5 TOP TIPS WHEN YOU’RE STRUGGLING IN A RACE

You know that moment in a race where you want to cry, stamp your feet and throw a strop because you can’t possibly continue even another inch? Everything hurts and you’re tired (and possibly hungry) and the finish line is SO FAR AWAY.

Well, I had that for the first time in a long time during l’Etape London, a 49 mile cycle event that I did a few weeks ago. The background of this event is that I did it in it’s inaugural year, 3 years ago, and loved every gloriously sunny second of it. I flew round, indulged in salty potatoes at the feed station and only bonked hard once. I also knew nothing about fuelling and was coming off the back of a triathlon season that included lots of cycle training and generally higher levels of cardiovascular fitness.

When the opportunity arose to take part again in the event I jumped at the chance. It came a gentle 9 weeks after our epic cycling trip from London to Paris (you can read about that here) so I thought ‘great, my residual fitness will carry me over as well as regular training rides every weekend’. In reality, life and a health blip got in the way and I hadn’t cycled properly in about a month by the time l’Etape London came round. Whoops.

Luckily I was doing it with two other friends who are both badass cyclists and I knew I’d be able to make it. I just didn’t know how close to not making it I would get.

The event itself was relatively well-organised. The race village at the Olympic Park Velodrome was bigger than last time with some tasty-looking food trucks, a huge water tank for refills and various other brands who had some cool kit on show. We were registered for the Cycletta wave, a women’s only wave, which when it came down to it consisted of 6 women. Yep, 6 women. Apparently a lot of the Cycletta wave had gone off with earlier waves to cycle with their male friends which kind of defeats the point. I know once you’re out on the course it doesn’t matter so much but we did see those 3 other women out on the course and it felt good knowing that we were kind of like a little team. Next year, they either need to cut that wave altogether or publicise it more so it becomes more special.

The first 30 miles of the race flew by, mostly because Elle and I were nattering away the whole time as we had a lot to catch up on. The hills that forced me to walk last time seemed much more insignificant this time for both of us and although they were tough they weren’t world-endingly tough. The course volunteers were (in the most part) really helpful and they cheered us on the whole way.

It was after the (delicious) feed station that things started to unravel. My legs felt heavy, my hips and glutes hurt and I could feel the tell-tale start of chafe on my undercarriage. From that point it was a slog to the end of the course. 20 miles of slog. To put that into perspective, that’s about 2.5 hours of struggling.

Elle kept pushing me and we took it in turns to go in front and lead the pace. Her constant support and energy kept me going despite wanting to stop with every fibre of my body. With about 3 miles to go she zoomed off for a strong finish and I tried to follow suit. It didn’t really happen but I did get across that finish line in one piece. Just.

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So here are my top tips on getting through a race when you’re struggling:

1) The world isn’t ending

This is something that I always have to remind myself. There was life before this struggle and there will be life after it and looking back on it, it’s never as bad as you think it is in the moment

2) Take your mind off it

Most of the struggle in these situations is mental. I mean, yes it hurts physically, but it’s your brain that wants you to give in to the pain and quit. So do what I do and think your pain away. My favourite game to play is daydreaming about what I would do if I won the lottery. Honestly, before you know it you’ve spent millions of pounds and you’re another 30 minutes down the road

3) Remind yourself you’ve done it before

If you haven’t actually done the exact race before, you’ve definitely hit tough moments in training and pushed through them. You’ve done it once, you can do it again

4) Think about crossing the line

This works for me every time. The draw of adding another medal to my lineup really helps to keep me moving forward. If you don’t finish, you don’t get a medal and if you don’t get a medal then what are you going to post on Instagram that evening?

5) Set mini goals

One of my favourite games to play in the closing stages of a race is to pick out individuals and make it my mission to overtake them. If they overtake you then you have to work harder to get back in front. Yes, it’s petty but my god it keeps you moving

 

Of course, all of these tips are to be used within reason. If you’re injured (including dangerous levels of dehydration) then my advice would be to stop, seek medical attention and come back next year for that medal. It’ll still be there.

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Thank you to Human Race for giving me a space in l’Etape London in return for this review. All opinions are my own

TOP 10 TIPS TO CYCLE FROM LONDON TO PARIS

Cycling from London to Paris was a massive learning curve for me because I’d never done any long-distance cycling before, let alone any kind of long-distance endurance event. So for those of you looking to take the challenge on here are my top 10 tips that I learned along the way.

