Weekly Review

I’m keeping it short and sweet because last week I didn’t even keep a total of how many hours I trained. I reckon I dropped from over 10 hours to down around 2, maybe even less. The week started strongly with a great Cycle Beat spin class and then a swim session. BUT my hip was getting more and more painful – I think I pulled it somehow on my “long” run last Saturday and by Tuesday evening I could barely walk and was limping everywhere. It is definitely my hip flexor that is hurting – but knowing what the problem is hasn’t helped me know what to do to make it better!

So I took things very slowly with none of my tempo / interval workouts that I had planned for Tuesday / Wednesday. Wednesday evening I was off on holiday! So this week was intended to be a recovery week anyway. I had intended to do a long run in Granada on my holiday, but the hip pain put paid to that and I made this a full recovery week… less exercise than I have done all year! Also more drinking than I have done all year and more late nights…..

A full post on Granada will come because it’s a fantastic city, one I’ve been to several times already and one I absolutely love to pieces. In the meantime I will leave you with a picture of our last night….

bath

Put me Back on My Bike – the story of Tom Simpson

This is the second of my bike book blogs (see here for the first) and luckily this one was fantastic from the start.

Put me Back on my Bike is the story of Tom Simpson, told by William Fotheringham, a sports writer and journalist.

put me back on my bike

I knew what everyone knows about Tom Simpson – that he was one of Britain’s great cyclists (although his achievements were paling slightly as I came upon him after the wonders of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Vicky Pendleton and Laura Trott amongst others), that he had died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux and that drugs and alcohol had been found in his system. He took on a greater relevance and importance in my life when I decided to cycle up Mont Ventoux. I laughed nervously about it when showing off about how hard it was going to be – “well a cyclist did die on the mountain one year, but he had taken drugs and alcohol and hopefully I won’t have any of that so I’ll be fine!” What I didn’t realise was that the drugs and the alcohol were only one part of it – the other huge reason for why I wasn’t going to die on the slopes of Ventoux was because there was no way, mentally, that I could push myself as far beyond my body’s limits as Simpson tried to do. I would go up nice and slowly with no worries about time; Simpson, ill and dehydrated, would be racing up the mountain, desperately trying to catch the climbers in front of him.

tom simpson struggling

Fotheringham weaves a wonderful story of Simpson’s life, showing the cyclist in all his complexities from numerous interviews with friends and family including his wife, reading letters written by Simpson himself and research into the race itself in that era – the 1960s. It is the story of Simpson’s life and an analytical, scientific explanation into the numerous factors that probably caused his death.

It would appear that Simpson died at the “right time” for the drugs element of his death to be fully emphasised, to live on beyond everything else that went into it. Drug use in the peloton had been getting worse and worse over the years before his death, with Dumas, the tour doctor, increasingly worried about its use – there were so many unprescribed drugs, nobody knew what they were taking or what the side effects were. The way the book tells it, it is almost as if Simpson was made an example of – as if his death was not caused (not solely) by the drugs and Dumas decided to refuse internment and pass the empty pill bottles on in order to make an issue of it, in effect, to scare the peloton clean. As Fotheringham says, “the moment Dumas refused internment was the moment when the Simpson tragedy took on a different dimension. Once Dumas decided to set the investigation in motion, the tragedy merged into the wider history of drug-taking in cycling and in sport in general.” Drugs had just become illegal in the peloton after increasing awareness and debates over their negative effects throughout the mid to late 1960s, and Simpson’s death led to the passing by the UCI Congress of international penalties for doping. This was a key development – consistent rules throughout the cycling world.

But despite increased awareness over drugs, science was still hugely lacking – for example, there was no real knowledge or understanding of the effects of dehydration on performance. The rules prevented riders from taking bidons from team cars (to stop them hitching lifts) and so the cyclists resorted to raids on local bars to pick up water (and that fateful bottle of brandy – they just grabbed whatever bottles they could get hold of). Dehydration and diarrhoea had kicked in with Tom Simpson a few days before his death, as we know from his mechanic’s memories of cleaning shit off Simpson’s bike after the day’s stage. It was believed that if you drank water, you would sweat more, and you would lose your strength. So cyclists battled through, and it was horrendously hot on that fateful day on Mont Ventoux. The heat had gotten to cyclists on other tours as well and William Fotheringham recounts its effects on the 1955 Tour de France – one near death (Malléjac never raced again), one breakdown (Kublet retired from the sport afterwards) and the collapse of at least six others.

