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.

Paris Roubaix Challenge

Starting off in Busigny in the rain.

Starting off in Busigny in the rain.

At 7:30 am on a cold wet morning, I set off with 4,499 other hardy souls to ride the Paris Roubaix Challenge. In a nutshell it’s a sportive run the day before the professional Spring Classic, in April. Starting from the sleepy town of Busigny, it offers 170 km of mixed terrain, including all the cobbled sections, that the pros ride. For those of a nervous disposition there are shorter options available. Would I do it again? You bet I would! I loved it, for all it’s attrition and the range of emotions that make up the Paris Roubaix classic.


The first sector of cobbles are like an obstacle course. Bottles, some still attached to the cage, pumps, saddle bags and spare tubes lay strewn across the track. After a while you realise that your eye balls are rattling in your head and the crown of the cobbles, just doesn’t look in focus any more. At one stage I swear my head just hurt from the constant jolting. The mud, grass, tussocks and stones at the side become a seductive alternative. After this experience, I wouldn’t bat an eye lid, if someone suggested I rode my best road bike through my local woods.

Near Busigny

Near Busigny

All too soon the Trouée d’ Arenberg appeared in the distance. There’s a sense of impending doom and excitement. Camper vans are squashed into every available space, there are hoards of spectators lining the route. Cyclists nervously look around, plucking up the courage to enter this legendary section. I was beside myself, I was there! This is the iconic bit, that you always see on T.V. These are the cobbles I had been watching ‘Cobbles Cancellara‘ hack along during those Sufferfest, four minute intervals.

A liberal covering of greasy mud, ensured the full Arenberg experience. I scooted around some poor soul receiving medical attention, in the middle of the track. The challenge is to find the smoothest line and avoid riders and debris on the floor. I pedalled as though my life depended on it, moving from the crown of the track, to the off camber and sometimes even ploughing through the mud at the side.

When I think back, the whole thing really makes me smile. What type of perverse person, would ever think that this was a good route for a road race? After this classic section you kind of think you’re in the clear, but there are still many miles to cover and more pavé to rattle over. The last part just becomes ‘mind games’. Your hands feel sore and your arms pulverised. Signs for Roubaix, pick the spirits up and a lap of the legendary track, makes you realise it was all worth it.

Roubaix Velodrome

Roubaix Velodrome

Here’s a list of the changes I made to my bike to help both machine and body make it to the finish. I am pleased to say I finished both puncture and blister free!
* Double taped handle bars
* Tight fitting bottles cages which always keep the bottle under tension
* Vittoria open pave 27mm tyres
* Fi zik Antares versa saddle with a groove
* Spare tubes, pump, tools etc stowed in deep back pockets
* Pearl  Izumi gel padded track mits

The only other thing I would suggest that you consider is; the long option from Busigny to Roubaix is a point to point route. There is a bus to transport both you and your bike to the start from Roubaix at 5:30 a.m, but it fills up very very quickly. Ideally you need a driver to drop you off in Busigny. The drive from Busigny back up to Roubaix takes about an hour and a half.

On reflection, it was a tough, amazing experience, requiring determination, a bit of courage and preparation. I can’t encourage you enough, to have a go. Can you have the same thing on your bucket list every year??

Well that’s next Easter sorted out for me!

Goals For 2015

As the end of imagecross season draws near I find myself thinking about new challenges for the year, I love planning. It motivates me and keeps me focused. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how determined you are, sometimes we all need something to get our backsides out of the door!

I want to have some personal challenges sprinkled with a few competitive ones. Cross has been really motivating and exciting, but it’s time to focus on a few other things before September rolls around once more. So here is my list for the year. fingers crossed I get entries :-)


Paris – Roubaix sportive – 170km including enough cobbles to rattle all my fillings out.

The Fred Whitton Challenge – 112 miles in the Lake District with the best ups and downs the Lakes has to offer.

The 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race- a torturous course taking in the three biggest peaks in Yorkshire. A true test of fitness, skill, tenacity and sheer bloody mindedness. A determined effort to put all back issues behind me, literally, will get me in the position to accept an entry. Many fingers crossed for this one. It’s mad, it’s hell,  but has a special place in my heart.

Mary Townley loop – didn’t make it this last year.  Set in beautiful countryside. A 47 mile off road loop above the Pennine Bridleway, with a frightening number of gates to negotiate. What the hell! All that jumping on and off will do me good!

Return to cross racing in September with renewed vigour and determination to have fun and achieve my personal best! So what’s on your list? You might just inspire someone else!

Letting My Air Down!

Picture: Roxanne McNaughton

Picture: Roxanne McNaughton

I do not profess to be an expert in tubular tyres, but as someone who has used a pair this season for the first time, I thought I’d share my ramblings for the uninitiated.

After much thought and picking people’s brains, I plumed for a set of Challenge Limus 33s. Designed for muddy conditions, I went for a tyre I felt would get round most courses. Let’s face it, we all know that at some point we will end up riding in a mud bath!

Well that was the easy part! As for which pressure I should ride at, that seems to be a journey of discovery. Much to the amusement of my friends, I have developed a habit of squeezing the tubs, of those who seem to know what they are doing and asking ‘experts’.
“Don’t mind me, I am just feeling your pressure!” I say smiling sweetly!

