Ride Journal – Entry 4 – Banbury with the MAMILS

Banbury with the MAMILS

It’s been a little while since my last ride Journal. Not because I’ve not had any good rides to write about. In fact I’ve been on a plethora of interesting rides over the last fortnight. I just haven’t had the time to blog about any of them. However my spin to Banbury with the MAMILS (Middle Aged Men in Lycra for those unfamiliar with the term) and back was too good of a ride to leave rotting in the archives of my Strava profile. With near misses, new roads, a top 200 climb and a free coffee, I felt it only right that I put pen (or at least laptop) to my recent weekend journey out in the beautiful Warwickshire countryside.

Firstly, I’m not too sure if MAMILS is considered a derogatory term or not these days. Especially after Sir Chris Hoy’s recent comments about them, although it was slightly tongue in cheek. Also I’m probably at least 6-7 years away from being labelled as Middle Aged, so is it right for a MIL to refer to someone as a MAMIL in a world where everybody is offended? Perhaps I’m overthinking this…

 

Rushing Around

Anyway, I was supposed to ride to Rugby and meet up with 3 ‘middle aged men dressed in tight cycling attire’ by the Bilton Coop. However my inability to cope with early mornings (more specifically getting out of bed), meant I had to lob my bike in the car and tear arse down the A5. I didn’t want to be late as I actually only knew 1 of the 3 other cyclists, and even him I’d only met a few times although one of those occasions was on a weekends riding in the Ventoux Province of France where I got to know him quite well. Still, I just about made it with little time to spare and after some quick introductions we were away, out towards Dunchurch, destination Banbury, Oxfordshire.

 

A Bad Start

Within the first two minutes my ride almost descended into catastrophe. Riding side by side with my fellow Mont Ventoux’r, we were mostly catching up on the last few months cycling including discussions on new bikes and our approaching trip the the NEC Cycle Show next month. However my sense of direction decided to fail me when I near enough turned into his bike at a busy junction. He was fine, but how I held onto my bike I’ll never know. A few meters of snaking across the tarmac, desperately freeing my feet so I could stabilise myself was followed by embarrassment and both of us apologising to each other, when it was I who clearly fluffed up.

Anyway, we pressed on over the A45, the near miss now a distant memory as we glided through some beautiful countryside accompanied by absolutely glorious weather conditions. This wasn’t a tough session, it was a coffee ride in every sense and socially and scenically it was just what I wanted on a hot summer Saturday morning. We rode through some beautiful quaint little villages which I mostly forget the names of but the roads we quiet, intriguing and perfect for riding your bike fast.

Cycling View of Napton on the Hill

The Edge

The road started to get a bit lumpy as we approached Priors Marston, and it went from lumpy to considerably steep out through the back of Wormleighton. The ride was arduous but at the same time lovely riding nonetheless, with excellent views over by Burton Dasset Country Park.

The big hill was yet to come though. Edge Hill in fact, which comes in at number 136 in Simon Warren’s Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs: A Road Cyclists Guide to Britains Greatest Climbs. It is a hill I’ve never actually taken on despite it being relatively local to me. I’ve heard about it though and it certainly something I wanted to experience. As it happened, our ride would join the climb part the way up, which meant to get the full ‘Edge Hill experience’ I had to cycle downhill in the opposite direction to my group, just to u-turn at the bottom and begin my ascent up The Edge!

To be honest, all the talk and conjecture about Edge Hill on the way to it kind of overhyped it a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it was a climb. But it was kind of short and sweet, averaging at 9.5% and it left me a little underwhelmed. Thats not to say it was a bad climb, far from it, in fact I’d say its the best climb around these parts by a long way. It was just built up to be something epic when in reality it was a sharpish 4 minute climb in fairly nice surroundings. It reminded me of the time when Gladiator was released and everyone said it was the greatest film ever! When I finally got round to seeing it, I thought “yes, its good… but greatest ever?”.

