Winter Training in Murcia

Regrouping near Portman

Regrouping near Portman

Club car ready to bring up the rear

Club car ready to bring up the rear

Have you ever thought about warm weather training?

I have just spent 4 months near Cartagena, in the Murcia region of Spain. Whilst this area doesn’t have big mountains it does have a nice mixture of hills and flat areas. The roads are fairly quiet and usually the climate is warm with very little rain. Sadly not quite the case this year, however whilst my fellow cyclists back home were slogging out the miles in freezing temperatures, I was bowling along in at least 15/16 degrees at it’s worst.

The area is very accessible via the AP7 motorway or alternatively flights arrive regularly to San Javier (Murcia) airport from the UK. Car hire is generally cheap along with accommodation and campsites.

I was fortunate enough to meet up with a member of Club Cicliista Cartagena, who introduced me to the club. In retrospect, unless you have fixed ideas already about what you want to do, this is a great way to find out about the best local routes and meet other riders. It’s not unusual for Cartagena to have in excess of 60 riders out for it’s Saturday morning session.

Stunning local scenery

Stunning local scenery

Spanish clubs are very different from those at home. Most rides are supported by a club car providing mechanical support and to assist with rider safety. For me the most bizarre thing which makes me smile even now, is having music blaring out from the club car whist riding along. The memory of one particularly loud rider, singing along with the Macarena will stick with me forever. He soon shut up later as we stepped on the gas towards the latter part of the ride. Can you imagine that happening at home? We’d be banned!

9.00 start at the Stadium

9.00 start at the Stadium


Post Christmas ride meal

Post Christmas ride meal.

I will miss the whole thing dearly, the post ride tapas and general enthusiasm for all things cycling. They couldn’t help me enough and I am sure they would be the same for any foreign rider. Finding links for granfondos, racing, sorting medical certificates and even helping make contact with groups of faster riders. Nothing is too much trouble.  All they do ask for is a valid BCF membership/license to show evidence of insurance in the event of an accident. As for equipment, I would recommend fairly robust tyres. After several punctures I swopped over to a pair of Vittoria Paves. Murcia is a large vegetable growing area and there are significant amounts of small stones and dried mud on the road.

All rides seen to have a bit of ‘unofficial racing’ thrown in just to liven things up a bit. I have to say I loved that bit and would always take things easy the day before so I could give it my best. No point doing otherwise, is there? Don’t let that put you off as the riders tended to regroup at specific points along the way.

IMG_2149From what I understand the Cartagena club isn’t exceptional. Many clubs in Spain are similar. It’s a great way of experiencing foreign cycling and you could even brush up on a bit of Spanish. I have to admit mine isn’t great at this stage, but I have learnt 2 important words, derecha (right) and izquierda (left)! Adios amigos!

A Beginner’s Guide To Riding Big Climbs

Col d' Pailheres

Col d’ Pailheres

Cycling up another mountain climb in France last week, I started to think about how my approach to this type of riding has changed over the years. I’m not saying it’s always easy but there are certain things I do to make the whole experience as enjoyable as possible. In a nutshell, ’How to Give Yourself a Fighting Chance’.

Take more water with you than you would in the UK. It may be hot and you’re going to be working hard. You can always ditch some part way up.

Start off in an easier gear than you think you really need. If you over gear early on it will be difficult to recover. I have a 32 sprocket on the back and I’m not afraid to use it! It’s much better to keep the cadence high (the number of pedal revolutions per minute) than to maul. Look at Chris Froome, he’s a master of spinning those pedals round.

Sit down for most of the climb. It’s more energy efficient and let’s face it, unless you want to race the other ‘Tour de France wannabes’ who may be accompanying you, you’re not going to have to respond to an attack. I am not the right body shape to be a great climber, so I prefer to move to the back of the saddle when my cadence has dropped to 60rpm (i.e when it’s getting steep). I then focus on pedalling in nice circles ensuring that I am pushing the pedal down and as it gets towards the bottom of the stroke and dragging it back up. This helps to gain maximum propulsion. My hands rest lightly on the top of the handle bars and I try to stay fairly relaxed.

