Monday 13 February 2017

Anatomy of a Spin Class

Tonight, I span.

More specifically, it transpired that tonight was to be my one spinning class of the year. Why one you ask? I'll explain.

I dislike spinning, therefore it takes a lamentable alignment of several factors to lead me to spin. These are:

1. I'm injured and can't play squash.
2. I'm reached critical mass with turbo trainer tolerance.
3. I've been for a run, in fact usually two, and remembered running is painful.

At this point I turn to spinning, and the unwavering motivation of group exercise...allegedly. Needless to say, it was a sweaty waste of time - I won't go into the details, but refer to my previous post on spinning, multiplied by a tiny 'spin studio' filled with 30 bodies, no air con, and a sizable average BMI.

However, my despair inspired me to devise this (partial...) satire - Anatomy of a Spin Class.

The Instructor
The instructor is almost always female, and ALWAYS called Alison, or Claire. Alison/Claire see's herself as a local celebrity, befriending every spinner this side of the Thames. 'See you Thursday!' she exclaims as the class leave. Half the class, her legion of disciples, reply with an equally joyful refrain, whilst the other half, irked by her immutable zeal, grumble into their sweaty towels. 

I always wonder if the instructor has ever ridden a bike. I suspect not, as spinning at 120 RPM for a whole 75 watts may find herself going backwards. At least upwards. Alison/Claire devotes her life to the enhancement of people's fitness, whilst simultaneously managing to know absolutely nothing about the enhancement of people's fitness.

Then again, at £8.55 x 30 people for an hour, why should she care?

Mr Spin
'Mr Spin' is the most enthusiastic spin participant you will ever meet...until next class. He can be found dressed in full lycra, usually worn to the point of testicular emergence, talking to everyone he knows (which is everyone) about his third spin class of the day. He's also usually from Yorkshire, no matter where you are. Again, don't ask me why, Oh, and he's also usually called John. 

John will sit at the front, best friends with Alison/Claire and prides himself on spinning the quickest, whether suppose to be spinning quickly or slowly; to John it matters not. He always rides with perfect form, well, what he sees as perfect form. Perfect form on a spin bike is like arguing on the internet: even if you win, you lose. I always wait for him to receive the pat on the head and dog biscuit from Alison he so desperately desires. John leaves spin class to venture to another spin class. Or polish his car.

The Sizable Slacker
Harsh, but to anyone familiar with spinning, fair. There's always several specimens on the expansive side who probably burn more calories sitting on their groove worn sofa. They start off well, spinning voraciously for about 90s, until their underlying medical conditions kick in; shortness of breath, hot flush, raised heart rate, sweating. Dangerous symptoms, especially during exercise...

Credit where credit is due, slacker doesn't quit. They carry on trundling along at 20rpm...any exercise is good exercise right?! Well, yes, but not when you're calories per minute of energy drink exceeds that expanded by your piffling pedaling. Slacker then goes home, fresh with bravado from their friends, and celebrates with a well earned kebab, whilst pondering why they never lose weight.

Must be that metabolism, damn genetics...

The Well Meaning Weight Watcher
This person should not be confused with the sizable slacker above. That is if it's February or beyond...otherwise there is a 87% chance they're one of the 'New Year, New Me!' symphony. The well meaning weight watcher makes a concerted effort to exercise and lose weight, spin class, aerobics class, followed by some lifting weights in the gym. Not too heavy though, don't want to get too muscly! 

The well meaning weight weather's achievements are admirable, however, they like to celebrate with a glass of wine when they get home...or two, and some cocktails at the weekend with the girls. Cocktails are healthy right?! they've got fruit in as well as sugar! The well meaning weight watcher perseveres with spinning, losing weight slowly but surely, until an all inclusive trip to 'Marbs' puts an end to that, and the beginning of a winter of regret.

Still, it's nearly January...New Year, New Me!

