My season – Part one. The First Half

I apologise that this is a long one. It’s been such a long time since I last blogged, that I have so much to say. Despite cutting a large chunk out, it’s so hefty that I’ve split it up into two.

I guess this is something that most athletes go through when they are starting out in their sporting career and I’m sure that I’ve been warned about this many times, but I guess I didn’t really listen. I started my second season of racing with certain expectations, with all the highs of last year, I wanted more and I expected better. But sport doesn’t always work that way.

Firstly, the beginning of my season was hampered by cramp. It had happened in plenty of races last year, but this year, it was happening in almost every race. Whenever I would mention it to anyone, I was always met with one of two replies. Either “you shouldn’t be getting cramp” (yeah, really helpful) or “it’s lack of preparation, you haven’t gone hard enough in training”. Well, I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case for me.

So, not knowing the cause and how to prevent it, I was going into races just hoping for the best. The problem was, it wasn’t just cramp that you could push through. At best, so long as I could keep my legs spinning and not push hard (I mean riding at about 10mph), I could finish. At worst, it was so debilitating I would have to get off my bike (sometimes falling into a handy verge due to being unable to unclip). It’s devastating when you’ve worked so hard in a race, only to watch riders go past you one by one when you get cramp, knowing each one is a drop further down the results. And then I discovered a miracle cure.

It was suggested to me and I gave it a go. By drinking a small glass of tonic water each day in the 5 days leading up to a race, I found that I suddenly didn’t get cramp at all. It didn’t solve the prevention issue, but definitely provided me with the cure that I was looking for. If you suffer from cramp, there are health warnings associated with drinking tonic water (the quinine it contains), so please read up on this before you take the decision to follow suit.

Having temporarily solved the cramp issue, I was ready to go head-long back into racing again. But this time, without the cramp as an excuse, I still wasn’t meeting my expectations. After all of the hard work over winter, I felt like I was somehow letting myself down. Lack of achievement after so much commitment is difficult to deal with. After-all, hard work works, right?

One of my first races was my local race (Ipswich BC Road Race) and being my local race, I was desperate to win it. I didn’t race the most tactical race (actually, I don’t think any of us did) and I ended up going for the sprint too early. This is a little bit stupid of me, being a local race that I wanted to win, I should have gone out and recced the finish so that I knew exactly when I wanted to start my sprint. But I didn’t. Eitherway, I still managed a 3rd place. That doesn’t sound too bad, but when you want a win so badly, it’s really hard to deal with that failure.

Ipswich BC sprint

This is one of the cruelties elements of sport. In order to win a hard race, there are moments in that race when winning has to mean everything, nothing else is conceivable. In order to utilise those far reaches of your ability, the ones that drive you to meet pain and beat it, to push ourselves into resources we didn’t know we had. If you don’t care enough for that win, you will let pain win. So, you go through all of that and then you don’t win. What are you supposed to do now? Winning meant everything to you, how can you stop the failure of it from crushing you, destroying your confidence and making you feel like you’ve had enough of this sport? (Not that I actually pushed this hard in that particular race) This must be even harder to deal with when it’s a race you’ve trained for and focused on for years. But then to me, it isn’t about a win now, it’s about the possibility of a win next week, next year, in ten years. It’s really important to learn as many lessons as you can from wherever you can. Look back over the race, what did you do wrong, what did you do right, what did the winner do differently that meant that they won and you didn’t?

I realise now, that my mistake here wasn’t made during the race, it was made in my pre-race goal setting. I shouldn’t have put all my focus on winning the race, but done as my coach tells me to do and set myself little goals and targets within the race. And yes, my coach has tried to hammer it into me, but this went out of my head because I was only concerned with the home win.

