Physique comp prep, 8 weeks to go: all change!

May 3, 2011

My first bodybuilding comp is 8 weeks on Sunday. EIGHT weeks. That’s, like, two months. Or less. Time flies eh?

I’m trucking along, training hard, lifting heavy and eating well, trying my best to maintain all the muscle I’ve gained whilst cutting body fat so I hit the stage in the best condition possible.

Yesterday, my trainer Kat sent me my new training plans and we had a Skype call to discuss my nutrition goals for the next few weeks. So I thought it was time to update those of you who are interested!

For the past few months I’ve been training in an 8-day cycle, with five lifting sessions every eight days (legs twice, back/triceps once, chest/biceps once, shoulders/back once).

With (just) eight weeks to go, my calories are starting to come down, and it’s no longer realistic to think I’ll be gaining any muscle. The aim is to retain what I’ve worked so hard to gain, and to get rid of body fat so I can show aforementioned muscles to the judges! So my training now is focusing on more cardio and interval training, and a slightly different approach to weights.

Here’s my new 8-day cycle for now – as with anything, we’ll see how it goes. Nothing’s set in stone, we give it a try for a week or two to see how I respond physically, emotionally, hormonally and all the rest of it.

1 (am) interval training (this could be a kettlebell complex, hill runs, a track running session, bike turbo session etc)
(pm) weights – legs & some postural work. This day is a “high” day for calories and carbs – cos I need it!

2 (am) weights – pull – back and biceps
(pm) cardio session (this could be a bike ride or even a long walk with the dog). This day is a more medium/lower calorie and carb day, with carbs (other than those from veg – which I eat with abandon) put mostly before and after training.

3 (am) interval training
(pm) weights – push – chest, shoulders, triceps & yoga/stretching. This is a medium/higher cal/carb day as intervals and weights demand it!

4 ideally some cardio (as low impact as I like) and the all-important posing practice. If I need it, this day can be a complete rest day (although I really should practise posing as often as possible – got to get that pesky left shoulder blade doing what I want it to during my lat-spread!)

and repeat for days 5, 6, 7, 8. 🙂

Yesterday was a day 4, I walked the dog briefly (but briskly!) in the morning and was then persuaded by my husband to come out on my lovely road bike. It was very windy, and I was wiped out afterwards!

Today is a day 1 so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to swing some kettlebells in front of a somewhat bemused dog….

I’m a bad blogger, no progress pics, but I’ll take some soon….

So that’s it for my very brief update, but I’m happy to answer any questions about my training, preparation, planning or nutrition. Please just ask away!

Physique comp prep, 8 weeks to go: all change! is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

A lesson in self-control (baking for others)

April 29, 2011

So, as my competition draws closer, I’ve started to cut the amount of carbs I eat (typically putting them at breakfast, and before and after training). I’m also ‘cycling’ my carbs: rather than taking in the same amount every day (regardless of the amount of training I do, which makes no sense to me), I take in more on heavy lifting days (or days when I lift and also do intervals), and fewer on rest or active recovery days.

It just so happens that today was a pretty low carb day. Not a problem (I actually prefer eating more protein than carbs): veggie/egg/salsa scramble for breakfast, baked oatmeal with berries after a short bike ride, cottage cheese with berries and nuts later on, big veg stir-fry and a salmon steak for dinner, and whey protein “icecream” for pud.

However, here’s the thing. The title of this blog post comes from the fact that I baked this afternoon. Not for myself. Nope, I made good on my promise to bake for my husband and his training partner Richard (of Richard’s TransRockies). As his blog’s name suggests, the two of them are currently training for the TransRockies mountain bike event, a stage race set over seven days and nights, in the Canadian Rockies.

These guys need their carbs. In fact they need all the ones I don’t eat, too.

So when I said I’d bake for them, I meant I’d be baking carbs, carbs and more carbs. I basically walked around the kitchen, looking in cupboards for all the things I don’t eat, and mixed those things in a bowl. The aim was to make a more savoury energy bar, as Richard gets sick of super-sweet stuff to eat on the bike. So, into my bowl went:

– oats
– brown rice flour
– salted pretzels
– broken-up rice cakes
– honey-roasted peanuts
– peanut butter
– date syrup
– blackstrap molasses

and…er..possibly something else, I can’t remember (If I’d known I was going to be blogging about this I would have written the ‘recipe’ down).

Did I sample a sneaky spoonful? Taste-test the batch? Nobble a nibble? Not me! My eye’s on the prize and eating like an endurance mountain biker won’t get me there. Not this year, anyway. Come back next year and, if I’m back doing triathlons and long-distance open-water swimming, it’ll be a different matter 😉

What do the bars taste like? Dunno, I couldn’t say. 😉 My husband sampled a square and said “you have to blog about these!”. Then he had another and confirmed they are “definitely blog-worthy!” (so you have him to blame for this post). Hopefully Richard will give me his review when he’s tasted them, too.

