The ‘Newbies’ Guide to Surviving a Cross Race

First mud fest of the year.

First mud fest of the year

Last weekend was my first really muddy cross race of the season. As I approached the car and began sorting myself out, I felt rather pleased with myself. It wasn’t about my result, because that was the performance I had expected, but rather that I was now, a well organised cross racer. You might think, what the hell is she on about? But I can tell you life is much improved from my initial mud fest in Baggeridge Park a couple of years ago.

I recall approaching the car with it’s light blue upholstery, my backside and gloves plastered in mud and everywhere else, an interesting shade of brown. It was freezing and I knew my priority had to be getting dressed and warm. But how? I didn’t know where to start! I was on my own, but somehow, had to galvanize myself into action. How could getting undressed under a towel be that hard? I opened the car door with filthy hands, covered everything, and sure enough the car door closed on my muddy bum, as I reached over to fetch my clothes. There went the nice light blue interior and you can only imagine what it was like trying to ram a muddy bike into the back of the car.A total freezing mucky hell!

This isn’t a guide to buying a big van, pressure washer or organising staff to help you. We all begin by going to small races on our own with minimal kit. So how can you make it a bearable experience? Well here is my personal guide to surviving and making the whole thing enjoyable.The key is organisation.

I have the luxury of two bikes which are carried on a tow bar mounted rack. This has been the best present I have every had. No more mucky bikes in the car! I always pray for rain on the journey home, hoping I will arrive back with two sparkly bikes.

All post race clothes, shoes etc are thrown into a special plastic tub which can be swilled later. I do carry water, but usually a fair bit of this has to be used to wash the bike down after the practice ride, so there is little left for washing.Yep that sounds dreadful but believe me if you attempt to clean up with limited resources, the mess seems worse and most of it’s left on your towel. It seems better to just let it dry and jump in the shower at home. The use of a wet wipe on your face may be useful if you need to buy fuel or heaven forbid, talk to the RAC on the way home!

Faced with muddy wet legs, nice stretchy trousers like joggers or lycra bottoms pull on easily over filthy legs. Go for ease and speed, this is no time for vanity. You’ll just look like one of the ‘in crowd’!

On the way home I usually stop at the jet wash. I am slowly redistributing parts of the country, to a garage forecourt in Leek. Speed is your friend because by now you are dreaming about sitting on the settee with a well earned cup of tea and it’s beginning to get dark.

Once at home, all the muddy clothes are left soaking over night in a preprepared bucket outside by the back door.The washing machine usually gets a reprieve until the next morning.

So there you have it! Phelan’s guide to making a muddy cross race as easy as possible. I have no doubt you may have some additional ideas yourself. All you need to fret about, is how to pedal fast.

An after thought – Do you think dried mud under lycra feels like varicose veins? Not that I have got any but it does feel weird, Let me know? lol






For all those older cyclists with aspirations of grandeur (a.k.a achieving our personal best)

A post for all my older friends and acquaintances who wrestle with the age old question, ‘what the hell am I doing?’

I frequently sit down and have a think about things I do. Should I still be racing?

Racing in a former life

Racing in a former life

Am I making the improvements I’d like? Is the amount of time I spend pursing goals justify the end product? Does the training time and competing have a detrimental effect on those around me? Can I make the switch from long MTB endurance racing, to a short sharp cross race?

So what do I do? I read inspirational race reports, about veteran riders achieving amazing things and training articles to keep me going during those moments of self doubt. They pep me up and keep me going. It gets tough when the majority of people around you can live a life of inactivity, think you’re totally nuts and really ought to bow out gracefully. Well people like me can’t! We love that feeling of being alive, pushing ourselves and feeling fit and healthy. So my fellow obsessives, nutters etc……. This article in Cycling Weekly is for you. Read, enjoy and may it feed your soul with determination and possibilities.

Don’t let age slow you down



The 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race Through Rose Coloured Specs’

Steady girl!

Steady girl!  Photo by Alan Dorrington

Crawling my way up Pen y Ghent , a well meaning spectator shouted,’ Think about the retrospective enjoyment!’. I remember thinking, ‘ Oh shut up!’ at the time, but now it makes me giggle. Yep it is very much about the joy of completion and all those carries and dodgy descents are pictured through rose coloured spectacles. That’s the quirky thing about this cross race. The remembering is better than the ‘doing’!

Covering a total of 38 miles, the 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race, ascends the three highest peaks in Yorkshire, Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen y Ghent. The hills are connected by 18 miles of road and the rest of it consists of long carries and rocky descents.