Simpson’s illness, his dehydration, his use of drugs, all came together with his desire, his need to win and his need for money. He never had known when to stop, when his body couldn’t take anymore, and the drugs would further mask that. Ultimately it appears he pushed his body too far past the limits on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

And in comparison to the previous book I reviewed, French Revolutions, William Fotheringham really does the mountain justice. His description of riding up the mountain is so accurate, so lyrical, I loved it. “And in the final metres before the café, Provence opens up behind your back wheel like a map spread out on the floor: green vineyards, honey-coloured villages, brown forests”. And then as you approach the summit, “to the right, the great mass of sun baked limestone soars into the sky. Far below, to the left, what looks like the whole of Provence is on display, with row after row of rolling blue hills to the south”.

photo 5

But this is not just the story of Tom Simpson’s death and the mountain that conquered him. Through Tom Simpson’s life, the history of cycling in Britain in the post-war era is told, with Simpson’s role in changing it, in expanding the interest in cycling, increasing British professional, and bringing confidence to British cycling due to his successes and near misses on the continent. There are moments which show how much of professional cycling remains the same – such as the scene where Simpson retires from the 1966 tour with no strength in his hand from a fall, extra padding on his handlebars “but each bump in the tarmac jars the wound“. I read this just after Froome crashed out of the 2014 Tour for a very similar reason. There is also slight irony as this book was published before the Armstrong confession. Fotheringham states, with no irony, that Simpson paved the way for cyclists like Lance Armstrong – “as the first cyclist from outside mainland Europe to achieve true stardom, he was a sporting pioneer, blazing a trail which leads, indirectly, to the achievements of Lance Armstrong today”. It would appear that Simpson blazed a trail in more ways Fotheringham meant. This continues in the afterword, with a quote from Barry Hoban who was a member of Simpson’s team in the 1967 tour: “The only thing Tom did wrong was to die … [He] was doing nothing more than certain other riders were doing. Everyone knew that Tom took drugs but the use of the word “cheat” is wrong.” Again, this is horribly reminiscent of Armstrong’s repeated denials of being a cheat. However, they appear to differ in one very important way. Simpson comes across as a gentleman, speaking to all and interested in all, no matter their position in the peloton.

Thus, the legacy of Simpson endures – in the persistence of drug-taking within professional cycling, in the thousands of amateurs that struggle their way up Mont Ventoux every year, in the incredible popularity of cycling in Britain and the success of our cycling teams, in the Tour de France’s fantastic stages in Yorkshire and through London in 2014.

tom simpson

Weekly Round-up – “it’s meant to hurt” (plus wine)

I’ve had a wonderful weekend …. More on that later!

Firstly…. Just over ELEVEN HOURS of training this week made up of:

1 open water swim, 1 Richmond park cycle (2 laps), 1 long run, 1 pool swim, 1 threshold cycle, 1 strength session, 1 run training session….

I followed my usual cycle of starting off strong, missing a few workouts at the end of the week (due to work and it being so hot I couldn’t sleep) and then maxing it out at the weekend!

My run training session was really interesting – with a triathlete coach I met on the bus back to the airport from Kitzbuhel who offered to give me some help. We met at the Battersea Park stadium and I was like a little kid or a rabbit in the headlines watching all the sprinters on their proper training sessions – I hadn’t been on the track since the nightmares of school sports days! I warmed up and we spent some time videoing my running, before going through lots of drills and exercises with a focus on posture. We ended up with me running 15 minutes around the track as fast as I could. This was really hard – mentally more than anything else! Normally the point of running fast is that you get to the finish quicker and you can stop! So mentally it was hard to pace myself and keep going, especially in the final push to the “line” as it wasn’t a line I could see! Still, I was proud of my effort, especially as it was almost 9pm in the evening.running at battersea stadium

 

That was Thursday afternoon and the heat of that night meant James and I barely slept so Friday became a semi-rest day (just cycled home from work). James and I then went to a friends house to enjoy some cold meats, cheese and rosé on her roof terrace until the heavens opened and we ran home in the warm rain.

