Sunday, 9 November 2014

This time it's better.

I've been looking through some of my old blog posts, generally because I'm going to be hitting my third year of cycling in four or so months and have been spending a fair bit of time reflecting on everything that's changed since I first started back in 2012.

Winter sun - does it get any better?
Interestingly, this time last year I'd posted a blog entitled "No form, no fun." - about my struggle to cope with base training due to the fact that I'd done too much for a newbie in the previous race season and ended up making myself a bit ill. This gave me some inspiration to write a bit of a follow up, as it was one of my slightly more negative posts...lolzies.

2013 was insane, I'd been riding a bike for just a year or so, yet attempted a full Feb-Sept quota of racing, as well as moved countries and rode from London to Paris at a pace I genuinely wasn't fit enough to keep up with. Logically speaking, I was a time bomb, and at the time - while full of enthusiasm - probably my coaches worst nightmare.

By November that year I'd run myself into the ground, having to take break after break after melting down every time after trying anything resembling a training ride. I got ill over and over again. It was heartbreaking. Reading back on that post, it's genuinely disturbing to think back to how I felt then. I was so full of excitement to get my base endurance in ready for the 2014 season, but I couldn't DO anything. I could barely walk for half an hour let alone ride a bike for three.

Obviously this year had to be different. My over enthusiasm almost completely ruined this years racing season, I'd not found my legs until late August, just in time for the national TT, just out of time for the road race season. Bugger. Coach and I made a stern agreement at the start of my off-season in September... "No f**king about, Laura. You're going to do as you're told."

So, that's what I've been doing. Throughout October I've been keeping a base level of fitness, just treading water, eating healthy and enjoying a rest. Most importantly I've been enjoying myself. Last year I took everything incredibly seriously, I didn't see anyone, I didn't go out, I made myself unhappy with my diets, I just didn't cope. This year, while I'm taking everything equally as seriously - I'm also including my state of mind in that consideration. It's paid off. I feel refreshed, and as we enter November my training has started it's structured regime once again.

I've finally been able to get out on a couple of group rides, while I'm still not a great climber it's been so refreshing to get out with the lads and try and hang on to their pace. They're encouraging and it's given me a great confidence boost. If you remember some of my gripe this year was with riding in a group - this seems to have dissipated entirely and for once I'm just able to enjoy riding my bike with other people. My fitness has improved tenfold in comparison to last year, too. While I'm not out to break any QOM's right now, every climb I hit feels natural, my legs are responding without complaint and while last year the thought of going anywhere fast made me wince, this year I'm feeling relaxed and ready.

Fuckyeah winter layerz.
I need to be. This winter is going to prove to be a step up for both my coach and I in respect of how we work. We're going to be concentrating on getting me more prepared and on form for the road in a big way over the winter. Looking at the amount of hours I'll be doing by December, I'm just glad that right now I'm feeling happy about riding.

It's such a wonderful feeling compared to this time last year. I don't know where it's come from. I don't know why I feel so good, I just feel merry, every time I ride my bike I feel full of glee. It just feels great. I'm excited to know that this winter may just be what I need to actually start getting those results in, and I couldn't be more proud to try and do that under the wing of the awesome new team of women at VCUK PH-Mas.

One bit of advice I'll give you all for this time of year, if you're feeling good - don't be afraid to join in those club runs. I was so nervous about trying to fit in last year I ended up talking myself out of every club ride - this ruined my bunch riding skills by the race season and effectively ended any chance of doing well. It doesn't matter if you hang on for 5 minutes or 2 hours - the fact is that if you hang on at all, next time round you'll be that much fitter to hang on for a while longer. Don't be afraid if it's a bunch of burly lads you're riding with, banter aside, chances are they're the best encouragement you can get. The very fact that you're giving it a go speaks more volumes that shying away.

You won't know what you are capable of until you give it a shot, so just do it....just don't over train...it sucks.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Project MuddyBum - Update #1

Now that race season's over and training has calmed down for a short while before I kick off my "proper" base in November, I've needed something to fill that time...you know, because actually chilling out isn't really an option is it. I've actually decided to fill that time with something a bit different, bicycle related of course. Since September I've been trawling the internet and messaging friends in the search of the cheapest set of parts I can possibly find to build a reasonably good quality mountain bike to race over the winter.

MUSTARD!
This post is the first of two to just go through what I've done to build the bike so far, and how I've managed to keep costs and, importantly, weight down.