1) Practice packing and carry your bags on training rides

I ended up strapping my backpack onto a luggage rack over my back wheel using bungee cords and the full bag added on considerable weight. It changed the handling of my bike and made going uphill considerably more hard-going, especially on the first day while my legs got used to it. I trained with a half-full bag which in hindsight was a bit pointless

2) Train with your buddies

Cycling as part of a group can be tricky and the more you can practice the easier it will be on the day. Learn and get used to all of the hand signals that you can use to indicate potholes, broken glass, parked cars and traffic lights to the riders behind you. By pointing these things out you’ll make it a safer ride for everyone

3) Decide on lunch stops and dinner locations in advance

We ended up having lengthy discussions most nights about where we were going to eat while we all got increasingly hangry. We managed to all stay friends but if you want to protect your friendships I’d highly recommend doing the research before you leave and agree on places in advance

4) Take it in turns to go at the front

For all of us there were moments where our bodies and/or minds wanted to give up and at these points drafting really came into its own. Drafting is when you tuck into the slipstream of the cyclist in front and it allows you to put in less effort because there’s less air resistance. However, if one person is always in front they will quickly get exhausted so take it in turns

5) Pack as little as possibly

Remember, halfway up a hill your 6kg bag will suddenly feel about 20kg so pack the bare minimum. Everyone will smell by day 3 so just embrace it and stop apologising. You can check out my packing list here and I can say that I packed light and used every single thing that I took

6) Stretch, stretch, stretch

Everything will hurt so take every opportunity you can to stretch out whatever feels tight. My back, bum and quads ended up feeling particularly tight so I tried to give them a good stretch each morning, evening and at rest stops

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7) Pack plenty of snacks

Not all french villages have a shop and the ones that do sometimes close at odd times so make sure that you’ve always got enough fuel with you to keep you going to the next village. My favourite bits of fuel were haribo fizzy cola bottles and the peanut butter and jam sandwich that I carried with me on the first day

8) Remember that after the Eiffel Tower you have to get back on your bike

We went straight to the Gare du Nord after the Eiffel Tower to drop our bikes at EuroDespatch to be taken back to London and this was another 5.5 miles across Paris which none of us had really thought about. Plan in your route and stay mentally ready for more cycling

9) Keep hydrating

While we’re all pretty good at hydrating on the bike, it’s worth remembering that you need to keep up with the electrolytes throughout the evenings and the day after your ride too. As tempting as it is to have some alcohol also bear in mind that it can be dehydrating so drink plenty of water on the side to avoid having to cycle on a hangover the next morning

10) The recovery will be tough

I’ve never known exhaustion like when I returned home from Paris. Everyday that week I had to nap in the afternoon and the idea of getting back on my bike or even doing any exercise was nearly enough to make me cry. But you will get back there and you will get back on your bike because it wasn’t actually that bad. Was it?

 

What tips would you add to the list?

CYCLING LONDON TO PARIS

Here it is, the post you’ve all been waiting for, my round-up of how I got from London to Paris on two wheels. To get up to date you can have a read of how training went here, a list of all the kit I took here and my nutrition plan for the ride here.

 

Day 1

Stratford, London -> Dieppe

73.5 miles

4,042ft elevation

Pain-factor: 4/10

We met bright and early at the Velodrome at the Olympic Park in Stratford because that’s where all our training rides had started and ended and it felt right that the real thing started from there too. By 06:45 we were on the road with very little fanfare and by 08:30 we were heading out of London towards the south coast (with a 45 minute stop for a pesky puncture/coffee/wees in Clapham).

All smiles before we set off from Stratford

All smiles before we set off from Stratford

The weather was perfect for cycling with gorgeous sunshine, a lovely breeze and the most beautiful views as we pedalled through the Surrey and Sussex countryside. We’d cycled from London to Brighton a few weeks before to recce the route and see what was ahead of us. That practice ride was one of the hardest we did in training as I felt nauseous the whole way and ended up walking up nearly every hill trying not to vom into the hedges. In complete contrast our ride on the actual day felt much easier and nearly pleasant.

Taking in the Sussex countryside

Taking in the Sussex countryside

I managed to cycle up every single hill (with a couple of stops to catch my breath and let the lactic acid out of my legs) which gave me such a confidence boost. The peanut butter and jam sandwich that I’d packed to eat at the top of Turners Hill (if you know, you know) really helped to keep me moving too. Before we knew it we were approaching Newhaven in plenty of time. The ferry was booked for 17:30 and we made it to the port by 14:30, leaving us time to gorge on burgers and chips before locking our bikes up on the ferry and claiming a table next to the bar.

A couple of beers down and my stomach started to rebel. By the time we got off the ferry I was so bloated that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed but we still had a couple of miles to ride to the hotel, all uphill. We put our heads down and trudged up the hill before showering and collapsing in bed. Day one, done.

Feeling very bloody happy that day one was done

Feeling very bloody happy that day one was done

 

Day 2

Dieppe -> Beauvais

66 miles

1,525ft elevation

Pain factor: 6.5/10

Day 2 started with a massive breakfast buffet consisting of all the pastries, plenty of nutella and fresh French baguettes. We made some nutella sandwiches to take on the road and set off by 09:30. Overshare warning: I ended up being on my period by this point and all I’m going to say about that is THE CHAFING, THINK OF THE CHAFING. Ugh.