meat and cheese

I was apprehensive about the weekend because after such fantastic weather all week, storms were forecast. Saturday began at 6.30am when I woke up, had breakfast and got in the car to drive out to Ham Lake. I was slightly late and so ended up with the “experienced group”. I thought I’d give it a go but after a 450m warm-up I figured what was to come in the next hour may be too intense for me and slowly swam to the beginners group! This I much preferred as I am now among the fastest in the beginners group which always feels good. We worked a lot on practicing our sighting which I finally feel like I’m starting to get the hang of. We finished with both groups all together, a mass start and then a race around a small 350m loop. Great to get some starting practice and I’m enjoying going out hard for the first 10-15 strokes and then settling into my rhythm.

ham lake

All this time it was a light drizzle, with thunder clouds threatening but nothing to be heard and no lightning to be seen. I dried off after the session and drove the short 5 minutes to Richmond Park where it was time for my “long run” – 1 lap around the park of 12km. I didn’t enjoy it.richmond park I don’t think I enjoyed a single moment. It had stopped drizzling but the sky was heavy and the air humid, very quickly my body was shining in a sheen of sweat and my nose was running from the swim. I took off my t-shirt and ran in my sports bra, mopping up my sweat and wiping my nose. I also just felt the scenery was a lot more monotonous than I’d been expecting – the surface of the path was the same the whole way round, even if sometimes I was running through a wooded area and other times next to the thick grasses. And my legs were so heavy, every step a panting, sweaty, sore effort. I managed the 12k in just under 1 hour 15 minutes and couldn’t have been more happy to stop running, collapse on the grass for some stretches, before driving home with the windows down, listening to Ken Livingstone and David Mellor discuss the crisis in Gaza on LBC radio.

Back home and it was time to clean the flat & pop into Brixton for a wonderful lunch at French & Grace (lebanese flatbread with feta, pomegranate and minced lamb – together with a wonderfully refreshing pomegranate lemonade). It was so HOT that we both spent some of the afternoon just collapsed in our living room, me stretched out onto the floor next to the cat, drinking iced water and sweating heavily. A trip to John Lewis ensued only to discover they had sold out of EVERY SINGLE FAN. As had Argos. Probably a good thing as I was so hot there’s a large chance I would have spent £300 on this Dyson one!

dyson fan

The evening came around and it had cooled down slightly – we headed up to Islington for dinner and drinks at the Smokehouse with James’ family who were in London for his sister’s graduation.

Sunday dawned slightly less hot (but still boiling) and quite sunny. We pottered around, went to Lidl to buy our veg for the week, James’ parents arrived and then I set off for my cycle. Two hours out consisting of gentle cycles to and from Richmond Park and two laps of the park as fast as I could. I am getting to know the park and my responses to it so well. I know I will hate the first bit up Sawyers Hill – 2k at an average 2% gradient and with the wind barrelling down at you. My legs ached and complained and I tried to keep going, developing my new mantra “it’s meant to hurt.. It’s meant to hurt…” as I tried to keep in a high gear and fast cadence. At this point I hate Richmond Park, I feel slow and crap and tired and I make excuses for myself, saying that I’ll only do one lap, I’m exhausted for [x] reason, I’m just weak and not strong enough for cycling. Then I get to the crest of the hill where it flattens out, and the rest of the way round is so much better that I start to enjoy myself and think “oh, I can do this!” Then there is a short sharp steep hill later on, which I had to walk up the first time I tried it, so I love powering on up not even in my lowest gear now – real evidence of how far I’ve come in just under a year! I was really pleased with my two laps, because even having to stop at a roundabout twice and slowing down behind cars (behind slower cyclists) ocassionally, I still managed my fastest ever overall speed – 25.8kph (just over 16 mph). Not sure how good my maths is but I think that would give me a 40k bike of just over an hour and a half which I would be happy with for my first Olympic distance! We will see……

Back home and I settled into the very serious business of drinking prosecco and rosé in the garden, chatting to James’ mum and dad, eating the wonderful roast beef James cooked and playing with the cats – another cat seems to have decided to adopt our house and gradually moved further and further in over the course of the weekend until he was curled up on the bed next to our Oscar-cat!

cats outsideboris on the floorcats on the bed

French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France

This is the first of a series of blogs about books about bikes – I may or may not have become rather obsessed with the Tour de France in the last few weeks and have been burying my nose in various bike books (I’m loving the alliteration here), and quoting facts and statistics at anyone who will listen and often those who won’t. I don’t really understand why not, as it’s all incredibly interesting! So now I’m going to bore / intrigue and delight you all with some reviews and recommendations.