Angry Cyclist
Coincidentally, the angry cyclist is present in every spin class I partake in. He's usually quite fit, and knowledgeable about cycling...maybe even keeps a blog about it. He begins a spin class full of hope, hope of a decent training session to replace the eternal monotony of the turbo trainer, or a gym based alternative to running. He maintains optimism for the first interval, and into the first rest period...but the rest period never comes. With every effort, followed by effort, his morale declines, reaching a trough as Alison/Claire calls for on bike press ups! There is no return from here. Angry cyclist feels temperature rising, as exponentially as enthusiasm wanes. 

He starts to notice the other spinners, and their variety of quirks.  'Maybe I'll write a blog post about this!' he thinks....

Tuesday 7 April 2015

An Eggcellent Weekend of Riding!

Last weekend was Easter weekend, and one of those rare, but glorious occasions where time and weather line up perfectly. I popped home for the weekend, and planned to get a couple of hilly rides in and kick start summer training! It seemed the weather was on my side, with temperatures of up to 14C forecast Saturday and Sunday.

After a long drive Friday night, I got back about 1am, and needless to say I was feeling a little tired Saturday morning. After a few hours of lazing about, the sun outside inspired me to get out, if only for a short ride to get the legs going. I settled on the old staple of Hebden Bridge and back, about 55k, with the option of hills from there. It took a while to get going, and the legs felt heavy and tired cycling past a busy Hollingworth Lake, across to Todmorden and the final stretch to Hebden. A slight headwind channelled by the Calderdale valley didn't help. That said, when I arrived, I felt a bit better.

I stopped in Hebden Bridge for a quick drink, and to enjoy the festivities. No matter when you go there, there is always, always something going on in the square. One of the reasons it's always my first port of call when I'm home! By this time the legs had woken up and I felt quite good! I therefore decided to ride up to Oxenhope, just above Hebden Bridge, on the way to Haworth. It is in fact the backside of the Cote d'Oxenhope as it became known last year when descended in the Tour De France, and affectionately named 'Cock Hill'.

The climb starts steeply out of Hebden, with gradients of a bout 10% before dropping to 6/7% through a nicely tree shaded corridor. After about a mile, you turn a corner and arrive back into the open, where it levels to about 5% to the village of Peckett Well. From here, the road winds across the moorland for a couple of miles, at around 3/4%, before a final false flattish section to the top. The views are incredible, offering a panorama of West Yorkshire and (even better) Lancashire. Similarly impressive views are present of Haworth as your crest the top. I headed back down, and, feeling good, returned home via Cragg Vale, which had a unusually pleasant tailwind! Plenty about Cragg Vale in a previous post..

The legs were a little tired, not being used to climbing, but I was eager to get out and ride the next day, and pre-empt the many Easter eggs to be consumed later! I noticed on Facebook that my mate Danny and the Rochdale Tri Club were heading out for a ride, with a fun Hill Climb competition too! Of course I couldn't miss this, so headed to meet them in Littleborough on Sunday morning.

The plan was to have the hill climb up Blackstone Edge Old Road, a steep and poorly surfaced lane to add to the fun, then head up Blackstone Edge itself and over to Hebden for Coffee. Over 20 of us climbed the hill, setting off at 15s intervals. I tired not to set off too hard, but the lure of catching those ahead proved too much! Fortunately I managed to carry on, spying the timekeeper at the top of the steepest section was a welcome sight! It turned out I'd actually got the quickest time in 2.26! Definitely earned some cake! The Strava segment is below.

After this, we headed up Blackstone Edge, my favourite ever climb, probably because it was the first climb I ever rode! The mist was incredibly thick, with visibility of about 10m, though amazingly it burned off within the space of about 5 minutes as we waited to regroup at the top! A rapid descent of Cragg Vale followed, and we passed through Mytholmroyd to a pub in Hebden. I opted for coffee and a flapjack, both of which were tasty, but took about 20 minutes to materialise! Even then, I was one of the lucky ones, with a fair few giving up on waiting. Disappointing.