The first 3 hours of day 2 were along the Avenue Verte, a paved ex-railway that carved its way through the French countryside in a very straight line. We’d been looking forward to this as a car-free cycle path and it did end up being that but it felt tough from the first metre. We only realised when we stopped for lunch that those first 30 miles had been steadily uphill, sapping our legs of all energy without us being aware that we were actually climbing. There’s nothing like a sneaky hill to destroy all confidence in your cycling ability.

Travelling at warp speed (not)

Travelling at warp speed (not)

After a lunch of croque madames and chips we were back on the road to some rolling hills along the French roads. In general the French drivers were much more courteous than the English ones, passing us with plenty of room. One even stopped to check we were ok when I was lying on the ground by the side of the road trying to stretch out my back. He thought I was dead… Luckily I wasn’t. At this point we had a few more mechanical problems with a couple of the bikes so the mood was a little low. I put on some music on my phone which was easy to do as it was right in front of me thanks to my Quadlock.

Grooving away on the bike

Grooving away on the bike

Eventually we turned off the roads onto the Trans’Oise, another car-free cycle path, and everyone put their own music on. To this point we’d be cruising at around 12mph but as soon as the music hit us our speed went up to 15mph as we all thought we were in a spin class. In fact, there was so much dancing going on on the bikes that my triceps were sore the next day. We flew along the final 20 miles and made it to Beauvais and bed, after stuffing our faces with sushi. Day two, done.

Multitasking - checking Instagram whilst stretching

Multitasking – checking Instagram whilst stretching

 

Day 3

Beauvais -> Paris

51 miles

2,444ft elevation

Pain factor: 9/10

Getting back on the bikes in the morning of the third day was painful. My quads were really tight, my wrists were sore from the pressure on the handlebars, my fingers were numb and my lady bits were chafed and sore. You can see where this day 3 round-up is going.

From the start I struggled. We hit a hill pretty early on, at around mile 10, and I pushed my way up it, refusing to walk even an inch. Once we’d conquered that hill my quads seemed to ease a bit and for the next 20 miles we cruised along. If I’m totally honest, a lot of day 3 has become a blur of stopping to stretch, shaking out my hands and ramming food down my throat to keep my body fuelled. All I wanted to do was arrive in Paris and not have to get back on my bike again.

The final 20 miles or so, we cycled through increasingly bigger towns as we approached Paris so even the cycling itself wasn’t fun. As we hit the outskirts of Paris we had to deal with the French taxi drivers who were the most dangerous road-users that we encountered. All of us at one point or another got cut up and had to gesticulate angrily, which they completely ignored. The final 5 miles were hell as road after road was closed and we were all exhausted and grouchy. Even the arrival at the Eiffel Tower was an anti-climax because I was so done with the whole experience.

Giant grumpy face at the Eiffel Tower

Giant grumpy face at the Eiffel Tower

After the obligatory photos at the Eiffel Tower with plastered on fake smiles, we had to cycle another 6 miles back across Paris to drop our bikes off at the Eurostar luggage office at Gare du Nord. About 2 hours after reaching the Eiffel Tower we eventually reached the hotel where it started to sink in, with the help of some beer.

Job done

Job done

The next day we’d planned to take it easy and mainly sit in coffee shops eating cake but we ended up walking miles across Paris in the blazing sunshine because it would have been a shame to miss out on the weather and not make the most of being in Paris. The Eurostar home was a very quiet affair with baguettes, snoozing and quiet contemplation of what we’d achieved.

Feeling every bit the warrior

Feeling every bit the warrior

Watch out next week for a post containing all of the details of trip, including which hotels we stayed in, where we ate and the actual routes that we took as well as some tips and lessons for anyone else thinking of doing the same ride.

 

KIT LIST: WHAT I’M TAKING TO CYCLE FROM LONDON TO PARIS

The one conversation that Elle, Mollie and I have had the most throughout this whole training period is what kit we’ll be taking with us. Yes, we all wear a lot of lycra anyway but none of us have done a multi-day cycle trip before so it’s taken a while to settle on this final kit list. Settle in, it’s a long one…

First off, what am I actually going to wear? Well, if I’m honest, as little as possible. I’m a sweaty person anyway and cycling up hills makes me sweat probably more than any other form of exercise. Therefore, my outfit of choice each day will be a pair of bib shorts and a sports bra so I can stay as breezy as possible.

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DHB Bib shorts

I prefer bib shorts to regular shorts because there’s no pesky waist band digging in but the problem comes when you need to go to the loo because everything has to come off, including your jersey, so you can get the straps down. The DHB bib shorts are a halterneck design which means that with a bit of flexibility you don’t actually have to remove your jersey to go to the loo. For a lazy person like me that’s the dream. However, the chamois (the pad that goes between your legs and saves your lady garden), isn’t as padded as I would like so I’ll probably be saving these for the first or second day while I’m still fresh.