The first one I read was French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore.

french revolutions

And sadly this one I wouldn’t hugely recommend (better is to come, I promise). It’s the story of one middle aged man with two small children, interested in cycling but not really a cyclist himself, who decides what he really wants to do is ride the route of the Tour de France. And he is so completely, utterly clueless. I couldn’t quite decide whether his cluelessness was amusing or irritating (cycling the Tour de France is a big thing, you should at least know what you’re doing!) but ultimately it was horribly reminiscent of my first year of cycling, when every issue was met either with a call to my mum, or extensive, worried googling and then begging James to just sort it out. Utter embarrassment every time I walked into a bike shop – I completely recognised his description of bike shops staffed by those who get satisfaction out of impressing their superiority on everyone else!

There were a few things that annoyed me about this book (let’s get the bad out of the way first). The extensive adjectives and anecdotal similes left me wary from the very beginning. Either this was a writer trying too hard to be a funny writer, or he really spoke / thought like that, in which case I wasn’t sure I’d get on with him particularly well! Too many words, too many long sentences.Aside from this, his lack of knowledge about cycling seemed to lend itself more to a slightly condescending, patronising tone which carried through to his descriptions of France – every town was boring, grey, run down, populated with rude people.

I half loved, half hated the chapter on climbing Mont Ventoux. He captured the difficulty, its fearsome reputation, he mentioned Tom Simpson, together with some really interesting facts on drug use in the early days of the peloton (cocaine dropped onto cyclist’s tongues and the incredibly candid quote from rider Jacques Anquetil that “you’d have to be an imbecile or a hypocrite to imagine that a professional cyclist who rides 235 days a year can hold himself together without stimulants“). But in my opinion, having cycled up it myself, he just didn’t do the majesty of the mountain justice, even stating that once you start climbing you stop noticing the scenery: “when the last sickly little Christmas trees gave up the ghost just around the corner, all that lay above me was a bold and soulless slagheap of concrete-coloured rubble, the road zigzagging crudely up to a drab, antenna-topped weather station….” SOULLESS?! Mont Ventoux?!! I was almost angry on the mountain’s behalf. Okay, yes, I was very angry on the mountain’s behalf. Yes I probably care more about this mountain having been there myself, but his description was just so different, so negative, so lacking compared to the others I’ve been reading (and which I’ll mention in later blog posts) that I just couldn’t get on with it.

photo 2-2

Now the good – because there was good, and I would still recommend this book to those of you that love cycling. The book is filled with anecdotes of past tours and the characters that cycled in them, from the 1966 strike against drug tests, to how to go the toilet en route! Each chapter, each part of the route an excuse to tell another story.

And then there are some sentences that made me smile with recognition: The sporting-goods industry prospers from the eternal truth that people who are not very good at sometjing would rather blame a lack of expensive equipment than their own physical failings. Certainly rectifying the former is a lot quicker. Every time I looked at [Chris Boardman’s book] I felt an itching desire to slam his scary book shut and go into town to buy things made out or carbon fibre.

The main problem of this book is that it makes me want to do it too. If this man can cycle the route, this man with little to no cycle experience, so completely clueless, travelling at speeds similar to those I manage through the traffic of Central London, walking his bike up hills and no clue about nutrition…. surely, surely this is not an impossible task? Hmmm maybe I should do this next summer, tracing the route of the 2014 tour de france? It began in Yorkshire, why not?! And then the crushing realisation that Tim Moore took six weeks to do the route and there is very little likelihood of me being able to take six weeks off and being able to afford to do so! Plus I’d get very lonely and very fed up of having to carry all my stuff. But the dream still lives on, especially every time the Tour de France helicopter swoops up away from the peloton and the camera scans out over the gorgeous French countryside.

