An Extraordinary Day

I went to London today, not to see the Queen, but to meet with a chap who publishes cycling books. Incidentally, the best way to get to London is not via Newport, in case you’re wondering. for the first time in my life i got on the wrong train and found myself speeding through Patchway and into the dark and dank recesses of the Severn Tunnel, rather than alighting at Parkway for a platform hop onto the London Express. As i said, an extraordinary day.

I met the chap at the Jerusalem Tavern. It’s odd to think that i lived in London for nigh on ten years but i never discovered this pub. It’s an amazing place and I will mark it out as somewhere to visit. So anyway, the narrative is as follows: after a somewhat speculative pitch at the turn of the year based entirely on the ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’ school of thought i was surprised when he replied positively a few days later. Further communication followed and since then I’ve been fully immersed in researching and planning a book about cycling (alongside being fully immersed in some other not insignificant upcoming events in my life). This is very exciting but also a little daunting. Whilst it’s not particularly secret, i’m going to keep it close to my chest for now, apart from saying it’s focused on many of the areas explored throughout this blog.

When i got home i found a DVD of images had arrived from Peter Whitfield, he’s a cycling historian who also has access to the Bernard Thompson Archive. The images are startling and provide an evocative insight into the sport. I came across an image of Allen Janes, a life member of the Bristol South, riding his very early Argos low-pro with a crown-mounted handlebar.

technical term: "funny bike"

And to anyone who has been finding excuses not to ride of late, three days ago I met with Vic Clark. He is 92 years old and raced the Manx International in 1940. He still gets on the turbo for half an hour each day. 66 years ago he was National Hill Climb Champion. Talking to him was a moving and fascinating experience. Here’s a very brief snippet:

I hope you’re feeling suitably warm and inspired and go out and ride your bike, if not your tandem, and enjoy the unceasing happiness that cycling brings. i hope i’m able to look back on a life of cycling when I’m Vic’s age, accompanied by someone like Connie, every step of the way.

Rest days and cycling…

there are two things i’ve learned over the past couple of years with regard to training for races and generally making improvements.

the myth of mega mileage

there are friends and accomplices who take a fairly intense attitude to training. this includes what i’d describe as ‘mega-mileage’. they tend to ride in excess of 300 miles per week and regularly get out and do 100+ mile road rides. i have ridden over 100 miles twice in my life, once on tour and once in a race. i’ve probably ridden further than 75 miles around 5 times. my average distances are nearly always below 50 miles, usually around 40.

i subscribe to the sean yates approach, aim for 15 hours per week, quality over quantity. it works for me, and works for most other time-starved people. it’s also quite a lot of time in itself – people who wonder why you are making rapid gains might be surprised if they totted up their time on the bike, my suspicion is that its comparitively low. getting the right combination of volume and intensity is tricky, but ultimately, unless your riding Le Tour later in the summer, you have no need to ride 400 miles a week. 150 is far more realistic and beneficial.

there are exceptions to this rule, most notably Frank Colden, an average or lesser time triallist in the early 60s who set out to improve by creating a training regime forged in the devil’s own smithy. it consisted of 400 miles per week with anything up to 80 miles done after work on a regular basis. he got up ridiculously early and went to bed extremely late. he didn’t tell a soul what he was doing, not even his clubmates. He also had a full time job.

By the time spring came around he had fairly good legs. He won the blue riband event, the 25, with a comp record, slashing 2 minutes from the existing time. he went on to win the national 100 with a new comp record, beating Ray Booty’s time by 4 minutes. He then set a new comp record for the 50 with 1:52:38. There is lots more detail on Colden’s exploits and other time triallists from the heroic era in Peter Whitfield’s book, “12 Champions”. it’s a great read. He also wrote a lovely history of British  road racing in the 50s and 60s, the time of Owen Blower, Les West and others, called “The Condor Years”. Again, comes very highly recommended.

the importance of rest

you have to listen to your body and take a day off, or two, or even three. yesterday i went out on a ride with some chums and i was going backwards on the climbs. it was debilitating and my pride took a knock. there wasn’t anything i could do about it, i was knackered from a couple of hard days in the saddle. right now i need a few days off to let the miles settle into the legs. again, it’s about the combination of volume and intensity, getting to the point where progressive overload is a good thing, and doesn’t lead to overtraining and fatigue.

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