WEMBO 2014 – dissapointment and learnings

It’s funny, you can be prepared both physically and mental as well as you have ever been, and all it takes is one rookie mistake to throw 1 year of work away without reward. Or at least that how I felt upon leaving Fort William last Monday. I’ve now had a few days to reflect and thankfully, I’m a bit more positive about the whole thing. There are a lot of good things to take out of the race.

I was flying at the start of the race. Level pegging with some of the hot favourites in the UK, and riding completely within myself. Relaxed, smooth and efficient down the testing descents; powerful and fluid on the climbs and saving energy where I could.

Feeling Strong - keeping pace with Mark Spratt, Craig Bowles and Matt Page.

Feeling Strong – keeping pace with Mark Spratt, Craig Bowles and Matt Page.

What went wrong?

I under fuelled. And what fuel did go in, was the wrong variety of fuel. Too much liquid. Too much cold liquid. I know I’m not good with the cold so I was prepared with the clothing, but putting 700ml of Scottish highland autumn air chilled liquid through me each lap was a mistake. Peeing every lap from 3 hours onward should have been a sign something was wrong, but the relentlessness of the course gave me no time to think and give instructions to my team to change things around a little. The tiredness was multiplied by the physicality of the course – my lack of hill climbing and real mountain biking this year really showed, as my body struggled to work the bike. It was only a matter of time before it spat me off because I didn’t have the strength and energy to pump that compression or manual that rock garden.

I climbed off the bike just before 2am. There were tears – not of pain but of guilt for letting everyone down who had helped me get to that very moment. Some warm food, a change of clothes, more warm food, a sleep, more warm food and by 7am I was back in the saddle. By that time I had no interest in position, it was about pride. I was now smashing it with sub hour laps with disappointment and “what if” thoughts mulling around my head (at this time I hadn’t worked out what went wrong, all I knew was it had gone wrong!)

Sleeping - not something that I should have been doing!

Sleeping – not something that I should have been doing!

17 laps later, 230km and 7000m of climbing I crossed the line smiling and glad it was over but without the feeling of being completely broken. I woke up on Monday morning – not much hurt. Tuesday morning – no pain, anywhere. I was clearly on some terrific form. Even 17 laps was still a significant ride and there was my body, 2 days after, feeling like I’d done a moderate weekend training session! Kate Potter, my AQR coach, had built me up and dropped me into this 24 hour race with body and legs as ready as they ever were going to be but silly mistakes meant I couldn’t deliver on that form.

I was flying in the morning after the unplanned sleep

I was flying in the morning after the unplanned sleep

So plenty of good things to take away and some valuable lessons learned. A missed opportunity for sure, and a lot of disappointment, but I’ll bounce back – there is no doubt in that. There’s unfinished business with WEMBO. Maybe Weaverville, California in 2015 – lets see. But 2017 in Finale, Italy – there will be no rookie mistakes that time round.

Thanks to…

A Quick Release – otherwise known as Ian and Kate Potter for their support and coaching
Mark, Rob and Kathy for being an awesome pit crew
Everyone else in the pit keeping AQR riders and pit crew going
Cotic, Sunwise, Maxxis, Torq, Clee Cycle / KCNC and USE for their continued support and awesome kit
Anthony Pearse Photography for the stunning photo’s
And finally, Carol, for giving up so much to support me, not just in the 24 hours of this race but in the last year of training and racing.



finding the time

Everyone’s been there. They want to do more of something but something else seems to eat up that time you wanted to do that first something. It might be family commitments, it might be work, it might be financial issues, it might just be a backlog of admin that you wished you’d dealt with a long time ago!

The reality is, priorities changes. We may say that is the most important things in our life’s but life can come long and give you a right good reality check all of a sudden! Somethings are more important. A new child is brought into the world, a family member takes ill, you get a once in a lifetime opportunity to take your career to the next level.

If I’m being honest, I’ve been there the last 6 months and bike riding has had to come lower down the pecking order. The good news, there are things you can do to keep you peddling, keep you fit, but address the most pressing matters at hand.

Here is my 7 point guide…

  1. Be Realistic: if you are used to a training schedule be realistic about how much time you really have if you need to cut it down. If it was 20 hours a week, and you think you can only manage 15 now, the reality is you only have 10! 10 hours structured good quality training is better than 15 or 20 half arsed or over tired sessions. If you do mange 15 then bonus!