If the gradient steepens and I can’t pull the pedals round then I sit further forward on the saddle with my hands on the hoods in a more aggressive position. I may even then get out of the saddle. Obviously this means not only am I moving the bike up hill, I’m also supporting my body weight which takes it’s toll. If you are fortunate enough to be a natural climber and can nip up any gradient go for it. You may be able to dance on the pedals a lot better than me and it may be quicker.

Having tried to persuade you to sit for the bulk of the climb, it is worth getting out of the saddle every now and then just to stretch your back and stop your under carriage from falling asleep. This is relevant for both men and women. Personally I favour the corner of a hair pin bend because it gives me a little bit of momentum for the next section.

When it’s safe to do so, take the line on the road with the least off camber. When you’re struggling every centimetre counts so you don’t want to pedal uphill anymore than needed. Look for the shortest and flattest route particularly on corners. Needless to say, be aware of other road users.

If you start to realise that those pervious days in the saddle have ripped your legs off, it’s time to adopt a bit of psychology. I personally like to focus on a sign post, tree etc say 100ms up the road and just think about pedalling to that spot. No I don’t stop when I get there, I just choose another feature up the road. In stops me from concentrating on negative thoughts.

Finally ensure you have left a bit in the tank to arrive in style out of the saddle. After all who’s going to know that for the bulk of the ride you’ve been crawling along having a crisis. The lasting memory captured on film of you arriving at the col is all that counts, isn’t it???

Enjoy and remember it’s all about personal challenges and not what others are doing around you.

Happy cycling 🙂

The Numpty’s Guide To Your First Day Away

This little insight will resonate with the fool hardy and be an insight for the inexperienced.

Leave Blighty in sub 20 degrees, and sit in the car for 2 and a 1/2 days. Wake up below a favourite peak (in my case Mont Ventoux) to the sound of people getting ready to ride to the summit. Announce that you’re beside yourself with excitement and just have to go, despite feeling totally knackered with a stiff back. Get ready at warp speed leaving behind trip essentials like that extra gel. After all you can’t remember where anything is because nothing is sorted! As a token gesture to good preparation, fill your bottles more than normal, because after all it’s gonna be hot!

Whizz past some French woman, half your age and think ‘hell that’s starting at a snail’s pace!’. After a short time hear her breathing down your neck and think,‘well it’s not a race anyway, so I’m going to let you pass and I’ll get you later.’ Suddenly be engulfed with an over whelming feeling of heat exhaustion because the temperature is rising to 30+ degrees. Check your gears to ensure you are actually on the big sprocket at the back. Maybe the front disc is rubbing? No, it’s a case of ‘what you see is what you get!’

Think, this stretch of 9% seems to go on for ever and big climbs are often rides of retrospective enjoyment. Get your ass whipped by some guy in a vest and gym shorts, circa 1960’s, flying by on an E bike. He’ll be pedalling like the clappers with his feet at 10 to 2 in a pair of flip flops. Your self esteem falls below the floor and you begin to wonder if your really are too old to expect great things of yourself. After all your back is in a state of total melt down, despite you trying to get out of the saddle on every corner.

After what seems a life time, the end is in sight. Is there a feeling of joy and elation? No not really, rather a feeling of completing a mental hell.

Mont Ventoux this time, L’Alpe d’hues a few years before. You have a poor memory Phelan or maybe the draw to join the lemmings is stronger than you think. Maybe the first ride should be easier to flushing the legs ready for harder things? What I do know is, that some things you have to find out for yourself.

Happy travels and may you all enjoy the elation of completing many big climbs abroad.

Don’t Let the Grass Grow Under Your Feet

_MG_3493I could have rehashed some article from a sport’s scientist, about what to do when it’s all going ‘pear shaped’. I don’t deny that their comments and findings hold great value, but sometimes I relate more to someone personal experience.

‘Heh that’s like me. I’ve had that and I’m not sure what to do’ is always kinda reassuring. So I am hoping that someone may find an element of hope and direction here. No this is not an Agony Aunt page, just some woman trying to think out of the box. It may not solve your training issues but it might just get you thinking.