So when I first started I had all sorts of enthusiasm for the project, to finish it quick, to make it totally top end and maybe spend a relatively good amount of money on it. As I've gone on, and tried to claw back some of the £1000's I'd spent on travel during the racing season, I've realised that maybe I'd need to chillax on the spending front. To that end I began to research how I'd be able to pull off a race-worthy bike without breaking the bank.

I don't actually own a saw to remove this bit....
It didn't take long for me to find the perfect frame, an On-One (part of British Brand Planet-X) Whippet- it had great reviews from racers and after a bit more research it looked like I'd be able to build it up as a 650b (that's the middle wheelsize for MTB's) - I got the frame at a steal of £199 as it didn't have any branding painted onto it.... there weren't too many choices in colour at this price point so the bike is, indeed, a strong mustardy yellow. Actually goes quite well with my love of both Batman and my local cycling club, the Manx Viking Wheelers.

First part sorted! Alongside the frame I also ordered two bottom brackets, one to fit a Shimano crankset and one for SRAM - as at this point I wasn't sure which direction I'd go in, and also an FSA headset to fit the frame.

So what now!? Well, one of the most confusing parts of the build so far as been making sure I've obtained the right parts to make sure it builds as a 650b conversion without totally screwing up the ride or geometry. After many hours of searching, it was looking like I'd need to spend almost £800 on just a set of front forks (Fox) to make it work nicely.... until I saw a saving grace in a forum post - someone had suggested using a brand I'd not heard of, this led to me ordering some X-Fusion Velvets - these are specifically designed to accommodate 650b wheels and also seem to be a match made in heaven for my new frame. At £350 with great reviews they were a steal! Bringing my total for the build to just over £570.

New technology! 
So that's the big spends out of the way, apart from the wheels it should be plain sailing for parts now.

Luckily my other half is a keen MTB rider, and like any good mud lover he has filled our garage with spare parts. I've managed to bring back to life a full groupset, comprising of SRAM X7 & X9 parts - so considering it's free, that's not a bad start for the build! The SRAM stuff isn't my favoured choice but it sure does keep weight down. I'll be running a triple until I decide to buy myself a new groupset too...which might actually help me on the hills anyway. My bars are second hand carbon PRO bars from a friend, costing only £25 and super low in weight, so that's not too much on top of the build! I had to buy new jockey wheels to resurrect the rear mech, costing £10 and with anodised blue bolts to match the detail on my forks. I'm waiting on a carbon seatpost from the other half, and already have a Bontrager saddle in stock.

So what's next!? I've got a whole ton of fiddly little parts, seatclamps, rotors, casettes etc to order, I'm buying some 2nd hand brakes from a mate - and actually have some wheels being made as we speak - so once they arrive I'll be able to get the project into full swing. As it stands, the bike weighs 5kg, with front and rear mechs, forks and stem attached. Hopefully there won't be too much to add to that, but if we can keep it under 12kg we're laughing! Budget should be about £1000, I think we'll be dipping over that but only slightly. Not bad for the quality of parts!

REFURB!
One thing I will say, after recapping on my original excitement over the build - MTB's are fairly involved when it comes to technology, unlike road bikes they come with so many different options and configurations. This has been a brilliant learning process for me, as a thoroughbred geek you can probably imagine how much I have revelled in all the detail.

Watch this space for the next update! :)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

So, you wanna race your bike?

Well, here it is. The 'off-season' has officially begun, and for some, in epic style. Those of you new to the sport might wonder what people mean when they refer to the 'off-season'. For some this means not riding a bike very much at all until February or March the year after...but don't let other people's bluffs scupper you, most folks won't do this. In fact, you'll find that for most it's entirely the opposite.

(C) Huw Williams Pics
While, indeed, this is a time for most of us to gather our minds and let our hair down a bit, it doesn't
deflect from the fact that as of October we're usually already planning everything ahead of March. Training goes back to basics and we look at building fitness over the coming months, using long, steady hours, weights, diets, all manner of things to get into shape at the right time for the right amount of time.

So for those of you that are new to the sport, or are simply thinking about trying your hand at road racing or time trialling - then, surprisingly enough, now is probably the time you should start planning for it. Today's post is to help you find some direction into how to actually make those big steps into the wonderful world of racing.

It's October, what should I be doing now?