  2. Use your commuting time: most of us have to travel to work. If work is within riding distance then ride it. You may well find that it’s not that much slower than driving as that time spent in traffic in your car adds up. Start with 1 or 2 days a week. If it’s too long for you, can you do a one way commute and get another form of transport home? Can you get up 30 minutes earlier and throw in another few cheeky hills or lanes on route to work? Have a read of a blog by Rachel Sokal, my AQR teamate, for some more reasons on why to commute –
  3. Commuting doesn't have to be boring - use the time wisely.

    Commuting doesn’t have to be boring – use the time wisely.

  4. Become a fair weather rider: normally I’d be saying man up and get out there in the rain, wind, darkness but if your time is limited choose your riding time wisely. When you can ride, you want to enjoy it as much as possible and sun and fair weather maximise the fun potential. It also reduces the potential need or time spent for bike and kit cleaning.

  5. Stay on top of your maintenance: if you are blessed to have more than one bicycle, there is always a temptation that if one requires some spanering time, to just take another one out. I do it, my AQR teammates to it do too. We keep doing it until we realise we have 3 or 4 broken dirty bikes and it’s a beautiful sunny morning. Maintain as and when things need it OR set aside an hour a week specifically for tooling time. And if like me your skills with an allen key and a chain whip are dubious at best – consider spending a little cash and dropping it in to your local bike shop for those slightly trickier tasks. Something that might end up taking you 3 hours of frustration to fix is not worth the £20 you give your LBS. That’s 3 hours you could have been riding!
  6. Improve boring maintenance time by adding tea and cake!

    Improve boring maintenance time by adding tea and cake!

  7. Ride with friends: take this opportunity to remember why you ride a bike and enjoy doing it in the company of your friends. Session those bits of trail you love. Explore new areas. Stop for a chat. Sit down for some cake. And don’t feel guilty if you average HR for the ride is in Zone 1. Just ride and enjoy. And forget about Strava…you’ll not be smashing any of your KOM’s when your not at your peak.

  8. Think of other sports: let’s face it, with cycling come faff. What clothing will I wear today? How much food will I take with me? Where are my shoes? I need more pressure in my back tyre. Ok, let’s go. Dammit, forgot my pump and tyre levers! No mater how organised you are, getting ready to go out on your bike takes time. Other sports take less time. My preferred choice is running. Trainers, socks, shorts, and a few layers on top (dependent on temperature) and away you go. Other suggestions might be swimming, gym classes, squash, badminton, 5-a-side football. Pick things that are easily accessible and the equipment doesn’t cost much.
  9. Running doesn't have to be boring, especially with shoes like this!

    Running doesn’t have to be boring, especially with shoes like this!

  10. Multitasking exercise: and by that I mean do exercise while doing something else. Rubbish core? (And if you answer no to this question you are wrong – all cyclist have cores that need improving!) Do some exercises while watching TV, catching up on a podcast or waiting for room service to arrive in your hotel. The same goes for things like yoga and Pilates. Park the car as far away from the office as possible – extra walking and fresh air will do you the world off good. Ditch the lift and use the stairs – no excuses of heavy legs after a mega hill rep session.

But my key message is RELAX! Don’t over stress about not doing the level of training you are used to. You can’t do everything and the choices you make or the things that happen in your life will dictate how much riding time you get.

I’ve had 6 months of this – but come February, bike riding gets to go back up a few notches on the priority scale.

Have you got any other suggestions? Let me and other readers know by leaving a comment below.

what is success

Success – the favourable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavour; the accomplishment of one’s goals.

Success is personal. It’s relative to you and one person’s success may not be directly comparable with another’s. Some might want to win the Tour de France, others may simply want to gain some fitness and ride 20 miles without stopping.

As I look back on my 2013 season of endurance racing, I find it very difficult to gauge whether it was successful for me or not.