Next up, one of my main focuses for the season was the Matrix Fitness Grand Prix (Tour Series). Having looked forward all year to the Tour Series, which were the highlight of my season last year, what happened was a bitter disappointment. I struggled my way through it with a series of frustrating and demoralising races, where I was hoping for some top tens to improve on my best 15th place last year, this year I couldn’t even manage a top 20. In my head, my road racing didn’t seem to be going much better. When I look back now to the first national series race, Tour of the Reservoir, was actually my best result to-date, taking into consideration the quality of the course and the field. I came 23rdon a hilly course that didn’t suit me, and I got cramp with 2 laps to go, which cost me a number of places. Difficult to look at it like that at the time though.

I have made some major changes to my racing this year, one being that I have taken on a coach and the other, that I have joined a team. It’s understandable that I have had expectations this year, to have improved nicely from last year.

One of the great things about racing in a team is contributing to the team’s successes, but there is also a down side. Knowing that you can’t help a team mate who’s trying to win a race, no matter what you try, can feel worse than having a bad result yourself.

My season just seemed to be dragging by in a series of mediocre results and my confidence and joy of racing was plummeting rapidly. This is obviously cyclical, the worse I felt, the worse I did. I started each race, not necessarily thinking negatively, but I was never confident that I was going to do well.

Paul Davy @cycletogs

Paul Davy @cycletogs

The thing is, I knew that I had it in me, I just didn’t believe it when it mattered. It doesn’t really make sense, but I didn’t have the self-confidence to “pull it out of the bag”.

The source of the majority of my poor performances stems from my expectations. Although not unrealistic, I had given myself goals that were not SMART (check this link out if you are goal setting and haven’t come across this term before http://www.topachievement.com/smart.html). I knew I should not have a goal based on positioning, because you cannot control what other people do, but I have grown up comparing myself and basing my idea of achievement on what those around me have achieved and I find it very hard not to judge myself like this. Don’t get me wrong, I do have goals for races that aren’t position focussed – moving through the bunch, an attack, not riding at the back of the bunch, improving my cornering etc… but I never feel a sense of achievement when I meet these goals, I almost feel like I should be doing this anyway. Typical me, lack of patience, I want everything now!

Up until this point, things hadn’t gone the way I had hoped, but I have only myself to blame.
Thankfully, I didn’t wait for the end of the season to fizzle out before I addressed it. I really need to be in a positive frame of mind to take me through the dark, cold rides of winter. Thankfully, I have a coach who can see things from a different angle. I corrected my mindset, my season picked up and I’ve now got some real highs to motivate me.

So what happened in the 2nd half of the season? Next blog post coming soon.

An interview about The Women’s Tour 2014

As Britain’s first ever international level stage race for women approaches, we caught up with professional cyclist Tanya Griffiths to see how she thought The Women’s Tour has affected British cycling, and who she’d put her money on to win the race…

Riding Stage 5 of The Women’s Tour 2014

Ride the Women’s Tour with us and discover Suffolk. http://www.visitsuffolk.com

Writing elsewhere

Tea in Bury St Eds

Here’s the article piece I wrote for The Women’s Tour website:

The final stage takes in many of the routes I regularly train on, so I’ll be loosing lots of the Strava Queen of the Mountains that I’ve racked up over the past month or so. They’ll be setting some pretty tough times for the King of the Mountains to beat too, no doubt, but sacrifices have to be made if we are to see the World’s best on our own streets!

My aim is to be racing it next year, so when I was asked if I would be interested in doing some filming working with Spring for visitsuffolk.com as part of their promotion of the Suffolk stage of The Friends Life Women’s Tour. This would involve riding the final stage, so I didn’t really have to think about it and this is how it went while you can check out the video below.

Stage Five starts off in the seaside town of Harwich in Essex, then follows the estuary through the towns of Mistley and Manningtree, where I’ve often encountered some rather stubborn swans, that won’t move for cars, let alone cyclists! A place I often stop for a breather whilst watching the boats bobbing in the water in the summer. It’s also the scene of the first sprint, which is pretty close to the start, so the riders will need to warm their legs up early on.