Don't panic, when I say you should be thinking about planning for next season - you should really be focusing on your base fitness. Don't go out smashing yourself and your legs to peices, in fact, have plenty of days off, but when you go out - go long. What I mean by this is you need steady base miles, ride comfortably, not overly fast, and get a good long ride (2+ hours) in you when you do. Every so often, when you're busy during the week, do some easy 1 hour rides on the turbo and some squats, planks, etc. My coach and I have already basically planned what we're doing right up to next season, but this will inevitably change as we go, the key is not to panic or overdo it. You can basically ride steady and long right the way up to the start of January - what this does is build you a great aerobic endurance, something you really need for road racing.

OK, I know what I'm doing, but what else can I do? 

Firstly, you need to look at your bike. Once you know you have a good base fitness, and have figured yourself out a nice little training plan then you need to think about having a bike that's worthy of racing, ready for the new season. During winter, most of us ride what's called a "winter bike" - this is a bike that's old, a bit cranky and generally considerably heavier than our race bikes. If you only have one bike don't panic, a quick fix come race season can be a new set of wheels - so a good tip for winter is to ride on heavier training wheels, and swap to some lighter, quicker wheels when the weather turns good.

That's the first half of winter sorted, what now?

Alrighty, so come January things are going to change a bit. By now you'll feel much fitter, and hopefully you'll be starting to get a little leaner from all that calorie burning easy riding you've been doing! Now you need to start thinking about logistics. To race, you need to be a member of a club. If you're on the Isle of Man, there are a choice of road clubs - some of you may already be members, for example I ride with the Manx Viking Wheelers, however there is also the Manx Road Club and Ellan Vannin. These clubs are all registered with British Cycling, which is important for my next tip!

The other HUGE benefit of joining a club is the weekend "club runs" - these are normally long, fairly hard but steady enough rides - they can feel quite daunting at first but if you're thinking of racing they are a must. You absolutely NEED to learn how to ride in what's commonly known as a "bunch" (peloton).

January is also the time you need to think about where you're going to race. If you're on the Isle of Man and you're happy racing locally, then you need to register with TLI cycling, which is the regulatory body which covers the Island. If you're in the UK, or you're Manx and you fancy trying races across, then you need a British Cycling Licence. If you're going to race with British Cycling then you need at least a Silver Membership as well as a Race License - this usually costs somewhere around £70 per year.

What opportunities are there in the UK? 

The Manx TLI cycling races are great fun, they're mixed category and gender which means you can have a go against anyone - in our example this sometimes means mixing it up with the pros! To get good women's specific racing experience you don't really have to go too far either. There are currently a few leagues in the North West of England which are specifically designed to help lower category racers (British Cycling categories run from 4, which is novice, through 3,2,1 and ELITE). CDNW in particular is a brilliant way to gain experience in road racing, the races are around 40 miles and throughout the league covers many different types of course. They're all around Lancashire and they're always at the weekend, meaning you can simply hop on the boat and drive or rail over to them. Simples! For me, these have been the best step into real racing so far. There are also weekday leagues if you fancy taking a day off, Salt Ayre being very close to Heysham Port.
(C) Kevin Kissack - TT's are a great way to get into racing.

For those of you who do want to stay local and live on the Isle of Man there are the TLI races as I've mentioned (and even Ireland and across many parts of the UK) - and there is an extremely full calendar of Handicap races (where ability groups are split and set off in time intervals to give all racers a fair chance), Road Race (mass start, usually with A and B ability groups) and Time Trials (my personal favourite, on the Isle of Man these are very regular and if you've never raced before these are the PERFECT place to start testing your ability).

For those of you in the UK, there are many other beginners leagues and for women there are more and more leagues cropping up designed for novices to be able to learn racecraft. If you need a hand finding anything, please feel free to give me a shout on Twitter! @mooleur

So I've got my license, I'm feeling fit and my bike feels great! Surely that's all!? 

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Don't be. There's lots more to discuss but really I think we have the basics for now. Here's the checklist just to wind things up for you;


  1. Long rides - get plenty of good quality, steady base miles in. 
  2. Off the back of this, winter is the time to eat healthily but WELL. Don't overdo it, but don't starve yourself. 
  3. Join a club! You need to be a member of one to be able to race.
  4. Go ride with your club! Or at least a group of experienced riders, the stuff you can learn from these groups is phenomenally important. 
  5. Get your licenses! Decide where you want to race and what types of races you want to to and become a license holder for any respective regulatory body.
  6. Think about some fresh parts for your bike - come March you will want to lighten her up a little.
  7. Don't panic, just enjoy riding your bike. 
  8. Don't be afraid to ask anyone questions, we all started somewhere - the worst thing you can do is go into this with questions unanswered, no matter how silly you think they are. 
  9. Most importantly, no one will EVER judge you for giving racing a try, so don't EVER let that thought hold you back! 
  10. Enjoy your winter. :) 
Hope that's helpful, I know some folks I've spoken to recently are keen to give it a go - so why the hell not! The best thing you can do is enter a season well prepared and confident. 