After a blast back to Littleborough, Danny and I decided to add in a bit more of a ride, opting (after ditching double base layers in the 15C heat!) to head up Blackstone Edge again, down the other side, and up a scenic single track lane, Blue Ball Lane. Here there are great views of Baitings Reservoir, Ripponden and the surrounding areas.

Heading up Blackstone Edge, I achieved my proudest cycling moment yet. Prouder than a 21 minute 10 TT, prouder than getting to 3rd cat...a cycling selfie! Admittedly it took about 5 attempts, but I managed it! Certainly the pinnacle of my cycling career! I also managed to big ring it all the way...(though I definitely didn't have a 30t sprocket on the back...definitely not!)

After climbing back up, and a speedy blast down the Edge, it was time to head back. We'd talked about another climb, Huddersfield Road out of Newhey, and as I cycled past it on the way home, I couldn't resist a trip up! It's a great road, averaging about 5-6% for 4km, with a steep 7/8% ramp at the beginning. It's alpine is characteristics, with sweeping turns, and smoothly tarmacked surface. I did regret my decision halfway up, as the legs started to feel the days climbing, but I got to the top and enjoyed the smooth, fast descent.

Shortly after, I arrived home and duly polished off 2 Easter eggs! A good day's work I'd say! All in all an eggcellent weekend of riding, and one that has hopefully kicked my legs into action!

Tuesday 31 March 2015

Crits at the Park #1 (3rds Only) - Saturday 28th March

I was planning to abstain from racing until the end of April, and subsequent end of the squash season, in order to get some decent training done. However, when a team-mate announced he had entered a race at the purpose built Kent Cyclopark, and had space in the car, I couldn't resist! It worked out quite well, as I'd had two tough squash matches Monday and Tuesday, including the world no. 140, so a couple of easy days pre-race were welcome.

Magic KT Tape!
Come Friday I felt a bit sluggish, so I went out for a tempo blast for 90mins or so, with nearly disastrous consequences. The previous Sunday. I developed quite a harsh pain in the hamstring/entry to inner knee, which went away with squash on Monday, leading me to believe it was just a bit tight. However, after Friday's ride, I could barely walk with the pain, not good! An evening of ice, ibuprofen and kinesiotaping followed, in the hope of a quick fix. I also decided enough was enough, and that it was time to abandon my new saddle, which has given me nothing but problems, despite being nigh on identical to the old, albeit with a cut-out.

Saturday morning arrived, and there was a slight improvement in the leg, so I figured I'd chance it, taking the camera just in case I had to pull out. The drive down went well, with minimal traffic, and a crossing of the impressive Dartford bridge (although I've always been crap at structural engineering, I still marvel at such structures!), and we arrived in plenty of time. Sign on done, peanut butter and banana bagels consumed, we set out to check out the track with the womens race in progress. Having watched a few YouTube videos, the track looked a lot narrower, and the hairpins a lot tighter! Being on the Dart estuary it was also windy...really bloody windy!

Getting cold, we decided to go and warm up. I'd foolishly not brought the rollers, as I couldn't be bothered lugging them out of the shed. Resistance rollers are great, but a lot bulkier than regular. A few laps of the car park it was. The first few pedal strokes were hesitant, but something magical had happened with the advent of my new old saddle! Everything felt right, better than 6 weeks of faffing with the new one!

Cyclopark - Top left is the exposed twisty section
Buoyed by this, we headed to the track, where fortunately there was time for a few familiarisation/warm up laps. The hairpins really were quite tight, and the wind was ferocious! 50mph gusts apparently, which was late to be my undoing. Overall though the track was great, smooth surface, plenty of runoff space, and decent straights.