 

Down into Banbury

After the slight anti-climax of Edge hill and rejoining my fellow MAMILS, we rode single file down a long sweeping decent that felt like it went all the way to Banbury. This was a very fast road and it’s pretty much the only time we really pushed it as a group on the way out, putting in a proper effort, chain-ganging it all the way into Banbury. I wasn’t the route planner, so I’m not sure why they chose Banbury as the days terminus as it wasn’t exactly pleasant. Maybe we hit the wrong part of town, but we road through some rather nice villages which surely would have offered a better resting place that Costa Coffee at the Gateway Shopping Centre? Although I have to say, I do love a good flat white from costa accompanied by a slice of Victoria Sponge. And its even better when its free, with Rob (one of the MAMILS) offering to get his round in. I argued I should buy my own since its my first time riding with them, but if truth be told, I didn’t fight much of a battle and ended up whole-heartedly accepting his generosity.

I hope they never read this, but Rob, Andy and Dean who I rode with were possibly 3 of the nicest blokes I’ve had the pleasure of joining in a group ride. We chewed the fat and after finishing our coffees we were back on the bike for the return leg of our morning cycle.

 

Goodbye Banbury

It certainly wasn’t a sad goodbye and I can’t see me making many efforts to return to the market town on the edge of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds in the near future (sorry Banbrians). We set of at quick pace on what Dean described as “a bastard of a road”, and it was. The A361 was busy, loud, miserable and full of pot holes. It didn’t stop me from setting a top 5 time on Strava through the back of Chipping Warden however. Although thats most likely because local cyclists with experience of the area do their best to avoid this stretch of tarmac. We turned off the main road at this point up through the exoticly named Aston Le Walls, skirting past the Boddington Reservoir to rejoin the road we headed out on at Priors Marston. The pace settled into a nice rhythm as we discussed the well trodden topic of motorist vs cyclists. I was able to capture a couple of nice shots of Napton on the Hill on a sheep ridden road near Lower Shuckburgh, although after later inspection I realised my beautiful landscape picture had been inadvertently photo-bombed by Andy taking a piss!

MAMILS

 

On into Rugby

I started to recognise some of the village names again which meant we wasn’t far from home (by home and mean the Bilton Coop). Andy and Dean both ride with the Rugby Racers Club and we hit one of their regular time trial routes on the A45. At this point it seemed it was every man for himself and the small group began to split somewhat on the steady climb up the dual carriageway back into Dunchurch. I opened the legs up a bit myself but decided to wait for Rob (who was slightly slower up the climbs) at the entrance of the Dun Cow to regroup before we said our goodbyes.

I thanked both Rob and Andy and agreed that I would definitely be joining them again when possible as along with Dean they were great company, and headed down the Dunchurch Road  to my hastily parked car. A quick removal of my front wheel,the bike was back in the boot of my car and I was on my way back to Lutterworth with 60 decent miles in the legs.

 

 

 

Cycling – The Power of the Mind

Getting fast on a bike is all about power, weight and endurance right? …Wrong. An integral part of getting faster or going further on your bike is the mind. How much pain can you endure? How much further can you push? How much longer can you suffer? One of the things I have done this year is concentrate on improving my mental conditioning with amazing results.

Cycling - its all in the mind

If you believe it will happen then it most likely will happen:

Without necessarily improving my fitness I have seen massive increases in my performance, especially over longer distances. I used to think I could go fairly well over anything sub 30 miles. Then as soon as I’d hit that 30 mile mark I’d almost hit a mental wall. As if I was waiting for the inevitable drop in my energy and subsequently speed as well. I was almost forcing my legs to slow down before I even gave myself a chance to show myself I can do it. There’s probably a fancy name for this where if you believe something will happen than it most like will, but if you think the same way as I once did then you are immediately putting yourself on the back foot.

Positive Thinking:

The power of positive thinking
Instead of “I can’t”, you need to think “I can”. How many times have you been out on your bike, running on empty thinking “I can’t do anymore”? What about you instead think “I can and I will go faster!” This is the approach I have been taken and it has allowed me to smash through that 30 mile wall and maintain the same performance across double the distance. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my bad days on the bike when I feel like I’ve got nothing in my legs, but instead of being negative about it, I consider how much of achievement it will be when I crush a ride with heavy legs.

Mind over Matter:

Another technique I employ is blocking out the pain. We’ve all been there, when it’s just you and your bike and your legs are screaming at you. Well there are many techniques you can employ to distract your mind from suffering. You could instead focus on breathing, or maybe do what I do (especially when I’m on the turbo with the music on loud) and sing! You could use markers on the road to get that little bit further or push that little bit harder, for example “I’m going to push harder until the next road sign or next village!” If you start thinking negatively then you need to block it out.