Lots of people have helped. Steve Douce took lots of air out at one race, and Chris Young insisted I really ought to put some back in! All helpful information, for which I am really grateful. I seem to be happy at around 20 psi at this stage. I am frightened of bottoming out and sometimes I feel like the bike is wobbling round the corners. However I am also mindful, there’s no point running tubs if you don’t have them low enough to reap the benefits of extra traction.

My initial instinct was to ride at too high a pressure, however with experience I have begun to understand the advantages, on some courses of running them lower! Onwards and downwards Phelan!

Want more information? Have a look at Fluent in Cross.


Is All Power Equal ?

Just been reading a really interesting article about the power requirements of a time trialist compared with a climber. Obviously body mass must come into the equation but it seems it’s not quite that simple. I wonder where the requirements of cyclocross fit in to the mix? A muddy race needs almost constant power to keep the bike moving (to stop it decelerating). However a dry race can include parts which feel more like a time trial with a few ups and downs thrown in. Food for thought and clearly we are all predetermined to be able to do one thing or another. Or not ? Lol

Location, Location, Location!

Look what I found at one of my favourite cross training venues!  It won’t last for long, as soon as the Autumn rain makes an unwelcome appearance. All adds to the joy of Hanchurch Woods, just off the M6 at Junction 15. Roots, single track, banks to run up and a bit of technical downhill. Want more can a girl want?

Pick it up and run!

Pick it up and run!

My very own sand pit !

My very own sand pit. Buckets and spades are optional!



A Cautionary Tale For Us All

This is not meant to be the definitive guide to achieving all our goals, because things happen we can’t always control. It is however a little tale of woe from a busy person, trying to deal with a big work load, whilst hanging on to ‘ the person she wants to be’. I wonder how many other people wrestle with this dilemma over and over again? Many I’ve no doubt, as we live in a world of increasing pressure but without health and happiness we are no good to anyone.

So there I was looking forward to riding Kilo to Go’s Tour of the Peak and one little slip in the bathroom, the day before, left me in agony. Always optimist I knocked back more anti inflammatories than I care to remember and laid on the bed with a massage and muscle stimulation machine on my back. Convinced that if I boxed clever I was still going to ride the next day, I even sat in a jacuzzi for 30 minutes. By the evening my spine resembled a question mark and I hobbled along like Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques. The fact that my bike really could have done with a clean was neither here nor there. This girl was going nowhere on the sunniest weekend of the year so far.

Next day marooned on the bed, I had time to reflect on my downfall and I could hear the words from at least a week before ringing in my ears! ‘ You’re hip is looking out of alignment and your shoulder’s dropped. Have you booked your appointment with the physio yet?’ Of course I hadn’t! I was up to my neck in end of term assessments and couldn’t see ‘the wood from the trees’. So there went the one thing in my life that keeps me sane, when the going gets tough. Guess sometimes you just have to walk away from things, say enough is enough, for both your physical and mental health.

Note to self: book an appointment with Martin Earley every two months whether you feel you need it, or not because you probably do. Work will still be there when you are dead and gone!

Tour of the Black Country

Cheers Team V Sprint

Cheers Team V Sprint

As I am now a fully fledged cobble obsessive, I just had to try this sportive. What a great day I have had! It had it’s perverse moments and punctures but heh, that’s all part of the fun. The 100km route took in a mixture of bridleways, roads and the infamous Waltonberg cobbled climb. At 22% the Waltonberg is not for the faint hearted but for me was a high light of the trip. I have been well and truly assimulated into the ‘cobble lovers’ club.

Sticking with the Paris- Roubaix theme, the feed stations had a distinct French feel with crossiants and pain au chocolate. The finish even included a sprint round the velodrome Roubaix style.

I have to say the whole experience made me smile. We had played at being Paris- Roubaix riders for the morning and the final icing on the cake was a flute of bubbly as we went over the line.

What a great, well organised event that offered something different. I will most  definitely be there again next year. Can’t really recommend it enough!

The voice off my telly, Huge Porter. What an absolute pleasure.

The voice off the telly, Huge Porter. What an absolute pleasure.

A Birthday Trip to the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo

imageThe best bit of racing during the Winter means I can be indulgent and slowly plod through all the things on my bucket list. I don’t have to worry about tapering or recovering! So when asked what I wanted for my birthday it was easy. Not matching handbag and shoes, but the chance to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo.

In preparation I racked up a few extra miles, taking in the pleasures of the Cheshire Cat on the way and a crawl up the infamous Mow Cop. I had the miles, sorted the gearing and so just needed to get on the Shuttle.

Lucky for me, I have friends in Ghent. Once in Calais, the journey was an easy hour and a half. I had reservations about being in Ghent, aware that many people stay in Brugge, but it was perfect and only took thirty minutes to get to Oudenaarde. Oudenaarde is the Cyclo’s administrative centre and the start of the middle and short courses. All the courses finish there too.

I signed on Friday afternoon to avoid the Saturday morning panic.The town was already packed and humming with impending excitement. I felt more nervous than I do for a race! Continue reading