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.

Ride Journal – Entry 2 – Wet and Windy… Again!

It seems that in recent weeks the only weather being thrown at South Leicestershire is plenty of wind and copious amounts of rain. Nevertheless, I can only cope with so many consecuetive days grinding away on the turbo, so it was time to get out there and in amongst the sodden local country lanes. And since this was my only ride in the week not on the turbo trainer, it has become my latest entry to my Ride Journal. See Entry 1 here

Hit that Sweet Spot

To be fair, changeable would be a more accurate description than biblical on this particular day so I thought I’d squeeze in 30 miles of Sweet Spot Training while there was a break in the clouds. I always consider Sweet Spot as one of my favourite forms of training, as riding at just below threshold for a prolonged period is hard but it doesn’t completely decimate you, like say intervals for example. It’s also great when you have limited training time as it helps to build your aerobic base while increasing your abilities at higher intensity too. Basically you get a lot of bang for your buck!

On into Warwickshire

I donned my cycling kit, removed my Giant TCR from the turbo and set off south towards Warwickshire. Although the rain was intermittent the wind was consistently blowing hard and I decided that heading out through the local Warwickshire villages would mean I would have a huge tailwind coming home. This tactic however promised a difficult ride out, fighting a block headwind and by Christ it was strong. Still, I always find it an advantage to struggle into the wind first so you can reap the rewards of a nice tail wind back.

Making it up as I go

Although I had a general direction planned, I made my route up as I went along. A local club I recently started riding with usually heads out this was so I was familiar with most of the roads. I headed out into Ullesthorpe, Claybrooke and the took a left to cross the A5 out towards the small village of Monks Kirby. The tarmac (as it is in most of the UK) was littered with loose gravel and potholes that I had to navigate down the short decent into the village centre. At this point the rain had begun to let off again and sunlight started to crack through the cloud cover.

Out the back of Monks Kirby I made another left up a short but tough kick up into and through Pailton and then on towards Rugby. The roads around heare were tight, twisting and fast and I quickly made ground out towards Kings Norton against the relentless headwind.

Even though I was somewhat familiar with these roads, my knowledge wasn’t exactly expert and that was more relevant the further from home I was. I found myself out on the other side of Brinklow, a small village between Rugby and Coventry. Recognising my location and aware of a possible route home down the Fosse Way I decided that this was going to be my point of return and the moment when that headwind would become my ally.

Finally a tailwind

I darted back through Brinklow, battling past the enticing aroma of the village Chippy and set nice pace down the Fosse. The perfectly straight tarmac meant that I had the full force of the tailwind at my aid. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d spent the best part of 20 miles being battered by it then I would have considered it cheating! I was setting PR’s and I knew it. As I sailed home the rain returned and with that the slick terrain. These conditions were  slightly unnerving on the Fosse Way and with signs every 1/2 mile reminding me that I’m in a “high accident zone” I decided to turn off at Stretton and rejoin the route I took out through Monks Kirby.

Back into Leicestershire

I continued to set a very decent pace as I crossed the county border back into Leicestershire. In fact I managed a few top 10’s according to Strava. I was on the home straight and with a few miles to go I was fresh, fast and in great form. It was at this point when the weather gave me a big F**K YOU. As I turned towards the final stretch the wind had changed direction. Not only that, but it had increased to gale force conditions! I’d near enough come to a stop! Luckily I was almost home and I pressed on, head down over the bars, dodging flying debris and at one point a wheelie bin!

Almost home

I got home safely and took a moment as I stored my bike to catch breath and review my Strava recording. 0.1mph off a 20mph average!!! Damn headwind!