Decathlon B’TWIN bib shorts *

These are my favourite piece of kit because not only do they look cool but the chamois is perfectly padded and the bib part of the shorts provides a little bit more coverage and therefore protection from the sun if you’re not wearing a jersey. If these came in a halter neck bib like the DHB ones they’d by a 10/10, as it is they’re a 9.5/10.

Decathlon B’TWIN sleeveless jersey *

As I said, I’m not a fan of wearing too many clothes when it’s hot and I’m exercising so I was on the lookout for a sleeveless jersey (also, optimal tanning opportunity). This one from B’TWIN is super thin with the standard pockets in the back including a zipped pocket. The only issue is that it rides up because I have quite a high waist. I’m sure if I went up a size to a large I wouldn’t have the same issue.

Decathlon B’TWIN rainproof jacket *

I’ve got everything crossed that we don’t meet any rain but you never know! This jacket is so light and will fold up into nothing so it’s the perfect ‘just in case’ jacket.

Altura Peloton jersey *

I love the brightness of this jersey and when you’re wearing it it’s light, soft and comfortable. Again, the pockets are great with a zipped one for essentials and it stays down over my waist, which is a bonus.

Shock Absorber sports bra  *

Being on the smaller-side up top I’ve never really bothered with a proper sports bra before, just picking up crop top style bras that I like the print of. This shock absorber bra has a zip-up the front which is a godsend when you’re sweaty and tired, no more struggling out of a sweaty bra! It fits really well (I’m a 36C), cradles my boobs well and looks great too.

Nike Indy sports bra

This is the kind of sports bra that I normally wear as it’s non-padded, non-underwired and doesn’t get in the way of anything. It’s comfortable enough to wear all day and will dry overnight if I want to wash it.

1000 Mile Breeze Lite socks *

I’ve never paid much attention to socks when cycling but I’ve realized that on the longer rides, you need something comfortable that will prevent blisters and keep the swat wicking away from your feet. These double-layered socks, whilst designed for running, do a great job and have really looked after my feet on some of the longer training rides.

Shimano WM64 SPD shoes

I have a love-hate relationship with these clip-in shoes. In training I’ve fallen off my bike because of them three times, each time because I’ve been going so slow that when I go to stop I can’t get my foot out in time before I start to topple over. The falls aren’t spectacular but they are embarrassing. On the plus side they’re helping me work on my hill climbing technique by teaching me the pedaling movement of wiping gum off the bottom of your shoe, rather than just pushing down all the time.

Decathlon B’TWIN 500 road cycling helmet *

The ideal scenario with a bike helmet is that it’s light enough and fits well enough that you aren’t aware of it. I’ve found that in the BTWIN helmet. Worn with a cycling cap underneath to pick up al the sweat it’s perfect.

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Now, what about all the other stuff? Well, luggage-wise I’m just going to take my old Berghaus rucksack that was a hand-me-down from my husband because on our final day in Paris I want something that’s easy to carry around. For the cycling days it’s going to be strapped onto my pannier rack using a variety of bungee cords. I have a little bag under my saddle for spare inner tubes and my allan keys.

Science in Sport water bottles

I’ll have two of these on my bike and they carry 800ml each which is perfect for me. I tend to get through a lot of liquid on the bike so I need as much as possible with me. I’ll refill these as and when I can. I’ll also be taking a BRITA fill&go bottle * for the evenings as it makes any water taste deliciously filtered.

Restrap handlebar bag

As my main bag won’t be that accessible while I’m riding I’ve also opted for a small handlebar bag to contain the essentials. I’ll be keeping bits of food and my phone charger in there so it’s all to hand. The design of this one is really smart and it’s also fully waterproof with an inner sealable pocket. Hopefully I won’t need to test that feature out.

Quadlock phone holder *

I’m forever getting lost when cycling round London so the idea of cycling to Paris without a sat nav was slightly nerve-wracking. The Quadlock holder simply straps on to your handlebars with a couple of bands, you put the case onto your phone and the two click together. Simple! It’s been really useful to navigate around London, check the time and see what my husband is thinking for dinner. While we’ll be mostly navigating to Paris using a Garmin bike computer, my phone in the Quadlock will be a good back up.

 

As well as all the stuff above I’ll also be carrying underwear (although not for when I’m actually cycling because the girls have taught me that cycling commando is 100% the way to go), spare socks and the bare minimum of toiletries including a toothbrush, mini toothpaste, face moisturizer, and nurofen. I’m also packing a pair of 3/4 length leggings and a t-shirt for the evenings and our day in Paris as well as a t-shirt to sleep in because the girls don’t need to see the girls. I’m keeping tech to a minimum and will only be taking my phone along with a portable charger and a plug in charger for overnight. Unfortunately my proper camera is just too heavy and bulky to take.