The joy of Simon Fell

The joy of Simon Fell

This year a staggering 650 eager souls all lined on the start. For the majority of riders, getting the body and bike round is enough of a challenge. But of course, the front runners are chasing winning times, usually around the 3 hour mark.

For me, it’s about doing my personal best and if that results in a good position it’s a bonus. Having the benefit of already completed one event in 2012, I had made a few tweaks to my preparation and ride on the day. Rather than take a Camelbak I carried small bottles, ate and drank mainly on the road, rode the descents quicker and pedalled harder on the road. Prior to the event, I spent a lot of time on very rocky tracks. Trained on the Monkey Trail at Birches Valley Trail Centre, on a cross bike  and moved my saddle forward which seemed to improve bike control.

Shaken but not stirred at the finish

Shaken but not stirred at the finish

Having finished 4th in my age category, despite having a raging sore throat 2 days before, it’s an ok result. It’s spurred me on to make plans for next year. What has happened to thoughts like ‘I can’t possibly carry this bike anymore’ and ‘what the hell has this race got to do with cycling?’ I couldn’t tell you, but all I do know, is that it’s an amazing thing to do and is strangely additive. Am I going to be one of those riders who tells tales about their 10th, 11th, 12th ……  3 Peaks? I think I know the answer and that does make me laugh!



Winter, why not give cyclocross a go?

Julie PhelanLooking for something exciting to do this Winter? Why not give cyclocross a go? Some fantastic regional races are already up and running, the details can be found on the British Cycling Cyclocross page. If you like short sharp racing where you can turn up, race round and be back on the settee for tea time, this could be for you!

It’s a discipline full of contrasts and that’s why I love it. I start racing in September with my sunglasses,on dry and fast terrain but finish in January/February with as many clothes on as possible, up to my knees in mud. Courses can be a mixture of terrain, ranging from grass, woodland, road and gravel tracks,each requiring a different style of riding. Off camber, banks and steps all add to the fun and provide a different skill, perfected by the serious cross rider. I am no power house but the different elements of cross enable me to make gains in different areas, so it almost becomes a case of ‘horses for courses’. Clearly if you want to be a good cross rider you need technique, speed and strength. Don’t let that put you off! Cross is full of fun loving weekend warriors, who are up for something different. Let’s face it you’ve got to have a sense of humour to hack round a muddy field in the depths of Winter only glad in lycra. Julie Phelan

No you don’t need a cross bike to race at local or regional level, a mountain bike will do. That’s how we all start and as for the kids, well there’re usually races for even the smallest. A truly inclusive sport which caters for all, have a go!  It’s very addictive and when you complete that race knee deep in mud, you’ve scaled that muddy bank which felt like the Eiger, you’re going to feel so proud of yourself. Arrrrrh that warm glow when you’ve done something really worthwhile. See you there!

If you’re still in two minds maybe this little trailer will change your mind. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but then I love cyclocross!

(The complete film ‘For The Love of Mud’ can be bought from Vimeo of demand)

Women’s Training Day – 5th September


Based at the Birches Valley Visitor Centre, the aim of the course is to develop women’s confidence to enjoy riding off road. In a relaxed, no pressure atmosphere the morning session will cover elements such as cornering and riding berms, braking techniques, riding easy drops as well as  lifting the front and back wheel over roots and small rock steps.

After lunch, the group will set off on a guided ride to apply their newly acquired skills on the numerous tracks and trails found on Cannock Chase.

For more details or any questions please contact me using the email above. Payment can be made using PayPal or cheque.

Ridley-Western Summer Cyclocross Series

 Shelled but happy ! Is that nuts???

Shelled but happy ! Is that nuts???

The problem with deciding to race just in the Winter, is that the ongoing Summer race chat makes you feel a tad twitchy. So I found myself trekking down to Bristol last  Wednesday. The Ridley- Western Summer Cross Series has been running for a few weeks now and it has been in the back of my mind as a possibility.

The whole affair had a laid back feel, with a great group of people. I had a brilliant evening, riding a good course with a nice mixture of tricky turns, steep off camber sections, roots, steps and the added bonus of electronic timing.

Racing  in Pro Vision colours for the first time, I finished first in my age group with a sound performance.  Whilst I am not a big advocate of racing all year round, I must admit the occasional off season race certainly adds a bit of spice and keeps me motivated. More importantly, I have made some new friends who I know I will meet again for a bit of cross bike action.

Thanks guys and gals. It was lovely to meet you and yep the FlanRou on September 6th looks fantastic .