Torq 12

The Good…

  • 3rd at my first solo 24 hour race, which just so happened to bank me the rookie jersey and the unofficial (non-UCI approved…get it sorted Cookson!) title of 3rd best in Europe at riding my bike all day. In reality, there are loads more out there better than me, but you’ve got to be in the race to be counted.
  • 2nd at Torq 12. Essential a repeat of last years result but the position doesn’t tell the full story. Being defeated two years on the trot by national UK 12 hour champion, Tim Dunford, is nothing to be embarrassed about. And despite some silly mistakes this year (slipping seat post, bad bike setup, sore back) I was quicker than 2012.
  • A win in a XC race. Ok – there weren’t many people in the race, but to be level pegging with Pete Harris, multiple UK Vet champion, isn’t bad. Just don’t tell everyone that he was racing for 4 hours, not 2 like me!!
  • 9th at Brighton Big Dog in a very strong field with tired legs during a big block of training.

  • Winlatter

    The Bad…

  • DNF at Winlatter MTB challenge due to a major clothing error and mild hypothermia. Disaster!
  • A lack of points and successful races to score highly on the UK Endurance Series.
  • The post 24 solo chocolate binge and lack of motivation.
  • The lack of actual racing time!

  • And the final point is the one that makes me feel indifferent. If I look at the top two results I’m ecstatic with that. Those were the two races picked out at the beginning of the season as the ones to go for. The ones I would train and peak for. The ones that Kate of A Quick Release Coaching would build me up for. And it worked!

    Somethings were out of my control. Two races I was really looking forwarded to this year got cancelled – a stage race in Ireland and Keilder 100. I also opted for more rest (read “chocolate”) post my 24 solo effort rather than racing pairs at 10 Under the Ben.

    But I don’t just race to do well. I race because it’s fun. It’s as much a social activity for me as it is a competitive event. I love the buzz of the pit area and the adrenaline boost I get lining up on the start line. I love going out there and pushing my body to the limit, partly for myself, but primarily for those people who support me in this mad sport I love to bits.


    So if I were to take two key messages away from last year, they would be the following.

    1. If I focus on something, and train hard, I will achieve my own personal goals.
    2. In between that really focused focussing, I need to race for fun.

    So there we go. I’ll take those learnings into this year and hopefully my 2014 post season blog will not be questioning my own personal success.

    Times are a changing in my life – and with that new challenges will come my way. A new adventure awaits!

    the wiggo effect

    I have the upmost respect for Bradley Wiggins and this blog is in no way hitting out at his performances this year. As far as I am concerned, he can hang up his wheels tomorrow and he will have left a hugely positive and lasting impression on British cycling, and go down in history as true legend of the sport.

    It’s quite clear Bradley wasn’t quite “on it” when lining up for the Giro d’Italia this year. He never really looked comfortable in the first few stages – not the way he did in the Le Tour last year. He had some bad luck in the time trail – he was probably due some bad luck. Then the rain came, the big hills came, the time began to slip away from him, his bike began to slip away from him then there was an injury and that was that. Cue 3 months of media silence while the fickle spotlight of sport journalists shined on the the Froomedog and his ability to simply pedal faster than the other guy.

    It was well documented that Brad had a good time after he got that Olympic Time Trail out of the way last year. There were award ceremonies and celeb parties, there was drinking and there was even a bit of mountain biking! And why the hell not? He deserved it- a yellow jersey, a gold medal and multiple stage race wins weren’t bad for a year’s work. He needed to let loose, especially since he had been focussing on turning himself from track pursuit rider to Grand Tour winner over the last 5 years. But maybe it’s fair to say that the focus for this year’s Giro wasn’t quite up to scratch with the level of focus that he had given the 2012 edition of the Grand Boucle, and that showed.

    Now my story is in no way as grand as Sir Bradley, but there are some similarities and I think I may have been inadvertently brought down with what I am calling “Wiggo Effect”.

    It’s now been 90 days since I turned the last pedal stroke of my first 24 hour race and collapsed in an ecstatic heap as my support team came to give me hugs and beer! I came 3rd at 24 Hours of Exposure and in doing so was also the 1st Rookie rider across the finish line.

    I raced for 24 hours and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt. And Medal. And loads of free goodies. And a massive sense of satisfaction for 6 months of dedication and hard work

    I raced for 24 hours and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt. And Medal. And loads of free goodies. And a massive sense of satisfaction for 6 months of dedication and hard work

    Those 90 days have been tough. First there was the physical pain – the stiff legs, a battered upper body and the saddle pains, oh the saddle pains! It’s fine – more chocolate, cake, wine, beer and junk food will solve that. It’ll be better next week, plus I’ve been training for this for 6 months – I’ve got to let loose now and again.