Last, and possibly most importantly, I’ll be taking Ride suncream *, the ultra water-proof and sweat-proof suncream that will last a lot longer than a conventional one. I’ve tried this out on training rides and it really does stay on all day and protect from sunburn! Just don’t do what I did one ride and forget to put any on at all… That hurt. A lot.

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That’s about it for kit so well done for reading this far! I’ve got a separate post on how I’m planning on fuelling the ride, which will be up in the next couple of days.

If you want to follow our trip you can check out my Instagram where I should be posting on Stories fairly regularly from the road.

 

All items marked with a * were provided for free in return for a review, thank you to all of the brands for supporting us on this amazing trip

 

#3PTsToParis – Training Update

Remember when I said that I was going to cycle from London to Paris? Well it’s now only 4.5 weeks ago and it’s all getting a bit real.

This is what happens when you let Google Maps take you down ‘cycle paths’

We’ve written up our kit lists, we’ve received some amazing kit to train in and for the trip (more on that in another post before we leave) and we’ve been getting out on the bikes as much as possible. So how’s that all been going?

Here are some stats and things I’ve learnt from training so far:

  • Well over 245 miles clocked up so far
  • 5 long rides
  • Countless mini rides (less than 5 miles each)
  • 3 MyProtein blackcurrant gels swallowed
  • 1 portion of fish and chips on Southend Pier
  • 2.5 cans of diet coke
  • 0 punctures (I know, I’ve just jinxed it)
  • 54 billion hills (accurate stat, honest)
  • 1 stolen bike
  • 1 new bike
  • My uphill technique needs work. My downhill technique needs to be given a sense of mortality and I need to use my brakes more often
  • All food tastes better after 4 hours in the saddle
  • I need to fuel better and more often so I don’t bonk (hit the wall)
  • The foam roller is my quads’ best friend
  • Long-distance cycling creates exhaustion like nothing else I’ve ever experienced
  • Cycling tan lines are ridiculous and suncream must be worn even if it’s not sunny
Post fish and chips feast in Southend

Post fish and chips feast in Southend

The plan for the next 4 weeks is 3 more long rides including one to Brighton and another one to Southend. The midweek rides will also be upped that I’m riding on consecutive days to get my legs used to working a few days in a row. I’ll also be experimenting a bit more with my fuelling and trying to get food in more often to keep my energy up.

Do you have any tips on fuelling for endurance challenges where you’re working out for 6+ hours at a time?

 

 

3 PT’S TO PARIS

You know when you make a decision because you get over-excited and then sit back and think ‘oops’? Well yeah, I’ve done that. Except that oops isn’t a misjudged outfit or one drink too many, it’s a cycle trip to Paris. From London. On a bike. Without a support vehicle.

Together with Elle, Mollie (both also personal trainers – hence 3 PTs to Paris) and a few others I’m taking on a challenge that I’ll be using to celebrate my 30th birthday as we’ll arrive back in London about 3 hours before I hit the big 3-0. After succumbing to a back injury a couple of months ago I’ve found that cycling is one of the few forms of exercise that doesn’t stress out my back muscles. The triathlon I had in mind for the end of July is out of the picture because with the injury I just haven’t been able to train for it. So Paris it is!

(L-R) Mollie, Elle & Me

We’ll be doing the 164 (or so) miles over 3 days, leaving London on Friday morning and arriving at the Eiffel Tower on Sunday afternoon. The first day will see us cycling to Newhaven which is just to the east of Brighton to cover about 56 miles. A ferry will then deliver us in Dieppe late Friday night where we’ll stay in a little hotel. On Saturday we’ll tackle our longest day of 62 miles from Dieppe to Beauvais and then cover an easy 45 miles from Beauvais to Paris on the Sunday.

London2Paris map

In panniers we’ll be carrying all of our kit and tools but hopefully in mid-July the weather should be good enough that we can get away with minimal clothes! The biggest dilemma at the moment is how to fit in additional shoes so we don’t have to walk around Paris on the Monday in our cycling shoes. Important stuff.

The plan for training is to complete 2 x 1 hour cycle sessions during the week followed by a 2-4 hour cycle at the weekend. I’ll also be doing plenty of foam-rolling and some yoga to help my tight hips and quads and I’ll hopefully be continuing my weekly PT sessions to maintain some strength. Training started well last weekend with a 20 mile cycle swiftly followed by my beloved bike being stolen from inside my apartment block. Yep, they sawed through the bannisters to get it out. As gutting as that was the challenge is getting closer so I had to dig deep and shell out for a new bike which is a beauty.

Keep an eye out for more blogs in the 3 PTs to Paris series to cover how training is going and what kit we’ll be taking with us.