Visualisation Techniques:

The Sufferfest have a Mental Training program which recommends visualising putting up a stop sign to block out any negative thoughts and then to the right of that Stop Sign is an image of you achieving your goal. I employed this technique recently on a fast group ride. The pace was high and at one point around 45 miles in, it I felt I was going to get spat out the back of the group I was in. I instead blocked that thought with my imaginary stop sign and visualised myself not just hanging on, but instead sitting on the front, upping the pace and punishing the rest of the group. I have to say it worked, and not only did I hold on but I sat on the front for a good chunk and ended up splitting the pack up a short climb! Now I use that technique every time negative thoughts start to cloud my mind.

Setting Goals:

Setting Goals
As with anything you want to spend time doing, you need motivation. Motivation is what makes you push further and harder and to get motivation, you need a goal. I’ve started setting goals in every part of my cycling. I have big goals like winning a race or cycling Lands end to John O’Groats. But I also have weekly goals for example “I’m going to cycle 200 miles this week” or “I’m going to do 3 interval sessions this week”. I even set goals on individual rides like distance, Strava Segments or avg speed! Having goals gives you the motivation to get out and achieve them.

Ride in a group:

Riding in a group almost destroys every mental battle you can come up against. If you commit to a group ride it may get you out on your bike when you may not have had the motivation to do so. Only last week I had arranged to ride with some friends early in the morning. The alarm clock went off and every part of my mind and body was telling me to stay in bed. But I didn’t want to let my friends down! So I got up, donned the lycra and headed out on my bike. Another thing group riding helps with is the mind over matter scenario. Cycling in a group often means you can pass the time by just having a chat. Before you know it, you’ve got 30 miles under the belt before you’ve even realised! Finally the confidence you can get from cycling in a group is going to make you go faster. There is always a competitive component of group cycling and you can see how you’re doing in comparison to others. If you have good legs, this comparison will lift your confidence, encouraging increased performance.

Gain the advantage:

The mental side of cycling is often overlooked by most. If you choose to focus on ‘upgrading the mind’ then you’re going to have a massive advantage over the many. Most people in cycling focus soley on increasing there power, improving aero position, eating properly, loosing weight and as always buying better/lighter tech. Obviously, these are all important elements of cycling but if you choose to take time to improve the mind and mental techniques then your gaining a vital component to increasing your performance that is often disregarded.

Commuting to get Fit

I’m always trying to get faster on the bike and its fairly obvious that the best way to do that is by spending more time on the bike. But if you’re like me and you often find yourself working long hours, or you enjoy spending your time at home with your wife and kids, then its hard to find enough time to get some decent miles in the legs.

Commute Angry

I’m a strong believer in quality over quantity and if you can squeeze in just a few extra rides with some quality workouts then you will be well on your way to getting much more bike fit. One great way of squeezing in extra miles? Commuting to work by bike. The secret is to commute angry! Ride as hard as you can to work if the road and traffic allow of course. And if you can afford to, increase the distance somewhat on the return trip and chuck in some hard intervals. Like I said, Quality not Quantity and you if you ca make a 5-10 mile commute as hard as a 30-40 mile weekend ride then you are on the right path.

Commute to get fit

 

Extra weight and less aero

Often when commuting you are carrying a lot of extra weight, a change of clothes, your lunch, maybe your even riding on your heavy commuter bike? Also you probably won’t be wearing your most aero clothing.  I’m usually not in kit that Team Sky would endorse, often commuting in a t-shirt and football shorts . All the extra weight and increased air resistance will make you feel like your flying though when you get back on a race light machine with your performance lycra!

A little is better than nothing at all

I don’t do it every day, but I find that by cycling to work and back maybe 2 or 3 times a week has vastly increased my performance on my club and weekend rides. I’m honestly fitter than I’ve ever been because of it. Not only that, I’ve saved an absolute mint in fuel costs! Yes, you could just get out on your bike every evening instead, but then you miss out on the family time. So while the weather is nice and the days are still long, why not give it a try to make up for those hours you don’t get to spend on your bike?

