doesn’t matter if you get dropped. It doesn’t matter if you drop out. But it makes a helluva difference if you dare to try.

Me and my new pal, Sophie (who is a MACHINE on the bike: @soph_tri)

If you’ve stumbled upon this because you’ve searched for Women’s Tour of Sussex, women’s racing or something similar because your interest has been piqued, then I hope you might feel like you can enter a race. Because whatever the outcome, it’ll have been a challenge, you’ll learn from it, you’ll be motivated by those women that are up at the front. OR you’ll think, I am not into this racing thing actually, and go back to whatever you were doing before. Racing isn’t for everyone (I question whether it’s for me most of the time!), but if you’re at all interested, know that your presence will be very much appreciated!

A few thank yous:

  • To my Jam Cycling Race Team mates, Ali, Annie and Lyndsay for being awesome, and making something scary into something so fun.
  • To the Uni-Cycle fund for helping us get to the race!
  • Ange and Marta for bringing their smiling faces and energy to the start line on day 2!
  • Vicky and Alex for their wonderful photos.
  • And of course, the Tour of Sussex for staging the race against the odds!

Looking forward to next year!

 J x