    The physical pain went but the mental pain took over. The bikes sat in the garage, untouched since unloading the car upon arriving home. I kept telling my AQR coach, just another week of rest. There was more chocolate, but it was fine – I’d been training for this for 6 months – it’s ok to take some time off.

    Then the training started again, but there was always an excuse – too busy at work, bikes not working, rubbish weather. Then there was more chocolate, but this time it came with guilt – but it was fine, I’d start again next week. Good diet, structured training, focus – here we go.

    We didn’t go. Apart from the odd social ride, pedalling was well down my priorities. Every day came with a massive helping of de-motivation, served with lack of focus and a topping of chocolate sprinkles with a beer on the side.

    My legs were forced though – a 2 week holiday to the French Alps and AQR Base Camp at Luchon in the Pyrenees reignited something. Techy singletrack covered in roots and rocks and smooth tarmac ascending over a 1km into the sky made me remember something. Riding my bike is fun.

    It’s not that I forgot that when training for the 24 hour race. Every tough training session I told myself, you are riding your bike and you like riding your bike. The problem was I forgot to tell myself I like riding my bike after the race. I felt pressured to get into training – to keep that form and take it to the next race. And the next race will bring pressure because now I am supposedly 3rd in Europe at riding my bike all day. People will expect things of me. Or at least I will expect things of me.

    I’m now 3 weeks in to the new phase of training and have nailed every session so far – no excuses, no chocolate. Today I race Brighton Big Dog – a 6 hour solo event. In 2 weeks time I race for 12 hours. The motivation is back. The focus is there. I’m having fun.

    #24solo build up in numbers

    The build up to 24 Hours of Exposure continues and here’s a brief rundown of the preparation in numbers…

    240 x HUGE TUNES on the iPod to rave me through the night
    120 x scoops of Torq energy
    60 x energy gels including Torq Banoffee and Rhubarb and Custard (yum yum!)
    30 x power bars
    15 x sets of new brake pads
    8 x pairs of fresh cycling gloves
    6 x USE Exposure lights
    4 x spare wheels
    2 x bikes including my new Cotic Solaris
    1 x awesome A Quick Release support team to get team mate Rachel Sokal and me through the race.

    Cotic Solaris

    My new Cotic Solaris – a weapon in fast singletrack

    3 sleeps to go until I get to ride my bike all day!

    a day long adventure

    In less than 2 weeks time I will embark on a new challenge, and I am really not sure what to expect. On Saturday 11th May at 12:00pm I’ll clip in and push off the start at 24 Hours of Exposure in Wasing and if all goes well, not stop turning those pedals until 12:00pm on Sunday 12th May. I’ve raced 24 hours before, but never alone – there has always been 1 or 3 more people helping me out, giving me the opportunity to sit in a comfortable chair, eat while relaxing, change my socks, and share stories of the last lap with the other riders in the pits. None of that this time I’m afraid.

    Not just any solo race, this is the UK and European Championships

    Not just any solo race, this is the UK and European Championships

    Last season, there was never really any pressure. It’s fair to say I exceeded my own expectations in pretty much every race I entered – a 5th at 12 Hours of Exposure and 2nd at Torq 12:12 being the highlights. As I’ve never raced a 24hour solo event before – I should really be turning up with no expectations other than to learn and hopefully finish. Anything else should be a bonus.

    So why over the past few weeks have I started to put pressure on myself for this race? I’ve been getting angry with myself when I’ve missed training sessions because of weather, work or illness. My DNF at Whinlatter last weekend did not help. I’ve been finding it hard to relax – always thinking there is something I could be doing to help my performance, whether that’s stretching and core work or tinkering (badly) with the bikes to get the optimum setup.

    My mind tells me I can do well in this race. I don’t know whether “well” translates into podium, 5th or 10th – it all depended on who else turns up on the day. For me it’s not about position; it’s about putting all that training and hard work into being as fast as I know I can be. I know the riders that are faster than me – if I am close to them, or even ahead of them then mission accomplished. If I’m a long way from them or behind those that were slower than me last year – then in my mind that is failure and I will be disappointed, even if I finish.