The race was off, and immediately strung out as we tentatively approached the first hairpin, regrouping on the downhill straight. A series of tight right-angles corners at the bottom of the circuit made for tricky riding, as we entered them from behind an earth banking, the full force of the wind hitting us halfway round the first! It also made for a big effort to get on a wheel on leaving the corner. Still, I managed to keep a half decent position. The final straight was nice, with a slight incline and a tailwind, the place to make up ground I thought.

As the laps wore on, there were some...let's say interesting...manoeuvres, with people darting up the inside, into non existent gaps, and a fair bit of resulting cyclocross! After about 5 laps, I decided to try and move up, taking the opportunity on the straight. This went well for the most part, until I got stuck on the inside approaching the first hairpin, having to slow right down and take the inside line. I lost a few places, but overall had gained. I stayed about mid field for a lap or two,or so I thought, until I looked back, to see a distinct lack of people behind! I thought I'd lost places, but it turned out about 20 had dropped off! I'd made a move at a good time.

I'm sure mine was this impressive...
Feeling good, I carried on, near the back, but comfortable. However, I was soon to become victim of the vicious wind! As I mentioned, the first exposed corner led to gusts of wind halfway round, and on this lap a particularly fierce gust blew me off course a little. This would have been ok, apart from someone on my inside was sporting 50mm wheels, which acted like sails, blowing him towards me. Evasive action required, I ended up on the grass. It was possibly the worst section of the course to have a stumble on, with 4 windy corners meaning in was impossible to catch the disappearing bunch. Watching Gent - Wevelgem on Sunday, I can compare my off to Geraint Thomas's...give or take the spectacular acrobatics of his, and the speed, and...well that's enough!

I was a bit disheartened, as I was feeling good, and riding a lot better than the other week, but I figured it wasn't the end of the world. I considered dropping out, but decided getting a position was better, and who knows, a pileup might even mean I could get back on! This didn't happen, but I did pass probably another 10 - 15 other riders, which was a good mental boost, as my endurance was looking better. In the end, it turned out to be 50 odd minutes riding at over threshold HR (avg 179), so turned out to be a decent workout if nothing else!

Race day socks (short of pictures...)
Out of a field of over 60 riders, I finished 31st, not too bad all things considered, and Andy finished
34th after a similar push round. Interestingly, over 20 people dropped out of the race, and comments bounding round on Twitter and Strava suggested the wind had made it a really tough day. In summary plenty of positives!

Next race:

Not too sure yet. Possibly a Crit at Tameside if I head North for a few days, otherwise a month of training and a return to racing in May!

Monday 16 March 2015

Battered at the Bowl! - MK Bowl Spring Circuit Series Race 2

Saturday saw the second race in the Spring Series at the MK Bowl, hosted by Team Corley Cycles. It was my first race of the season, and the designated LBRCC takeover. With an unprecedented number of the club taking part, and loving, racing cyclocross over the winter, people were keen to try road racing, but a little hesitant. I decided the best way to get everyone racing and feeling comfortable was to get everyone racing on the same day. That way, there would be plenty of support, and should a few get dropped, there would be teammates on hand.

The date was set for the LBRCC takeover, and the day arrived. In the 4th Cat race, six people were entered, one dropped out (mentioning no names, but rhymes with Even Hand...), and the solitary figure of myself in the 2/3rd cat race.

4th Cat Race


Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
A monster field of 80 riders lined up, the five Team Green providing the biggest turn out. Lining up were experienced riders Neil Green, Neil Challis and Gareth Kennedy, second racer Miles walker, and debutant, star cyclocross rider Ross Gallacher.

After a brief talk from the commissaire, the race was off, with two neutralised laps behind a pace car. Nerves showed through a little, with three of the five LBRCC'ers lurking near the back as the bunch came round. The car pulled away and the race was off!

Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
The pace was furious from the start, providing a baptism of fire for the team this early in the season. After the first lap, many riders including Miles, Ross and Gareth were off the back, stung by the initial pace. The two Neils stayed in the bunch, using experience to their advantage, with Neil C in a great position about 10 places back. Unfortunately Gareth had to pull out, an underlying cough providing unwelcome breathing issues.

