Archive for the ‘fitness’ Category


Last night I went for a sports massage. These were my symptoms going into the session:

  • Tight hamstrings and calves (largely from climbing Snowdon on Saturday as opposed to riding).
  • Tight lower back / sides. Over the last week or so I’ve had trouble getting comfortable sitting down, and apparently this has been due to tightness in my glutes and ilio-tibial bands.
  • Actual pain in the top left of my back, between the shoulder blade and my spine (again, Snowdon, somehow).

My masseuse is Aglaia Hernandez aka ‘Fingers of Steel’. I visited Aglaia twice last year for recovery massages after the Dragon Ride and Southern Sportive. At the time she recommended more stretching and core work, and I’ve made a real effort to keep to a regular 20 min spot of stretching and exercises after my morning commute, as well as after long rides.

Over the hour she discovered further issues:

  • My neck was sore and sensitive. Apparently she wasn’t pressing that hard but it killed! We attribute this to riding in traffic with a rucksack and looking behind to check the traffic.
  • I have sore hands from gripping handlebars every day. 
  • My pecs are tight, exacerbating my upper back issues.

Aglaia has various techniques for using pressure to work stiffness out of the muscles and joints, and she’ll prescribe stretches to help prevent further tightness. In the session itself she does prolonged stretches of different muscle groups that are quite hard to stretch properly without hands-on, expert advice (e.g. the neck) – always emphasising the importance of proper breathing.

If you exercise regularly, treat yourself to a session of deep tissue massage. I can’t really describe the dramatic physical transformation that takes place in just one hour. You don’t realise how knackered and stressed and tight your body is until it’s been put through the wringer by a trained professional. I actually have trouble walking after one of Aglaia’s sessions…

Big-ride prep: what not to do

Last Friday, for the first time this year, I prepared really badly for my big weekend ride. Normally I’m really careful and focussed on my important training blocks, but maybe I was a little focussed-out after the Puncheur and Burgess Hill Classic both within a fortnight, and needed more rest. In any case, here’s my run-down of how it all went wrong.

Sleep: I had about 6 hours sleep on Thursday and Friday night. Not cool, I need at least 8 for 2-3 nights before a big ride to be in optimum shape.

Food: It was my Mum’s 60th last week, so on Friday my family and I went to Claridge’s for a celebratory tea. 

Tea at Claridge's: posh carbo-loading.

Tea at Claridge's: posh carbo-loading.

I consumed:

  • 10-12 small sandwiches, no crusts, mixed fillings.
  • 1 scone with jam.
  • A glazed fruit tart.
  • Half a chocolate cake.
  • 6 cups of tea.
  • 1 glass pink champagne.

Alcohol: after Claridge’s, and prolonging the posh party vibe, we went for a few drinks at the Park Lane Hilton. Later, I caught the tube to Brick Lane to meet some people in a bar.

I drank:

  • 5 double rum and cokes.
  • A bottle of lager.
  • A Jager-bomb (for the uninitiated, this is a shot of Jagermeister dropped into a glass of Red Bull, and downed).

My plan for Saturday was a 5-6 hour easy ride with Millsy, but the combination of poor sleep and a hangover found me tired, weak and confused at 7am Saturday. The weather was stunning, but I had a headache and dry mouth for much of the ride. It could have been the ride of the year, but instead it was an ordeal. 

Note to self: this is not to be repeated before July 4th!



A chocolate eclair. Not so healthy for ya...

People have started remarking on my weight. ‘You look quite thin’ etc. There was a point last year when this started, although this year I’ve reached that point earlier on, mainly because I deliberately set out to shave off a few pounds from mid-February.

Last year it wasn’t until after the Mexico trip that I lost weight – and that time I think I went from about 12st to a low of 11st 6 on the Southern Sportive in September. This year, I was less than 12st after Christmas, but I’m already down to 11st 6, if not lower. I need to be more scientific about this, but I think I’ve lost about 3-4 pounds over the last month.

It’s actually been really easy, check out Al’s pro weight-loss techniques:

  • eat just a bit less – if you’re riding 10 hrs a week, there’s no sense in cutting down massively. It’s actually enough to simply not have a second plateful for your evening meal.
  • cut out butter, mayo, bacon sarnies, creamy puddings, cakes, chocolate, crisps.
  • do the occasional ‘fasted’ ride i.e. ride to work without breakfast or do a mid-week session on just a banana – your body will start metabolising fat more efficiently. I find doing a couple of these a week over a 3-week period is enough to kick-start weight-loss.

Why bother? The bottom line is that losing weight = free speed. Climbing is also my strength, and the lighter I am the better I climb. All pro cyclists aim to lose weight gradually over the season, leaving their lowest weight target until they reach peak fitness. I’ve heard this referred to as being ‘on the razor’, the point beyond which a rider actually risks getting ill or, paradoxically, losing form (this happened to Iban Mayo too early in his 2005 tour, I think).