    The reality is that I have no idea how my body or mind will react after 12 hours. I’ve been to some dark places on a bike. I like to think that my head is strong and I can pull myself out even darker places should they come. I’ve got lucky with mechanicals and crashes last year – maybe this year I’ll not be so lucky.

    At least if the course is a pad eater, I’ve got plenty of spares to slow me down

    At least if the course is a pad eater, I’ve got plenty of spares to slow me down

    So the aim over the precious few days leading up to the race is to nail every training session. Make sure the bikes are at 100%. Prepare all the equipment, clothes and food in time. Ensure all logistics are in place in the build up to the race. I’ll make time for relaxing and recovery. I’ll eat well. I’ll sleep well.

    If I do all this, it will give me more confidence, it will cast away some of those doubts and I will begin to lift some of that self inflicted pressure.

    Right now I’m 50% excited and 50% nervous. The aim for the start line is to be 90% excited, 10% nervous. And that little bit of nervousness can be transferred in to adrenaline to keep me pedalling and racing for 24 hours!


    P.S. Just writing this has already made me 60% excited, 40% nervous. 24 hours…you’re mine!

    bike racing ain’t easy

    Before Sunday it had been nearly 7 months since I had last lined up on a start line. That time round it was for Kielder 100 – which went almost to perfection. As I lined up on the start line for Whinlatter MTB Challenge with my new Cotic Solaris and my new AQR kit, I got that nervous buzz I always get just before a race starts. This time round, it was far from perfection…

    Winter has been long and for someone who isn’t great with the cold, it has been quite painful. The last couple of months have been really tough – lingering snow and highs of 3C at the end of March and early April don’t really do much for your motivation. There have been low points and there have been times where I’ve been disgusted with cycling. I always tell myself to man up, if other people can cope in the cold, so can you. Well this weekend taught me that coping with the cold is not a universal thing…it’s very much unique to the individual.

    The siren blew and off we went. I got a great start, found a good wheel to follow and began to settle down into a solid rhythm after the first few climbs. I was climbing well – not a massive surprise as it’s my strength. The shock was the speed I was descending at. I was catching and passing riders going downhill – not like me! Either it’s the big wheels on my Cotic Solaris 29er and the wide USE Atom bars or the skills coaching from Ian Potter of AQR is paying off

    I was in the top 10 when the problems started. The final descent is huge – a good 10-15 minuntes of descending with a little kick up near the end. I’ve forgotten to mention up until now – the weather was grim – raining hard, puddles everywhere, a stiff breeze and the air was a little icy. It’s fair to say I made a massive clothing choice error. This was a 3-4 hour endurance event in the Lake District in poor conditions. Not a 1 hour XC blast round a muddy unexposed field. I unfortunately had dressed for the latter.

    I came off the first lap very cold but a big fire road climb ahead should get the temperature back up and I’ll be fine. No such luck. With my heart rate failing to reach 160bpm (max is 200bpm) and my legs not turning like they should I started to go backwards. Riders I had left for dead earlier were now returning the favour. The trail pointed downwards – I got colder. Another climb – 150bpm max. I was in trouble now. I was starting to shiver uncontrollably. I had to get the heat up on the next climb.

    I pushed hard but my body just wouldn’t work. I couldn’t get my legs to go around without shaking, I was struggling to hold the bars and vision was beginning to be an issue with all the shivering. I tried to convince myself that “it’s just the cold, you’re fine” but I was becoming very scared about the 2nd half of the lap and the long final descent.

    I’ve only ever quit one race through my own choice before…this was about to become number two.

    It took me 30 minutes in a warm car and dry clothes to stop shaking and feel human again. I had never been that cold – I was genuinely scared. My coach, Kate Potter of AQR Coaching, later told me that I more than likely had a mild case of hypothermia and stopping was the only option.

    So not a great first race for 2013. The key learning – every rider is different. The cold clearly has a big impact on me and being overdressed is a far safer option. If others are wearing summer kit then let them. Do not let’s others influence what I wear. This does not make me a weaker rider – if anything it makes me stronger as I have clearly identified one of my key weaknesses.

    Now time to put in my request for 15-20C with no wind and no rain for 24 hours in 3 weekends time.