From here, the route crosses into Suffolk for the second time in the Tour, where it heads inland towards the town of East Bergholt and Constable Country. As the artist did over 200-years ago, the film crew with me stopped to admire the view and we had to do countless re-takes of me cycling past making sure they caught the perfect shot. The route looks out over the picturesque valleys, but skirts the sharpest climbs staying relatively flat. The first part of this stage is likely to play host to plenty of spectators as it passes through towns and villages with lots of space for people to line the streets.

After some riding behind the car to get the camera focus sorted and the driver used to me riding behind him, one of the first things I had to do was to be filmed putting my glasses on. I’ve never had to think about putting sunglasses on before, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t remember how the “right way” to do it was! It took a couple of takes.

We then continued on into the open countryside with fields of crops or sheep and small woodlands stretching as far as the eye can see. Something which will become very familiar to the riders as they twist and turn past fields and fields of striking yellow Rape flowers. The riding around here is typical of central Suffolk, with minor rises and falls in the terrain, but lots of twists and turns, so the racing will be fast and any attacks could be hidden from the bunch before the rider is 50 metres off the front. This could be a good place for an attack to get away and gain miles on the bunch, however, the relative shelter of the banked verges and trees opens out as you head out of Hadleigh and towards Sudbury where riders would be exposed to the winds across the fields, the hills pick up slightly and the road straightens out and I can see any break being drawn back along this section of the stage.

The route then turns into Sudbury and Long Melford, where the streets will hopefully be lined with spectators again and where I spent a bit of time riding up and down the hill past Melford Hall in the glorious sunshine. This is where the second Sprint takes place. Looking at the speeds I hit when attempting it, even with a slight uphill drag, this is going to be a fast one!

Onwards to the start of the first Strava Queen of the Mountains up Bridge Street towards Lavenham. If the race is still in a bunch, the riders at the front will have a great advantage as it is a very narrow road but those not contesting the climb will have time to take in the stunning views from the top, before heading into Lavenham, one of the finest and most beautiful medieval villages in England and a feature on many of my rides out into the depths of Suffolk.

This is where cameraman Gary got his skateboard out (which he told me was for if I punctured) and subsequently began to show off his multi-tasking, camera in hand and riding his skateboard along side me as we pushed on past Lavenham church. If you see me smirking in any of the footage, you’ll know why!

I generally treat myself to a cup of coffee after climbing the hill into Lavenham, however, these riders won’t be so lucky, because there isn’t much chance to recover from the first Strava Queen of the Mountains before it’s back up and out of Lavenham and into the countryside towards the Hitcham Strava Queen of the Mountains, another long, narrow drag, this time past some traditional thatched cottages.

The riders will continue to head north before turning sharply west where the route leads into very twisty roads before straightening out as the race heads towards the sprint finish into Bury St Edmunds. The road leading into the final part is wide, so expect to see the teams lining up to lead out their sprinters, however, the finish line is hidden from view through narrow twists and turns and ends on cobbled streets, so positioning, tactics and technical ability will play a key role. The riders will need to be out of that last corner in the top position to have the best chance of crossing the line first!

At the end of the ride, we stopped for a tea in Bury St Edmunds where we could relax, the ride and filming complete.

My thoughts on the route? It’s my kind of ride, no monster hills, fast paced with lots of twists and turns where a breakaway can hide. A real mix of long wide stretches of open roads, surrounded by fields and narrow twisting lanes through ancient towns and villages. There’s no doubt that this is going to be a nail biting finish to the first ever Friends Life Women’s Tour!

I learnt the hard way, so that you don’t have to – the consequences of cold weather cycling

Those that know me, will know that I have been unable to drive since about mid February 2013 when I had “The Incident” on my bike which, not only led to me not being able to drive, but also hilariously not-funny comments throughout the year from fellow cyclists and colleagues alike at the slightest whiff of it being even slightly cold.