Go get em x


Sunday, 7 September 2014

It's finished!!!

The season has finally drawn to a close! I have one more local Mountain TT to do and that's it until next year. Phew. I AM KNACKERED. I'm not going to go into too much detail, as I've had a long day and I'm really sleepy, though I do have a couple of fun things to go over.

Thanks to Huw Williams for a season of amazing pics!
I'll start with the positives that I've taken this season - after enduring a rough start to the year following a winter of illness and then road race after road race of struggling to feel comfortable in the bunch, by mid summer I was finally pinging and sticking with the other ladies nicely. Each race I've done I've found another thing has clicked, from it being able to move up and put in little attacks to PBing in my timetrials several times throughout the year. The national 10 was a brilliant event, especially to see where I'm at in comparison to other folks. Lots to take out of it.

It's amazing to finally see my fitness move up a notch, going from finding most things a struggle to finding that I can recover well and dig in when I need and want to. This winter will hopefully go much better than last and through it I will be working on losing that last bit of fat needed to turn myself into a "proper" road racer - still struggling on those climbs a little! I'll also be working on my power, we're  finding that I'm not actually too far off the mark - maybe 10-20 watts more and I'll be a much different rider. I'll be doing more club runs so I don't enter next season with the fear of the bunch looming over me.

There are a few things I'm gutted about, each British Cycling race I've done has been highly competitive and so I've not come out with any points - I don't mind really, but it's always nice isn't it. Slightly gutted that the one race I knew I could do quite well in I was taken down on the first lap! Still paying for that, lovely scars!

TTs have gone really well this year! 
I've got to thank my lovely team Bex and Alex too, although we didn't get to ride together much we still stuck together through the season despite a really rocky start to the year. They're both fantastic riders and I'm sure next year will go very far. You may have even seen Bex at the Ride London, with Marianne Vos on her wheel!! Thanks to Merlin Cycles for sticking by us and providing those lovely bikes - it's been a pleasure and an honour to ride in their kit and race on the Sensa this year.

Next year is already planned and I'm super psyched to say that I'll be joining the 16 strong ladies team at PH-Mas next year! Love this lot, their junior and women's teams are brilliant and they're the friendliest bunch in the peloton by a long shot - it'll be amazing to be able to work with such a large contingent!

So anyway, without further ado - here are my results - I've a couple more events to do so it's not all totally over yet! Oh, I won a TT by the way! Wehey!

Date
Event
Regulator
Cat/Gender
Result
09-Mar
CDNW Saighton
BC
2/3/4
34/45
Mar-14
Roy Killey RR
TLI
ALL
Sick - DNF
13-Apr
Sheffrec RR
BC
2/3/4
26/26
19-Apr
CDNW Southport
BC
2/3/4
23/29
23-Apr
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
27:06:00
30-Apr
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:56:00
3-5-May
Bedford 3 Day
BC
E/1/2/3/4
GC 69/72
14-May
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
26:49:00
21-May
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:49:00
01-Jun
Doncaster Crit
BC
2/3/4
26/26
11-Jun
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:48:00
12-Jun
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
51/56
18-Jun
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
26:02:00
19-Jun
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
54/60
22-Jun
Fred Kelly RR
TLI
ALL
17/18
25-Jun
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:22:00
26-Jun
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
48/49
29-Jun
CDNW Pimbo
BC
2/3/4
19/33
03-Jul
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
45/45
09-Jul
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
26:52:00
16-Jul
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
26:19:00
17-Jul
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
51/51
20-Jul
Penrice 25TT
TLI
ALL
1:07:54 1st Lady
23-Jul
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:59:00
24-Jul
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
35/35
27-Jul
John Hamer RR
TLI
ALL
3/4
30-Jul
2up 10TT
TLI
ALL
24:54:00
17-Aug
Rob Roher 25TT
TLI
ALL
01:08:33
23-Aug
Hinksman Memorial WTS
BC
E/1/2/3/4
33/36
24-Aug
Tickhill GP
BC
3/4
Result unknown
30-Aug
RTTC10 K33/10D
CTT
Women 18+
25:18 59/72
14-Sep
Mountain TT
TLI
ALL
Yet to do