Ride Journal – Entry 1 – Wet, Windy and Starving

I’ve decided to review some of my rides in a weekly segment called Ride Journal. In the first addition I write about a ride that was only supposed to be a quick 6 mile commute 

I was only supposed to be riding the short commute back home when I was asked by a colleague if I fancied going out for a decent ride after work. I had my kit in my locker and normally it would be a great idea, although on this particular day I hadn’t actually eaten anything. It was approaching 2:30pm, I could possibly get away within an hour, however my stomach was already groaning at the lack of any breakfast or lunch. In fact only half a bakewell flapjack from the company canteen had passed my lips that whole day.

“When you say decent ride… how decent?”

Café Ventoux and back?” my colleague replied.

The ‘Cafe Ventoux Loop’ is one of my regular rides so I’m well aware that it is 25 miles out from my house, plus the six miles extra from work.

“Scratch that, it closes at 5pm on Fridays, we could just go out that way though and find a coffee shop”.

Some ummin’ and arrin’ later and I agreed to join him, but only if the Coffee Shop we found sold slabs of cake, so I could at least run on some form of fuel. One hour later I was on my bike. The first 10 minutes of the ride consisted of me making excuses for my almost inevitable bonk. We were flying though, aided by an absolutely glorious tail wind behind us. The first half of the ride was fairly flat too, so other than a few junctions and some temporary traffic lights we were able maintain a decent tempo.

By the time we reached Saddington we had decided that our destination should be the small market town of Uppingham, Rutland. My colleague knew it well and informed me that I had in fact cycled there once before, last year as part of the Rutland Arrivederci Century ride. I believe it was around 90 miles in so I was most likely flagging a bit. At this point the route was beginning to become a bit up and down, with plenty of short sharp kicks offering a perfect environment for some hill intervals. It helps when you ride with someone of an equal ability, if not slightly better, as it pushes you to maintain the pace or at best keep up. This was certainly the case today, especially since I was approaching 20 hours with little or no food.

The hill intervals had taken its toll. As we approached Stockerston my legs were burning with lactic acid. I was also beginning to rekindle the memories of Rutland Arrivederci. One memory in particular was the Climb into Uppingham itself. I remember it being absolute torture last year and with the glorious tail wind of before now a prominent cross wind, I was dreading it.

Low and behold, Stockerston Climb was a relative breeze. It turns out that those months I’ve spent on the indoor turbo trainer has served me well. Don’t get me wrong, my legs felt it, but I set a decent pace and refusing to be provoked into an attack against my colleage, I tucked in, head down and ground away. Before I knew it I was in Uppingham, lid off, tucking into coffee and cake at Don Paddy’s. “Food!”, my stomach could barely believe it. I must say it was possibly the nicest cake I’ve ever eaten, although it would have most likely been the nicest scabby horse I’d ever eaten if that was served alongside my latte.

 

It was while my colleague was offering concern that I was deliberately starving myself in order to beat him up the climbs (I’m not by the way) that the clouds darkened and the heavens began to open. This was going to be a miserable 30 mile ride home in driving rain and a block head wind, running solely on a milky coffee and a slice of Victoria Sponge. A quick stretch of the legs and a downing of the remaining drops of my now cooled caffeine hit and we were again on our way. I decided to sit on the front, channelling my inner Kwiatkowski, and although I didn’t feel the need to chuck my glasses on the roadside I was certainly pushing hard through the almost biblical conditions. The surface was slick in places and flooded in others and I carefully nudged down the hills as opposed to thrashing it down as I did on the way out. Still, despite the wind, rain and lack of food we were able to press on home at a decent pace, swapping duties at the font akin to a mini chain gang albeit only two of us.

As we approached my colleagues house (who lives 5 miles closer than I do) we were absolutely sodden. His teasing earlier about me being anorexic had dissipated and was replaced with heavy breathing with intermittent silence as we rolled into his village. I suppose 50 odd hard miles does that to a man. We pulled over and found some time to moan a bit more about the conditions, but in truth I think we both had enjoyed the battle.

It was then that I was left with the dilemma of having only 5 miles to go, however if I went the long way I could bump my ride up a few miles to get a nice round 100km’s in the legs. Even in this weather, it wasn’t up for debate.

So off I went, home… the long way round.