Tour_de_France_logo.svg

Eating the things I’ve grown

Last night was the first night this year I managed to make a meal with products from my own garden! Very exciting and it tasted fantastic. It’s also a simple and easy weekday meal (and vegetarian!) even if you have to buy all the ingredients. And as it’s Wednesday today I thought what better than a WIAW post as it’s been a while since my last….

65dc7-wiawserveupanextracupbutton

So yesterday began with first breakfast – half a banana before I got on my bike and cycled the 40mins to work. Then followed a 45 min swim session before main breakfast – the standard bowl of porridge with dried bananas and a little bit of honey. I am most certainly a creature of habit. Before lunch came a session on the gym bike that left me sweating buckets and starving – good thing I had a wonderful chicken pie in my bag (made by James) that just needed to be heated up. My afternoon snack was a small bowl of greek yoghurt and blueberries – yum! And then it was home for dinner - the main event!

Dinner = courgette, tomato and rosemary risotto.

risotto

I began frying an onion and then added in a few of my home-grown tomatoes, stirring until the onion was soft and the tomatoes pulpy. Then I added in the risotto rice and began cooking the risotto as you would normally (as I described in this blog post).

About half way through the risotto cooking, I popped outside and pulled off three yellow courgettes from my wonderful courgette plant. This was the source of much stress as for months it grew bigger and bigger, produced tiny yellow courgettes and beautiful yellow flowers … all of which eventually withered and died as no ‘male’ courgette flowers had grown to pollinate them. I was worrying that my plant just would not grow male flowers and so we wouldn’t get any courgettes. Then towards the end of last week I spotted one!!! Cue much excitement and within a week we had a few eatable courgettes and many more growing.

courgette plant

I chopped up the courgettes and added them into the risotto along with lots of rosemary from the garden. Stirred until the risotto was cooked, grated in LOTS of parmesan (I went a bit overboard) and topped it with a few fresh tomatoes just plucked off the plant.

Okay this blog is slightly showing off… especially as my friend Charlotte (Hi Charlotte!) and I went to the garden centre together and her plants are apparently so much better than mine… well I am very proud of my home-grown dinner!

photo 1 (3)

Swim training!

So when I began triathlon training, I really, really struggled with my swimming. In January I couldn’t swim 100m front crawl. In fact, after 40m front crawl and 40m breast stroke I was gasping for air and in need of a ‘rest interval’. As I started to get better I tried to build up my distances by seeing how many lengths I could swim in 20 minutes. This was really tiring and wasn’t particularly good for my morale (I got bored and my mind told my body I was tired) or for my technique (I didn’t have any).

Come March I started having a few lessons and looking for a swim training plan. It is SO important, especially as a beginner, to work on your technique and work in sets. Technique counts virtually above all in swimming and if you keep swimming lengths, getting more and more tired, your technique will suffer and bad habits will kick in.

swimming

With that in mind – find a plan! I’ve raved about this one on the TriRadar website before – as a beginner swimming trying to be able to swim 750m front crawl it worked really well. I swam the swim sessions in the plan, together with around 4 one-on-one lessons and two open water swim training sessions (if you’re in London, you should think about going to an RG Active open water swim session). This training got me from barely being able to swim 100m, to managing 750m in less than 15 minutes and being 4th girl out of the water in my sprint tri!

But… now I’m training for an Olympic distance – 1500m – and I don’t just want to get round the course, I really want a sub-30 minute swim. So the TriRadar plan isn’t quite right for me now.

I was lucky enough coming back from Austria (where I was supporting my mum in the European Tri Championships) to be sat next to a qualified tri coach. We swapped emails and he’s been invaluable with advice. We’re actually meeting on Thursday for a training session (all because he said he would “enjoy the challenge” of training me!!!). So this swim session comes partly from his advice and partly from the TriRadar plan. I did this this morning and finished feeling exhausted and happy – exactly how you want to feel after a workout! It’s best if you’ve worked out your CSS speed beforehand (see the Swim Smooth website for more info and I also blogged about it here). This will give you a guide as to what speeds to be swimming at, but it’s not 100% necessary.

1. 100m warm-up. This left me at the ‘wrong’ end of the pool (5 lengths) so 1 length of breast stroke back to the beginning.