To end all rumours now, I did not loose my licence through any kind of misdemeanour in my car!

So, this is how a bike ride ended up in me not being able to drive for 10 months…

It was February and most of you will remember that it was a really cold and really long winter. I took great pride in being an all-weather “proper” cyclist, venturing out in all weather, and have been on virtually every club run since I joined Ipswich BC, even when it snowed and there were just the three of us mad, but dedicated cyclists. So, it was February (again) and it was cold and it was time for the Saturday morning club ride. It looked like we would be lucky and it wouldn’t rain, but I packed my mac anyway, as you do in winter and wrapped up warm in my usual gear. There was a good group of us ready to head out to Hollow Tree’s and the promise of a log fire along with the obligatory coffee and cake.

Just before we left the meeting point, it started to cloud over and I took out my mac ready for a bit of a shower and we headed off. Less than a mile down the road and low-and-behold it starts to drizzle. And I realise that my mac is no longer waterproof.

It’s one of those light-weight cheap jackets that works well, and then, all-a-sudden and with no warning what-so-ever, it’s suddenly not waterproof anymore. Never mind, we’ve all ridden without waterproofs before!

I hadn’t, however, accounted for a sudden drop in temperature! When it stopped raining, the mercury dropped and now, not only was I wet, it was getting very very cold. When you cycle in the cold, it sometimes doesn’t matter how thick your gloves are, once you are cold, you cannot warm up. After only 10 miles 4 of us decided we were getting too cold and turned round to go back home. Can’t say I have ever been so pleased that we made that decision.

The way back was the worst experiences I’ve ever had.

I was getting colder and colder and finding that I couldn’t ride hard enough to warm up. In fact, I had no idea, but I was riding slower and slower. The other three had to keep slowing down and waiting for me, which can’t have been easy for them when they were cold too, but I could only think about getting back home. My hands, arms, legs and feet were so painful and it took all my concentration just to focus on getting back home. I can’t explain how this cold felt, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that cold is an understatement.

Eventually, we did get back and I remember getting back to my car. Then I remember getting off my bike and having a sudden urge to take off my wet kit, I may have made it back to the car, but it was still a 30min drive to get back home and I have no working heating in my car. I remember struggling out of my mac and that I couldn’t get my arm out of the sleeve. But that’s it, I don’t remember anything else until I came round and there was a paramedic talking to me and I was sat in the passenger seat of my car. I had managed to pass out with hypothermia!

So, that still doesn’t explain why I can’t drive. This happened between the paramedics leaving me in A&E and the 45mins I had to wait to see a doctor. As you can imagine, I had started to warm up by then and there was no conversation between the paramedics and the doctor. It was left to me to explain to the doctor what had happened. Naturally, he asked if I’d cycled very far (I assume he thought I’d over exerted myself – silly girl!). My reply of “no, only about 15miles” was met with a stern look as if I’d just tried to ride 50000 miles without a break. He then took my temperature and declared that I was not cold enough to be hypothermic. Well no, I’ve been warming up in tin foil for the past 45mins! So, naturally, I got diagnosed with possible epilepsy, which makes complete sense. Not! This means an automatic 6 month driving ban and 6 months of me trying to prove that I am not epileptic. Not an easy thing to prove!

So finally, got the all clear from the doctors, which took 6 months. The further 4 months after this was then spent waiting for the DVLA to process my application. And it would have been a lot longer than that had I not taken to phoning them up every day for 3 weeks for an update!

So, driving licence back and I can drive my car again.

So, naturally, I have my licence back, after 10 months, and 2 weeks later my car breaksdown. Thank you Mr. Sod and your stupid law! And for those of you that are about to tell me that you can’t keep a car sitting around, I have been paying insurance and road tax on it for 10 months so that my boyfriend could drive it at least twice a week to keep it going.

