Mar 282013

“They’re chatting ! My lungs are hanging out and they’re bloody chatting !”


That’s what’s being muttered under my breath as i desperately try and cling onto the coat tails of Rich Rothwell and Tim Dunford up another snowy climb at the Whinlatter trail, just outside Keswick in the lake district. This is the home of March’s Whinlatter Challenge. A 600 strong, early season mtb race / challenge around some of Cumbria’s best man made trails. I’m currently sitting 3rd, some 50 yards behind the lead two. This is a situation I’d normally be ecstatic about. Battling heroically at the front of a race with two of the best endurance racers out there. The problem is, the event was postponed yesterday due to the weather and there’s only 3 of us here ! When we heard the event was postponed, having already packed the car, got cover in the shop and booked a hotel for Saturday night, Michelle and I thought, what the hell and drove all the way up here with the kids anyway. A quick phone call to Rich and a “lets go out anyway” Sunday morning ride was arranged. I feared holding Rich up but when i saw he’d brought along a mate, i knew i was in trouble.

How did i get in this position? I blame Rich entirely. Not for anything that happened this last weekend, but for getting me hooked on wanting to do well back in late 2011, when i approached him to help me with some training tips, after i decided to enter my very 1st 12 hour solo race. I went from just wanting to survive a 12 hour to really wanting to compete at the best level i could. Just a few months after that i was trekking up to Keswick to do the 2012 edition of the Whinlatter challenge. My 1st ever proper race where i came a humble 104th overall and 31st vet. What i really remember about that race though (other than the cramp), was being overtaken on a climb by a twenty-something on a multi-linked full susser, wearing skinny jean cutoffs and trainers. To a forty-something, lycra-clad wannabe racer that’s not only depressing but downright embarrassing. This year i thought i’d return and try to iron out some niggles – i wanted to break the top 100 .  . . . Oh, and hunt down skinny jeans and trainers.


The early seeds of doing, what seemed at the time, something near impossible like a 12 or 24 hour solo were first sown when Rob (Lee) worked for us back in 2007. Somehow the thought of riding for that long felt like a massive challenge alone. Nevermind actually trying to race. I always said that if i was to do one, i wanted to do it as the good guys did, not stop for a nap or a meal half way through, but actually ride, and push for the full duration. There was no way an average rider like me was going to do that without some help. Hence the call to Rich, who i already new through Rob’s old team. Rich coached me through my first season as a newbie racer. After Whinlatter i did the 6 hour solo at The Erlestoke 12. A local event to us. A fantastic course and a great, friendly event. Then came my target race, Bontrager Twentyfour12. All i was aiming for was to finish in the top 20% in the vets category. Some spectacular mud, a few no shows and a fair amount of bloody mindedness saw me pull off a podium place in my first ever 12. A result i still find hard to comprehend now. Michelle’s always tutting at me when i try to explain it away as a “freak result” . . . . ” but none of the big boys were there” etc etc.

A conversation with Rob over some bike building, led to a invitation for me to join The Bike Picture and here i am. Although i’ve always suspected Rob’s invite may have been a text meant for somebody else, and he’s too polite to tell me !

And that’s it really. Call it a midlife crisis, an excuse to get me out on my bike, what you will. That’s how a fairly average rider with a fairly normal lifestyle found himself getting up at 4am for training rides in the middle of winter, joining a team and getting beasted around a snowy trail centre by two guys in a whole other league to me. To be fair to both Rich and Tim they were great people to ride with and never once looked miffed at my comparative lack of pace. It was alot of fun and I hope to do it again someday. I can only dream of being that quick, but it’s not gonna stop me trying.


As for the guy in the skinny jeans and trainers – you can bet i’ll be back again next year at Whinlatter trying to reek my revenge. I may have missed out this year but i’ve not forgotten.




Mar 252013

If I’m honest, I’ve never really been much good at it. Of course, I have tried….I had a coach and followed a structured training plan for a while, but far too often I found myself wanting to do something completely different than my prescribed target ride for the day. This generally meant that instead of, for example, a couple of hours of zone 2 road work, I’d be far more likely to end up riding my singlespeed mountain bike for ten hours around the Brecon Beacons. Or, I might replace a 6×5′ functional threshold indoor session with a “sprint around the block” because it happened to be sunny outside.


Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is clearly not a good thing for out & out race performance. Well, it depends on the race I suppose, but generally speaking a coach and a structured training plan are excellent things if you want to do well in races and achieve the best level of fitness you can. For me however, that attempt at a structured way of training was simply another part of my learning curve, and the desire to win races just isn’t enough to make me spend my limited free time on things I’d rather not be doing.  I suppose that might sound a bit odd coming from someone who is thrilled to have been asked to join a new race team, but really if your head isn’t in the right place, especially training for long races, I don’t think you’re going to get very far…and even worse, you might not enjoy it!

Eventually, I discovered the kind of riding that gets me out of the door when it’s 1 deg C and raining outside, or when I’m exhausted from a day of work, children, chores, and the myriad of other things that deplete our energy and make the sofa a more tempting proposition than riding a bicycle on a cold and dark evening. I still get the miles in of course, but rather than stick to a strict plan I keep my riding flexible depending on my mood, the conditions, and which of my bikes might actually be working at any given time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also become better at listening to my body…and crucially at allowing myself to rest when it’s tired.