2. Main set:

- 200m at CSS speed. 30 seconds rest.
– 160m at CSS speed. 20 seconds rest.
– 100m at CSS speed. 20 seconds rest.
– 60m at CSS speed.

These distances are based on the fact that I’m swimming in a 20m pool – they could be adapted to 200m, 150m, 100m, 50m for a 25m pool.

Repeat the main set two or three times – I stopped at two times as, although I had no problem hitting my CSS pace (I just swam and it turned out to always be a few seconds below CSS pace) I could feel I was getting tired towards the end and my technique was slipping.

3. Recovery – 2 lengths of gentle breast stroke to help lower the heart rate.

4. Technique – 400m of two lengths with the pull buoy, two lengths front crawl, breathing bilaterally or to the ‘wrong’ side on at least one of those lengths.

The workout took me 45 minutes (including shoulder stretches at the end) and I covered 1600m in the pool without getting bored at all!

 

Week in Review – triathlon training

I was super-happy with my week last week, a fantastic week in all respects (other than occasionaly having to work a few longer hours than I would have liked!!)

10 and a half hours of training – the most I’ve managed in months! That was…..

- three days cycle commuting
2 swim session
-
2 strength sessions (one upper body, one lower body)
– 1 spin class
1 threshold run
1 long run
1 long(ish) cycle

bikes in carsPacking up in London for a wonderful day exploring the South Downs

This is the height of the ‘build’ phase of my triathlon training (I’m now 8 weeks out) and this week now will be my last week before I take a rest week, and then move into more interval training. I’m thinking of cutting out both the strength sessions and replacing them with more fast runs and cycles, while keeping in one longer cycle and run to build on endurance during the weekends.

My swim session looked like this:

100m front-crawl warm-up – slow and getting progressively faster. (Yes I can do this now! I have more than one swim speed!!!! This is pretty good progress for me!) As my pool is only 20m the warm-up saw me at the ‘wrong end’ so I did one length of slow breast stroke.

Then I began a CSS test – this is a test to determine your threshold speed for swimming. You start with a 400m sprint. I’d never attempted to swim 400m fast in a spring before and so wasn’t sure how fast I could push myself, especially at first. I ended with a time of 8min 5 seconds.

I then recovered, swimming 2 lengths of breast stroke as well as taking a big rest break until my heart rate was completely back down, before setting off on a 200m sprint – 3min 40 seconds. Once my swim was over, I put the speeds into the calculator on the Swim Smooth website and it informed me that my CSS speed was 2:12 / 100m. Okay, glad I know that, now I have absolutely no idea how to make sure I am swimming at that speed during my training! I sense this will take a bit of trial and error and will begin this tomorrow morning.

That done, I set off into a 500m drill of two lengths with a pull buoy between my legs, two lengths standard front crawl. Then 200m of two lengths kicking and two lengths front crawl. Then 500m of the first pull buoy drill.

It was a really good swim set with a nice mixture of sprints and drills!

My threshold run looked like this:

I much prefer doing speed work/threshold runs on a treadmill. I haven’t been to a running track before and I find being able to set the speeds on a treadmill really helps, otherwise I’m not sure how would ensure I would hit the right pace. I guess this is a skill to be learnt and so I’m sure I should give it a go at some point! But for now… speed work = treadmills.

So my threshold run involved a 3 min warm-up at a gentle pace (around 10kph). I then did four sets of 5 minutes at 12kph – that speed would give me a 50m 10k which would be a great aim for the end of this year/beginning of the next. I had 90 sec rests in between each set, about a minute standing on the side of the treadmill panting and 30 secs slow jogging getting ready to set off again.

I sweated absolute buckets but I loved it!

Then as I said in yesterday’s post, Saturday was a fantastic day of exercise involving the most incredible run and a really fun cycle. The only issue is that it was still 10k shorter than my triathlon cycle distance, and despite feeling like I was pushing myself, I was much slower than I want to be…. I’m hoping the average speed was slow as we did stop a few times to check the route and share out water, plus there was a really long steep hill which I took VERY slowly….excuses excuses I know!

trail run

Saturday night my dad had a big party with a marquee and we all drank far too much – Sunday was therefore rest day / alcohol recovery day! Still slightly in recovery today and didn’t manage to get up for my morning spin class which I am annoyed at myself for but oh well!