My target weight is to be around 11st for La Marmotte in July.

Hell of the Ashdown


Thanks to Catford CC for organising the above event on Sunday and finally kick-starting my ‘season’. (more…)

Stoke: Christmas routes #3

This morning I rode Stoke loop #2 in reverse, via Beech extension #1 (a different way of reaching the Yarnfield roundabout – this adds 1 mile and means more climbing straight off). I set the HRM to 150 max after reading Joe Beer’s zoning article which indicates that Zone 1 is 60-80% of HRmax. 150 isn’t 80% of my max, but setting an upper limit at 140 was leaving me feeling cold on the bike, so considering it was 3 degrees out today, I upped it.

Even though I was riding harder, the ride took 2hrs 45mins, 5 mins longer than when I rode loop #2 on Christmas Eve. I did extend the route, and put more hills in as a result, but even so it was surprising. I did also have to deal with some pretty strong headwinds though so perhaps they were a major factor.

Felt good though. Compared to 140 max, riding at 150 max results in:

  • significantly more sweating
  • marginally more pressure on the legs
  • very slightly harder breathing
  • more speed and aggression

Maximum heart rate

I plan to try and determine my max heart rate early in the new year, to make my zone training more accurate. Here’s a method I could use:

If you want to actually reckon your max heart rate on the bike, it’s easy: simply warm up with 10 to 15 minutes of easy pedalling, and then ride ‘full-blast’ at nearly maximal power output (while maintaining an optimal rpm of 90 to 95 or so) for two minutes. ‘Spin’ easily against little resistance for 60 to 75 seconds, and then pedal at maximal capacity for two more minutes. Your heart rate should almost ‘top out’ after this second two-minute surge (make sure you get your doctor’s permission before you try this, however).

Original article on Peak Performance.

Stoke: Christmas routes #2

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A 40-miler that took 2hrs 40mins at 140 bpm max. Slow, but good long, steady distance I reckon.

Stoke: Christmas routes #1

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I’m at home at my parents’ place in Stoke, flushing my system of party toxins and doing some easy base training.

The above 18-miler took 75 mins setting a limit of 140 beats per minute on the HRM. On 26/12 I did it in 70 mins on the same upper limit, despite a sore throat.

Incidentally my current weight is 11st 12 – 5-6 pounds over my Southern Sportive form.

Taking time out sucks

Some thoughts on taking time off the bike, as much to record my own condition as anything else.

Prior to my trip to Japan, i.e. around 25th October, I was on pretty good form. Not summer sportive level, but feeling strong and easily able to ride 4-5 hours with some brisk climbs thrown in. My first ride for 3 weeks was yesterday’s commute. I got a cold in Japan which has left me with a kind of post-viral malaise that I’m still shaking off.

Here’s my condition at 18th November:

  • Legs: weak, no zing.
  • Lungs: tired, weak, fragile.
  • Flexibility and general physical strength: poor.
The only consolation is that I’m still light from all that sushi. The lessons learned are:
  • Don’t let anybody tell you that 3-4 weeks out of the saddle won’t hurt your fitness. 
  • A cold, even a minor one that you don’t take time off for, really hurts your fitness for at least 2 weeks. Don’t expect much (and don’t push it) before a fortnight is up. 

Southern Gold

I’m wallowing in the half-comatose mix of exhaustion and elation that follows a long day in the saddle. Early this morning I was up to ride the Southern Sportive, a 155km route starting and finishing at Petersfield in the South Downs. It was a good, tough event that for me nicely rounded off a season.

The organisers set three time targets:

  • Gold – 5hrs 40mins
  • Silver – 6hrs 19mins
  • Bronze – 7hrs

(Check the full ride stats for a more detailed breakdown.) I made gold, and was chuffed with my time of 5hrs 34. In the end I was lucky, because at around 75km the large pack of riders I was in took a wrong turn and headed way off track. We lost ten minutes, but this could have been worse were it not for a few boys up front with GPS. In the event we nearly had a pile-up as the map-readers applied the brakes.

My form today was strong, but could have been better. I felt good on the hills – packs that I was struggling to keep with on the flats were falling away on the climbs. This I attribute to my north-London hill training sessions and low weight (11st 6 on the day). For my benefit next year, I think the main element missing in my training over the past two months has been long rides of 5hrs +. The last time I rode longer than 5hrs was 3 August. Early this year, when I was training for the Dragon Ride, I rode long every weekend, not doing much by way of high-intensity training. At 180km, the Dragon was tough, but I finished strongly. Today I rode faster, but lacked strength between 100-130km, and if it hadn’t been for a couple of riders who dragged me through the final 25km I might not have made gold.

I think in advance of next year I’m going to start a new cycling blog. Online cycling communities frequently seem to be poorly-designed, hard-to-search, forum-based sites that I get fed up with quickly. Plus, a cycling blog that follows a five-month euro-sportive training plan should be interesting for other riders, right?

Note: originally posted on the main blog.