GETTING A BIKE FIT

I’m coming up to the big 3-0 this year and while I thought that the Olympic distance at the London Triathlon was going to be my celebration it hasn’t quite turned out like that. With a sore back and having to take everything back to basics I think trying to get round an Olympic distance tri is going to be out of reach this year unfortunately.

Luckily the opportunity for a different kind of challenge has appeared, one which I’m very excited about, and one which requires many hours in the bike saddle. Ever since I got my road bike a few years ago I’ve had a few niggles when riding long distances so what better time is there than now to get my bike fitted?

I found Foundation online after struggling to find a bike fitter in London. It seems that they’re in short supply and the other ones that are out there are either extortionately expensive and/or designed for pro-cyclists. Wei from Foundation will also come to wherever you are so you don’t have to trek across London with your bike.

After chatting on the phone and filling out an extensive pre-fit questionnaire Wei turned up on his bike with a huge bag of kit including a turbo and plenty of tools and spare parts. You don’t need a huge amount of space which is lucky as I live in a one-bedroom flat, just enough space to set up a turbo and to set up a few monitoring tools.

Very quickly Wei set up the turbo and got my bike ready to go by taking photos of the current set up and checking that everything was aligned correctly. Before jumping on the bike he had a look at my body mechanics, searching for any asymmetry and to see how my body moved. Apart from a very slight discrepancy between the length of my legs everything seemed to be pretty even which was a good start.

My new clip-in shoes were next for scrutiny. It turned out that I hadn’t done such a bad job setting them up (despite having no clue what I was doing) and they just needed a slight adjustment to make sure the cleats were in the right place so I could recruit equal power from my quads and hamstrings.

Once I was on the bike we started with the height of the saddle which apparently is most often the thing that people get wrong. Wei adjusted the saddle a few millimetres at a time going up and down from where it was and getting me to cycle fast at each height. It was amazing how much difference a few millimetres could make until I hit the sweet spot and the power through each pedal felt even and the whole pedal stroke felt smooth. Wei also tested my balance by asking me to come down into what was essentially a squat position (which is where we should be on a bike) and taking my hands off the bars but staying in the same position. If the saddle is correct then that position should be easy to hold without needing to shift in the saddle. We ended up with the saddle a few millimetres higher than where it had been.

The next was the handlebars and we played around with the distance between the saddle and bars as well as the height and angle of them. I’d been getting pain through my right shoulder on longer rides which looked like it was from the angle of the handlebars being wrong and the saddle being too low. We tilted the handlebars up a bit so I wasn’t reaching down for them and suddenly the pressure that I’d been feeling through my wrists disappeared. Wei fitted a new stem for my handlebars as the one I had on there wasn’t so adjustable and with a few more tests to double-check that everything was correct the fit was done!

Overall it took about 3 hours and it was so thorough and measured that I feel confident that this is now going to be the most comfortable bike I’ve ever had. Wei knows his stuff and is very good at explaining everything which is important for me. I like to learn about things as I go! He’s a triathlon coach and used to run cycle tours as well as working as a bike mechanic so you’re definitely in good hands. The hardest part about it was getting used to the feeling of riding on a turbo which I’ve never done before.

As a follow up I received a file containing all the pre-fit photos in case I wanted to revert to any settings and  a spreadsheet containing all of the new measurements. All fits come with a follow-up session within 6 months to check the fit and see if any more adjustments are needed.

I’ve done a couple of short cycles with the new fit and the bike feels great. This weekend will be the first longer test so keep an eye on my Instagram to see how it goes.

 

 

CLASS REVIEW: ROCK CYCLE, BUENOS AIRES

What’s the first thing you think of when going on holiday, especially when you’re going on your honeymoon? Bikinis, suncream, local food, spinning…. Ok, so maybe you’re not quite like me but when I travel I like to sample the fitness scene, mostly to try and make more room for all of the delicious food that I know I’ll be eating.

The only spin studio in Buenos Aires I could find (and incidentally, it seemed, the only spin studio in Buenos Aires) was Rock Cycle so I booked in for a class on our second morning in Argentina and hoped for the best.

It’s situated in Palermo Hollywood, a delightfully sunny 8 minute walk from where we were staying so off I trotted, leaving long-suffering new-husband in bed. The studio is bright and inviting and very much reminiscent of the Soul Cycle studio I visited in New York. The welcome was friendly and between us we spoke just enough English and Spanish to get me set up.

The studio itself was dark with about 40 bikes in, all facing the instructor who was raised up on a stage. Along the front of the stage were candles similar to those you might find in Boom Cycle in London. The facilities were lovely and clean with lockers to live all of your valuables in. They also sell a cool range of clothing and I might have fallen in love with a vest that found its way into my already full suitcase.

The instructor spoke no English (nor did I expect her to) but from the moment the lights went down in the studio it didn’t matter. Her energy and demonstrations went through any language barrier and I found myself swept along with the music.