Still training hard

Still training hard

It’s been a challenging return back to some level of fitness, after the end of the cyclocross season. Motivation has been at a low and I have been nursing a shoulder injury. Initially I did a few tough sportives, involving huge amounts of climbing sprinkled with cobbles. Could I galvanise my body into some serious action? Could I hell! I was capable of mauling my way round for hours, but it was very much a case of ‘what you see is what you get!’. Also I had lost all leg speed and ‘the straw which finally broke the camel’s back’ was a kicking at the Leek Hilly reliability. My pride was at an all time low and my self esteem was well and truly dented. Ok, I’m no superstar! I am a woman in her 50’s, my body is changing, I am getting slower and weigh a bit more, but I still train hard and want to do my best. I lost all confidence riding with groups of riders, fearing I would get blasted.Time for some evasive action I thought. I have always believed that within reason, you can improve if you put your mind to it. I have touched on this before.The likes of Jo Friel and other sport’s scientists, working with older athletes, emphasise the need to train differently. Yep you’re right, this is a favourite topic of mine, but let’s face it at 52 I have a vested interest in their findings. I don’t want to lie down, admit that I am going through the menopause and need to throw in the towel.

Here I am, having returned from today’s ride over the Cat and Fiddle and I have to say _MG_3613things are much better. No I haven’t measured my power, I can think of better ways to spend my money. Let’s face it, I am doing the best I can, so seeing it in watts is neither here nor there. I do know however, that this girl is nipping along with her heart rate over 150 bpm which for me is a good endurance ride. There comes a point when you know your body and heart rate well enough to recognise when you are recovering and working at a good personal level. So yep, I am back to using a heart rate monitor because the readings mean something to me. I know from years of training, when a depressed heart rate shows I am struggling and need more recovery.

So what am I doing differently? In the past during the off season, strength and endurance would have been my priority. I would have focused on big gear intervals and a 20/25 minute threshold sessions. But as I grow older, if I don’t work at a high cadence, I quickly turn into an ‘old plodder’!  I need to keep those neurological pathways firing fast, to make my legs pedal quickly.

So the emphasis has been on quality and speed. I have cut some of my long rides down and included two sets of intervals and a set of tabatas (20secs on 10secs off). The quest for quality has even meant that I do a lot of my sessions on a turbo; even when it’s sunny outside! The downside of living in the Peak District is that it’s always windy and every ride end’s up with me mauling up a 20% gradient. The only things that seems to have suffered is my sun tan, but you can get that in a bottle!

I have taken the interval sessions from the British Cyclocross page. They are part of a suggested 8 week training plan. I am not saying this strategy will work for everyone, but it does seem to be addressing my needs. When your tried and tested model isn’t working, you have to find a different way. We can all let the grass grow under our feet, but somethings are worth researching and fighting for.

Onwards and upwards to all my ageing friends and may we all continue to move forwards. See you in a muddy field sometime.

BCU 8 Week Plan




Core Skills Session

Loving developing core skills with a great group of ladies. We’ve been working on balance, co-ordination, gear selection and cornering. Really looking forward to a bit of dismounting, remounting cyclocross style next time along with descending.

Here’s a little video clip showing the team in action.

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



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.

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!



Post Season Active Rest


After the National Cyclocross Champs I was so in need of a mental and physical rest. After completing a fair few mtb races, I dived head first into cross racing in September. I knew it wasn’t ideal but it was what my heart said do, at the time. This year mtb racing will be non existent apart from the National Marathon Champs. I feel I just need to move on.

So here I am enjoying three weeks active rest, which so far has included riding with friends; a bit of fell running and some zumba, I’m loving it! When I was riding well, I always included a period of active rest, but have ignored it over the last couple of years. That was a mistake. I’m having fun and will feel so rejuvenated in a couple of weeks time, both mentally and physically. Slowing down has made me realise just how blitzed I really was.

If you’re like me and like to live life flat out, it’s not easy slowing down.  I have include a link which might make you change your mind. The article is aimed at those who race in the Summer, but obviously is relevant to those who dabble in the dark side of cross racing as well.