Thankfully, this could have been prevented. My advise is; don’t let the weather stop you from riding, but make sure you dress appropriately! It’s better to be warm than cold and don’t assume you will warm up when riding! I was wearing thermal gear, but my mistake was lack of waterproofs. Let this story be a lesson to you, Mr Shorts in January man!

So, if anyone has a working car they would like to give me, it would be greatly appreciated!

Ode to the Cycling Club

Ok, so it’s not really an Ode, but it sounded good!

Ipswich logo

So, I’ve announced that I will be joining Starley Primal Pro Cycling team for 2014. This is both very exciting and a bit sad, because it means that I won’t be racing for Ipswich Bicycle Club anymore.

Ipswich shirt       

I’ve really enjoyed racing for my local club and have been proud to race in the kit, bringing a little bit of Ipswich all over the country and abroad, and I will definitely miss the “go Ipswich” from supporters all over the country who have recognised the name on my kit. But it’s time to move on up to the next level, women’s racing is rapidly improving and this move is going to help me improve with it, but whilst I’m off to new challenges, I feel it’s time to reflect on the good old cycling club.

My bicycle club has been one of the most important elements in my cycling successes so far and I’m sure the humble club has been for many other cyclists and, more importantly, the cycling club will be where the majority of the future peloton will be coming from.

Whatever your ambitions in cycling, if you have a road bike, join your local club!

The reason why I love my club so much, is that it’s full of absolute stars. From the very first time I turned up with my newly purchased road bike, extremely nervous, having no idea what to expect and ready to go straight back home again,  there were always club members with friendly, smiling faces there to encourage, laugh and joke. And they didn’t ride too fast and they didn’t ride too far and they didn’t ignore me and they didn’t laugh at me because I didn’t fit in. Why was I so worried? Since then, I could be spotted at most of the club rides up until recently, when my training routine has changed, but I can still fit the odd one in here and there, it reminds me of why I love cycling so much.

I decided to join my local club because I enjoyed doing lots of miles on my bike. I stayed with my club because the club rides were so much fun and I looked forward to them all week.

If it wasn’t for these guys who, not only encouraged me to come along to the training sessions, in fact, bullied me a little into doing it, I would never have done my first race.

It can be intimidating for a female to enter the masculine world of cycling, but I have to say, it was a long while before I realised that only about 2% of riders on the club rides were women. Nowadays it’s more like 10 -20% (there’s still some way to go). I was rather oblivious of the male/ female divide until I started racing.

So, I started doing the club rides, but there is a massive step between doing these and doing my first race. Firstly, I had to build-up the courage to do the “fast club ride”, which I managed and, after a while, must have proved myself willing to push to the limits, because I was coerced into joining the newly formed chain-gang! I will admit now, that I would never have had the courage to do these, if my club mates hadn’t first encouraged me to turn up and then encouraged me to do it when I did turn up and felt like going back home again. All the riders assembled looked really fast (for the record, looks and bikes can sometimes be deceiving!) These didn’t go too well to begin with. I managed about two thirds of the route on the first go (40ish miles) and managed to crash into the back of the gang at a sudden stop and end up in the gravel strip on the second outing! I attribute this, my first cycling crash, to a certain Chris Parker. I still have the scar to prove it. Club mates aren’t all good, are they Chris? I kept going though, even when these rides were absolute torture. 60 rolling miles, hill after hill, and I only managed to finish a handful with the group. Since then, I have learnt about energy gels and sports drinks. Doh!

So, I started racing on the back of the training I did with my club and now I’m here! If my club wasn’t as friendly, encouraging and downright fun, I wouldn’t be here now and that is why it’s so important to have a good cycling club and why I hope to always have ties with the club. Yes, there are the odd grumpy angry or show-off cyclists who turn up every now and again, but it’s the eclectic mix that makes a club ride worth while.

Happy, friendly, encouraging, eclectic = successful club. Successful club+hard working and committed rider = successful cyclist.

Long live the cycling club!