The style of class was very much like Soul Cycle or Psycle in London so there was a lot of moving around on the bike including plenty of press ups which meant my triceps were suitable sore the next day. Over the course of 45 minutes we went through a number of Latin-inspired tracks with banging beats so even though I didn’t know the music the energy was infectious. We did a lot of sprints and double time cycling with only a couple of heavy resistance tracks which was a bit of a shame because I do like to crank the resistance up and let my legs burn in a spin class.

The penultimate track was one with hand weights to work out our shoulders, backs, biceps and triceps and a Latin remix of the Pink Panther theme tune did wonders to take my mind off the crazy muscle burn that I had going on.

As the class ended there was much whooping and deep breathing going on as we all caught our breath and stretched out. All in all, it was a really good class and if you’re used to spinning studios such as the few that I’ve mentioned above then you won’t have any problems not speaking Spanish as it’s very similar to those. Definitely go and try it if you’re in that part of the world!

 

*Disclaimer: I was offered a free class in return for a review. As always, views are my own and I was not paid for this review*

 

CLASS REVIEW: BEST’S CYCLE

You know those workouts when sweat is dripping off your eyelashes, off the ends of your hair, off your elbows and you’re still pushing hard and smiling? Well I had one of those recently at Best’s Cycle, the new spin studio at Best’s Bootcamp in Embankment.

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I unfortunately couldn’t make it to the launch of the bootcamp classes so hopefully I’ll try one out soon but in the meantime here’s what I thought of the studio and the Cycle class.

The studio is right next to Embankment station, perfect for those city-slickers and they have classes scheduled from 06:30 – 18:15. The early classes are great but 18:15 might be a bit too early for the after-work crew.

The reception is bright and you’re definitely welcomed with a smile by the reception staff. We were given cleats and sent down to the changing rooms. The space isn’t large but it’s spotless with posh toiletries which is always a winner with me (I know, I’m easily swayed).

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The spin studio itself isn’t huge but there’s enough space for everyone to squeeze in and I quite like a small spin studio because you really feel like a team, all sweating together. Abi warmed us up after the bikes were set up and the vibe started instantly. Abi’s energy was high from the beginning and her flying legs and dancing helped hype everyone up.

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The structure of the class was exactly how I like it with a combination of hill climbs, sprints, upper body work with small hand-weights, intervals and what I call ‘bike dancing’ (basically moving your body through the different positions on the bike to the beat of the music). I hate classes where you have to stand the whole time and when the beat that you’re trying to keep your legs to is impossibly fast.

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Speaking of the beat, Abi’s music was spot on for me because I’m such a pop princess. Anything I can sing along to while I’m sweating helps to distract my brain from the pain. The energy in the room really helped me to push myself when I was starting to get tired and I walked out on a huge high. The 45 minute cycle home felt like a delight with such warm legs and on such a big endorphin high.

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The only thing that wasn’t great was that the bikes are still a bit new and I really struggled to adjust the seat and handlebars until they decided to suddenly drop in the middle of a track and everything I had on the handlebars went flying. It also happened to someone else’s bike so I know it wasn’t just me! The air-con wasn’t working although we were promised that within the next few days it would be fixed. Without the air-con the room was a total sweat-fest to the point that even the photographer’s lens was steaming up. It was like bikram spin!

If spinning is your thing I’d highly recommend Best’s Cycle but just be prepared to sweat. A lot.

Check out the timetable here and your first class is only £10, bargain!

CLASS REVIEW – SOULCYCLE NYC

Pretty much everyone who I asked for advice on what I should do as a fitness tourist in New York told me that I had to try out SoulCycle. As a massive fan of spin classes it was of course top of my list.

The only class I could fit into the trip was 8am on our first morning in the city so joined by my sister-in-law we crept out of our apartment into the fresh morning. A brisk 20 minute walk through Soho and we soon found ourselves spotting people who’d obviously been to SoulCycle. They were easy to spot because they were the only people in leggings and sweaty vests on a chilly NYC morning, they were all smiling, oh and they were all wearing SoulCycle branded clothing. I mean, all of them. I knew it was like a cult here in NYC but really?

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We went into the sweaty Soho studio to some very friendly faces at the desk, got kitted out with our shoes and water bottles and nervously watched the people coming out of the class before us dripping with sweat. The air-conditioning was a ‘little slow’ that morning which contributed to the sweat but we thought nothing of it.

After a quick turnaround clean in which the studio was sprayed with eucalyptus scent we went in and found our bikes. At this point my phone was taken away from me to be returned after the class which annoyed me slightly. I get that taking photos during the class would distract people which is why I would never dream of doing that but not even for the standard fitness blogger post-spin photo posing on the bike with the instructor? Whatever.

Grace was teaching the class and had picked a playlist made entirely of Billy Joel music. It was truly inspired. What little breath I had spare throughout the class went on singing along, my favourite thing to do during spin classes with great music.