The other thing I do is to set myself a lot of “mini-goals”…just to keep it fun. If you ever feel like browsing the latest rides posted by the team on Strava (the widget is over there, on the right of the page —>), you probably won’t see many references to “zones” or suchlike on my rides. You are however quite likely to see an after-work sprint to get to the coffee shop for a chai latte before they close at 7pm, a hill climb to a nice pub to book a table for next Friday, a 200 mile Oxford to Cambridge & back ride because I enjoyed riding it one way a few years ago, or perhaps a spur-of-the-moment attempt at a long distance time trial record because I felt quite good that week and the weather was nice.

Having a flexible attitude to my “training” allows me to do all this, and has rewarded me with a few decent results in return so clearly it’s not entirely ineffective.  Perhaps more importantly though, my experiment with, and subsequent rejection of, putting some firm structure into all this bicycle riding was about figuring out the kind of riding that motivates me, that makes me happy…and isn’t that really what this is all about?


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Mar 242013

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Whilst my pink hunters are a total giveaway to a previous life in the city, at least they are well worn and covered in mud.

We have been living in the Dorset/Somerset area now for just over two years. We have our own cottage (which needs constant work) and have started a family (which needs constant attention). It finally feels like home. Life is busy and rich and I can honestly say I have never been happier. However, the winter feels longer and darker here in the countryside where the roads are always muddy or flooded, social life is limited by logistics and there are no street lights to disguise the long cloudy nights.

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It’s almost the end of March – it’s almost Easter – and I can’t believe it still feels like winter. On go the wellies, waterproofs and hat (and Megan in the sling)… it’s time for our walk. Let’s go get some eggs.

As I look closer I realise that actually it isn’t winter any more. Spring is creeping in, but only those willing to go out and look for it are likely to notice. The yellow daffodil buds stand tall and uniform along the path-side; our miniature street lamps to brighten the way. And tiny precious violets add tones of blue to the hedgerow shadows – unfortunately easily missed when on the bike. Megan keeps me company, as always, also enjoying the fresh air and bird song along the way.

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I wonder why I feel the need for Seasons to change, for things to happen… as a consequence it makes me feel pressed for time to get things done. It is easy to forget to simply make the most of the current situation; not rush it to pass or spend it planning for the next. It’s easy to apply unnecessary pressure to achieve what’s currently not suitable.

This is why this race season we’ve decided to only concentrate on shorter cycle events for me: there just isn’t the option for longer training sessions at the moment. The change of riding style has been refreshing and fun.

Things happen slowly in the countryside, that’s for sure. People are laid back and it can sometimes feel like others have no value for your time, I found this infuriating when we first moved here. But two years here has taught me that when we slow down we gain the opportunity to notice more and subsequently to enjoy the preparation and activity as well as the result. Today’s a good day for cake.

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 Posted by at 11:32 am
Mar 222013

So long. [leaves the room]

Unfortunately, unlike Homer I have to face the truth. Whilst not trying to hide a speak-easy from my wife, I have been trying to hide my lack of fitness, training and motivation from myself and others. Several milestones over the past few months, the death of a loved one – finishing a PhD thesis – moving country – starting my own coaching group, have all conspired to provide a blank foundation that I can build myself back up off. Destruction can lead to new life.

My name is Greg, I like to ride bikes around in circles for hours on end in order to shut my brain up. It doesn’t always work. But I try.

Since I’ve finished the thesis I expected to ride more, feel free, cover more ground. I’ve found the direct opposite. The bike has not engaged me, it’s been ridden, but more out of reluctance than want. The perpetual student in me knowing how much those bike parts cost. Reticent to take it out in the mud. Denying the bike its one purpose.

My fathers death spurred me on again. Two weeks of nearly no exercise hurt the mental image of my physical self. I saw myself getting fatter by the day despite eating next to nothing. I fell down the slope of believing that I needed to ride to stay free, to keep my mind clear, to run from it all. But I fought it. I stepped back and looked, for once, with clarity at my reason for riding and said no. “I am not going to ride to escape this, I will take this and use it as fuel”.

Three weeks have passed. I’ve ridden little, what I have has been with purpose and reason, not to escape. I’ve immersed myself with people I don’t know at a new climbing wall. Felt my arms working again, doing something that was once dear to me, something that requires me to focus not shut off parts of my brain.

Home in Ireland and it is raining. The trails from my home, my paternal roost, will be soaked. I feel like riding them. My eyes open.

HomeA new season, a new team, a new start.

Mar 202013


So, when your coach suggests “running an experiment on you”, naturally it makes you feel a little nervous. However, on hearing about this particular experiment I couldn’t help but agree to the opportunity… if it should work it would surely be the ultimate style of training, for me at least.

Welcome to the Minimalist Bike Training Experiment. Yes, the title says it all. In order for me to get faster on my bike, Rob has suggested that I should train less. It doesn’t jump out as being an experiment that very many athletes would be willing to risk, but with a 9 month old baby requiring pretty much constant attention, and trying to build my business back up following maternity leave, TIME is indeed something I don’t have much of to spare. This sounds like the training plan for me!

So, we’ve already started and what can I say other than I really look forward to my training sessions. They are short and snappy (all but one is 45 minutes or less) and totally achievable within my current life juggle. If anything I feel a bit too well rested to think I’m doing enough to get fitter, stronger and faster. But who am I to judge what positive training should feel like? Perhaps being fully recovered between sessions – and not over-working during sessions – is a far more sensible way of gaining improvements.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes, although I have a sneaky suspicion that once the weather improves I’ll want to spend longer on my bike outdoors. After all, cycling for me is about the feeling of freedom it brings and I simply put the turbo sessions down as a necessity to help me enjoy the outdoors experience even more.

 Posted by at 6:13 pm