 Club Image

Friday morning story

Silly things seem to happen to me on Fridays. I’m adding a mini-blog to keep you updated. Just look back at my “Friday morning story” and I’ll add the latest Friday to this mini-blog.

Friday 6th February

Had one of those ride homes that you just hope to survive rather than get your training done. Ok this is more of a Thursday evening story, but I will make use of poetic licence. Although does that count when you’re not actually writing poetry, but just writing?

It was one of those days when the weather is rather pleasant on the ride in to work. The kind of day that you feel privileged to experience on the bike. But the weather turned just in time for the commute home. Cold, rain and blowing a hooley. Not the sort of weather that you look forward to commuting and then a tough session on the turbo to reward you when you get home. But hey, nobody said it was going to be easy!

Riding into driving rain with strong side gusts, thankfully my route is pretty traffic-free on country lanes, so it didn’t matter so much when I found myself two metres over the other side of the road. I found that ducking low was the best way to avoid most of the gusts and is good practice for aero position, although a bulbous backpack doesn’t contribute much to an aero tuck!

Unfortunately, ducking low doesn’t help completely and, despite my best efforts, one rather strong gust managed to catch me, just as I was riding passed a big puddle and yes, you guessed it, I ended up in said puddle. And it wasn’t just a puddle, you’ve all seen the wet weather we’ve had recently, if these puddles were there permanently, they would be named and put on maps. So, I picked myself up, out of Lake Sandy Lane and dripping, had no choice but to continue the ride home.

The good thing about it raining, is that I was wet anyway, and the good thing about falling in a puddle, is that whatever turbo session my coach has thrown at me, it won’t be as bad as this!

Unfortunately, I was wrong on that last one. Having got home, stripped out of my wet gear and put on fresh kit (yep, two lots of washing), I had to make use of the bucket that usually resides under the leaking window.

Another ride done, another training session complete, another day closer to peak fitness and succeeding in races!

Friday 6th December

Having spent the week off the bike due to a heavy cold, I was really excited (ok, maybe just enthusiastic) to be back on the bike this morning and looking forward to a weekend of endurance rides. I wrapped up warm as the temperature has dropped considerably since last week and headed out on my commute to work. after about 5mins of “easy”spinning, I wasn’t finding it very easy.

10 mins in I realised that this wasn’t something I was just going to ride out and was regretting the extra layers. As the miles slowly passed, my garmin was shouting out lap times at me just to make sure I knew I was 2mins slower per “lap”than usual and I was beginning to think my summer jersey and shorts would have been a good idea, when I turned a bend in the road and found myself facing into a head wind. For all my suffering, I had actually been riding with the assistance of a tail wind.
That is the point at which I lost my love of cycling. A weekend of long miles was now my idea of hell and I was cursing at it like a Victor Meldrew in his prime.
I rolled in to the work bike sheds in an unglamorous fashion earning a “cheer up, it’s Friday” from a fellow commuter. Who then, rather helpfully pointed out that I’d caught the brake cable within the attachment of the rear mud guard, effectively pulling the brakes on.
52mins 33secs to do 12 miles suddenly didn’t seem quite so bad. Roll on the weekend (with mud guard fitted properly).

Friday 29th November

There are two people stood next to my bike at the train station. One is me and the other is a man. We are both wearing work clothes, although I have got wellies on. Along comes a platform official. “you need to be at the front end of the platform with your bike, sir” he says. “it’s not my bike”replies the man. The official then looks around and walks about 10metres to a group of men, in suits and asks them if it’s their bike. The official looks puzzled by their answer, but spots another group of men standing some way away from my bike and asks them if they know who owns the bike. Thoroughly amused, I get my bike, which I’m standing right next to, and proceed to the front end of the platform. As I walk past the official, he frowns and says “is that your bike”. Indicating the bike that I am currently wheeling along the platform and have been stood next to all this time. It must be the wellies, they do tend to confuse things, although I would have thought the helmet swinging from my arm would have been a giveaway.

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