The class was pitched perfectly with a good mix of standing up, ‘tapping back’ where you frantically try to move your bum back and forth over the seat in a standing position in time with everyone else, press ups, hovers and sprinting. I get bored in spin classes that don’t have enough variety so this suited me. We also had a long track in the middle of the class of upper body and core work with hand-weights that burned like nothing else.

Throughout the class Grace kept us going with some cheesy puns, off-bike dancing and inspiring words. She even moved bikes a few times during the class coming to sit alongside people to encourage them.

The last 3 tracks were done with the lights off and eyes closed. It was at this point that I realized why SoulCycle deserves the accolades it gets. Working to your own pace and climbing your own hill with the encouragement of the instructor in the background gives such a feeling of euphoria and focus that I pushed myself much harder than I thought I would.

All too quickly it was over and I was blinking the sweat out of my eyelashes. I’ve never sweated like that before in a spin class, which is mostly down to the AC playing up, but also showed how hard we were working. It was like doing bikram spin. Now there’s a thought…

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Anyway, if you’re in New York I would highly recommend making time for a SoulCycle class but book in plenty of time (classes open for booking 7 days before) as they fill up quickly. First-timers can book a class for $20 (like I did) and get their shoes for free but expect to pay $1.50 for a bottle of water.

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If you’re based in London and want a similar experience I’d suggest heading to 1Rebel and trying out a spin class from either Melissa Weldon or Tiago Silva, both of whom teach inspiring and endorphin-boosting classes with totally banging tunes.

 

 

CONQUERING L’ETAPE LONDON

You know those races that you sign up for and then forget until it’s just round the corner and you realise you haven’t done much specific training?

Well that’s how I felt going into L’Etape London, a 75km cycle sportive starting in Stratford and heading out to deepest darkest Essex before coming all the way back.

In the run up to the race I’d done a couple of longish cycles (55km and 50km) as well as the 40km in the middle of my triathlon in August but that’s about it. I’ve always loved cycling ever since I was young so although I see these long cycles as a challenge it’s certainly not something that I was nervous going into.

The day dawned beautifully clear and sunny so after my normal pre-race breakfast of protein oats I hopped on my bike and gently cycled the 5km down to the Olympic Park velodrome where the start was. There were fewer people doing the race than I thought there would be so the event village was small, uncrowded and friendly. There were no queues for the toilets (shock horror) and there was no wait to have a last minute tyre pressure check.

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The only thing that I noticed at the start and the whole way through the race was the lack of women. I’d say that about 70% of the entrants were men of all ages and the rest were women. In my start wave there were a few older women but I was one of the youngest women there. Come on girls, it’s time to get cycling!

Anyway, off we went into the beautiful morning and before I knew it we had ridden through most of East London and we had hit Epping Forest. This is where the hills started, at this point they were long and gentle which was good to get my head down and pedal steadily to reach the top. Just before Epping we turned off to Theydon Bois and this is when the real pain hit. Between Theydon Bois and Ongar (the turn point) it seemed like we were on one long switchback. The ups and downs were short, sharp and never-ending.

My quads and hamstrings were really starting to protest when we hit the feed station, a total blessing. There was a table laden with pain au chocolat, biscuits, sweets, bananas and boiled salted potatoes. Potatoes?! I know, they were amazing… I didn’t want to spike my blood sugar at this point (34km in, not even halfway) because I knew that the sugar crash would hit me before the end of the race and I would really struggle. All I needed was some carbohydrates to replace all of the glucose that I had used up in my muscles.

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After scoffing 4 potatoes, refilling my water bottle and stretching my legs I hopped back on my bike and set off through the cobbles of Ongar. From this point to the end of the race the pack was much more strung out as people spent different lengths of time at the feed station. I spent quite a few stretches all by myself which was amazing.

The sunshine, countryside and sense of freedom that cycling brings all added up to one happy little lady. I was actually smiling to myself at various points of the race because I was just so happy to be out in the sunshine cycling as fast as I could.

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Eventually I made it to Epping where I waved at my in-laws’ house and sped back through the forest down those hills. With about 15km to go I hit the wall. Everything was sore and my legs just didn’t want to work anymore. I stopped for a couple of minutes, had a gel and a swig of water and stretched my legs. It did the trick because a couple of minutes after I got back on my bike I felt strong again and I flew down through East London back to Stratford.

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The final km was on the road track at the velodrome with a sprint finish and I gave it everything I had left, crossing the line in just under 3.5 hours. I picked up my medal and pretty much kept cycling! The 5km home felt like a luxury cool down as I took it at a nice slow pace.

The biggest shock and biggest pat on my back was when I checked the results later that night and found out that I came 8th in my age category! Bloody hell! I’m normally that one plodding in at the back but not this time.

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Overall I would massively recommend this race and I’ll definitely be doing it next year! Maybe even the longer route… Plus how sexy is this medal?!

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