There are two races left in the series, so if you are down that way why not give them a whirl?

FlanRou CXSportive, the Sunday after round one of the SW Cyclocross League which has a floodlit final. Both start from the same venue with overnight camping



The Lapierre Cheshire Cobbled Classic

Enjoying a well earned class of Leffe

Enjoying a well earned class of Leffe

As a fully fledged Belgian, not to take part in a sportive promising a hilly 100km ride, with five cobbled sections, would have just been crazy! As it also includes the infamous Corkscrew climb, with a gradient of 45%, this was not going to be a day for the faint hearted!

The event started in the gorgeous Lyme Park, near Disley, home of the gorgeous Mr Darcy. With feed stations stocked with Belgian chocolate and waffles, along with the usual carbo gels, it was like being in Belgium for the day. All good fun with hills to rip your legs off and cobbled tracks to test your skills.

It really was a fantastic day. As expected there was lots of fun on the Corkscrew, with people busting a gut to try and get up it. It took me three attempts just to find the smoothest line. I remember thinking, ‘What the hell are you doing woman, playing here when you’ve still got miles to go?’.  The boys were spurred along with the promise of their own body weight in Leffe, if they got to the top. Apparently sixty tough souls made it, in stark contrast with the previous year, when in wet conditions, no one made it!. See it does stop raining in the Peak District, honest!

The remaining cobbled sections, with the toughest climb at 20%, seemed a doodle in comparison. Eventually we left the hills of Derbyshire and made our way over to Alderley Edge, and the delights of the Cheshire cobbles, notably Swiss Hill. All too soon we were swinging round to the finish, to be welcomed back with a glass of Leffe and our very own cobble to take home!

Debating the best line!

Debating the best line!

The severity of the climbs is not to be underestimated and I have to say having a 11-32 on the back, was a good choice for me. It made the whole thing much more enjoyable. My days of mauling are over! As for tyre choice, I put my Vittoria Open Pavés back on. I love riding on these, having got round Paris Roubaix puncture free. It always makes me smile as I hack as fast as I can over the rough stuff, cyclocross style. ‘Hell’s teeth woman you’re on your road bike. It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of determination and the right kit.

I’d like to thank Francis Longworth and his team for a fantastic day. At £25 it’s an absolute steal and gets you into the National Trust Parkland for free. I enjoyed it so much that I am going to have a spin around the Lapierre White Roads Classic, inspired by the Strade Bianche, on July 12th. A bit of Italiano down in Oxfordshire, sampling some of the gravel and chalk roads of the Ridgeway. Some people will do anything for an espresso and a glass of prosecco at the finish!

Faster After 50 by Joe Friel

Book ImageIt’s taken a long time to admit that my body has changed since my best performances, in my early thirties. Despite training as hard as I did in a previous life, the gains have been harder to achieve and recovery has taken longer. Coupled with the double’ whammy’ of increasing weight gain, it’s not been an easy time…. and just to make it even harder, the older you get the shorter the races become! Initially I found this all a bit daunting. I weigh more, I’ve lost power and yet the racing is more speed orientated. Well I guess I could have a right old grumble about that for days, but instead I have decided to do a bit of research in my quest to join the ranks of the top veteran woman in next season’s National Trophy Cyclocross races.

I have always steered clear of books for the ‘ageing athlete’ feeling you can do anything if you put your mind to it. However this is clearly not always the case! After extensive trawling book shelves, looking for the answer to the elusive question, ‘How to be older and still pull off a performance you’re proud of’, I found this little gem written by Joe Friel.

Joe Friel Is one of America’s leading endurance coaches and some years ago produced a fantastic book called the Cyclist’s Training Bible. He has coached both amateur and professional athletes and bases his work on the most current research on ageing and sports performance.

In a nutshell the book covers how to plan training and recovery using periodization, sessions to rebuild muscle mass and power, training at different intensities as well as nutrition for high performance and reducing body fat. The philosophy behind many of his ideas, is not dissimilar to Carmichael’s, ‘The Time Crunched Cyclist’ but with more of a slant towards us older athletes.

I have to say it really has made me think and refocus. Quotes by living legend, Ned Overend, who is 60 this year, but still kicking ass, are inspirational. He reiterates the point emphasised by Friel, that as we age high intensity and recovery is the key to going faster.

If like me, you feel you are not moving forward, it could be time for a complete rethink. Maybe I should of have kept this book a secret because it’s my only ammo! Oh well, knowledge is to be shared and a healthy level of competition is good for the soul.