The race carried on with the pace unrelenting. Riders continued to drop away from the pack including Neil G, who found himself feeling strong in the second group on the circuit. Unfortunately, Neil C, looking in great form in the lead group, had to pull out around halfway, as did Ross after a valiant solo effort. Neil and Miles carried on, picking up groups along the way, looking a little tired, but strong nonetheless, and both battled on. Both finished, with Neil taking the LBRCC honours, with Miles second. Strong rides from both overall!

Flickr: James V Barlow
As the race came to it's conclusion, the strong riders came to the fore, with Team Corley and Matrix riders looking strong. The pace ramped up as the bell sounded for the final lap, and as the riders rounded the final corner, a two up sprint ensued, between Team Corley and Bicester Millenium riders. The sprint came down to the final centimetres, with the BMCC rider taking it on the line, to the disappointment of the host club.

Post race, LBRCC regrouped, weary, but in high spirits. Everyone enjoyed the race, a baptism of fire for the new riders, but great experience,

2nd/3rd Cat


Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
Another full field lines up for the 2/3 race, including a number of last years 1st cat riders who fell just short of the 100 points required to stay there, meaning a fierce race was always on the cards. Add into the mix Hannah Barnes, pro rider for the United Healthcare pro Team in the USA, and it was bound to be tricky. I was the only LBRCC rider in this race, and after much debate about participation at this stage of the year (mid squash season), I lined up with much trepidation. The omens were not good from that start, where I found myself way back in the bunch on the start line.

After a commissaire briefing and two neutralised paced laps, the race was off with absolutely astounding ferocity. Reports are that up the hill coming out of the last corner, riders were hitting 600 - 800watts! My positioning hadn't got any better, and I was playing catch up with a full out sprint before the first lap was up. This was an ongoing issue, as the number of strong and more experienced riders didn't allow for moving up the bunch easily. The whiplash effect of the top riders at the front meant I had to pull out 3 huge sprints per lap, which although I felt good, I knew were unsustainable.

Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
The exposed part of the larger surface had a strong headwind, and about 6 laps in, I found myself near the back of the bunch through it. As a result, we became completely strung out upon entering the  inner circuit and the climb. A cruel kick by someone at the front exacerbated this, and a number of us lost contact. Despite a lung busting effort, I couldn't quite make up the last 20 metres, which over the next solo lap extended to about 150m, a crevasse in this sort of race.

However, anyone that knows me in the squash world will know that I don't give up until I break, a Moussa inspired 'Heart of a Lion!!!' approach. I decided it was all or nothing, and despite the hummingbird like heart rate and pumped legs, I kicked it up a notch and set in pursuit. I made the most of an empty circuit, hammering the corners, and making ground every turn. I knew I had to make contact with the bunch in the exposed area, which I did on the turn before. The climb was incredibly unpleasant, but I held on.

It was always going to be a struggle from then onwards. Despite my excellent anaerobic capacity, developed from years of squash, there is always a limit. I reached this 2 laps later, after struggling to move up to a better position in the bunch, an acceleration on the climb proved to be my undoing, along with several others. I did a few solo laps, getting some practise in, and satisfyingly catching a few people in the meantime!

Overall, I'm not really too disappointed. There's a massive, massive gap between this race and the usual 3/4 race at the bowl. I'm sure this was exacerbated by the former 1st Cat riders looking for easy early season points in a bid for promotion. There is simply no room for error in this race, the accelerations out of the corners are unsustainable at the back of the bunch, you really need to be in the top 20, gaining the most benefit, especially in the exposed section. I was pleased with my fitness considering a lack of riding, and my cornering skills gained last season have remained/come back quickly. I simply need to learn how to hold my position in the bunch, as it's necessary at this level, whereas at 4th cat I could get away with it. The only way to get better is practise, and happily, there is a whole season ahead for that!