What about me? Well, I’m home alone this weekend whilst the chaps (fuelled by pretzel-peanut energy squares) ride the Dyfi Enduro. So….shall I bake Jamie Eason’s carrot cake protein bars, her cinnamon swirl protein bread, or my coach Kat’s swede cake (yes, really – it’s great – even my husband liked it and he’s very much a ‘traditional baked goods’ kind of a man)?

Can you bake for others without sneaking a bite? Do you prefer more savoury or sweet energy foods? Do you have a favourite low(er) carb, high(er) protein baking recipe for me to try? 😀

PS Frankie says thank you for all your questions – he’ll answer them this weekend. There’s still time to ask him that burning question you’ve been wanting to get off your chest. Just leave a comment on this post.

A lesson in self-control (baking for others) is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

When two blogger-worlds collide

April 2, 2011

We’ve got Richard of Richard’s Trans Rockies here tonight (he and my husband are doing the Trans Rockies MTB race as a team, so they train together a lot). Today, they rode 60kms in 4 hrs 10 over in the Chilterns. As a result, they’re hungry. And they’re planning a 3-hour ride tomorrow, so they need to fuel up.

Mountain biking+hunger+bloke friends spending the evening together=curry.

At 12 weeks out from my comp, I’m not really in a position to eat takeout curry (ghee whizz), but that doesn’t mean I can’t have curry. I just cook my own.

So, what do you get when you put a male endurance-sport blogger alongside a female figure-competitor blogger at dinner-time?


and then this

That would be Richard’s chicken murgh makhani (cream and butter sauce), peshwari naan (the one with coconut and sultanas inside), rice and two side dishes.

And then my home-made turkey/tomato/mushroom curry and cauliflower curry.

It should be pointed out that I don’t claim to be a food blogger, know nothing about taking food pictures and don’t care! 😉

Here’s the spread in its entirety…those chaps can eat!

Tee hee!

Just goes to disprove the idea that bodybuilders can’t have tasty meals. You just need to get a bit creative in the kitchen. It’s not all boiled broccoli and egg whites you know. 😉

When two blogger-worlds collide is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

2012 Olympics tickets and schedules

February 15, 2011

An exciting email has just dropped into my inbox announcing the full schedule (and ticket information) for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

If you haven’t yet seen the link, it’s here.

The first thing I looked at was swimming, then mountain biking (for my husband), then triathlon, then track and field and road cycling. Quite honestly though, I’d be happy to go to any event. 😀

How about you? What are you most interested in seeing, and will you be shelling out for tickets?

2012 Olympics tickets and schedules is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Guest post: Nicky at Run To Live on Ironman training

February 7, 2011

Today’s guest post is from Nicky at Run To Live. Nicky started running with her Dad when she was 10 and has never really stopped. She’s completed 14 marathons and one Ironman triathlon to date and is training for a few more this year. She manages fibromyalgia, which she says sometimes hampers training but never enthusiasm!

Here’s Nicky on Ironman training. (For those of you who don’t know, Ironman refers to a long distance triathlon: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and marathon (26.2 mile) run.)

Training for an Ironman isn’t something you do overnight. It takes months and sometimes even years of preparation for something that will last a maximum of 16 hours. Outside of that cut off time, you cannot call yourself an Ironman even if you finish the course.

“You’ve done an Ironman!”, friends and colleagues exclaim. It sounds grand, but often it only takes an extra dose of ignorance (of what to expect) or stubbornness to complete it. There is no doubt that Ironman triathlon uses all of your emotional tools against you, sometimes at your weakest moments. But my friends at Run To Live and I have learned that all you need is courage, determination and a little bit of luck to get to the finish line.

I mention this as we have again just embarked on an Ironman journey, this time with friends in tow. On the first weekend in August we’ll all be toeing the start line in Regenburg, Germany for the second running of the event. It’s been really interesting to watch their approach to training and compare.

(photo by Laurie King)

That’s Jules. She’s our ring leader. She’s always there, never shirks and doesn’t rely on rubbish excuses that some of us throw in when we can’t be arsed. She’s the one who borrowed her Dad’s climbing helmet to cycle in when she forgot to take her own. She’s the one who will get in and do her 100 lengths without the chit chat. Determined, focussed, capable.

Phil is our panicker. He does every training session, adds extra and thinks he’s still isn’t doing enough. Everything is 100%, which results in some amazing improvements but is also the same highway to burnout. We’re keeping an eye on him. 😉

Laurie is the frustrating beginner who picks everything up so quickly (he’ll be blushing when he reads this). The one who threw himself into the lake last year not being able to swim (Note: cheap wetsuits from Sainsbury do not help you to float!) Now he can comfortably do 100 laps in an hour while we are still struggling. He can cycle for hours at a really fast pace. Fast is fun to Laurie. Running is his achilles heel at the moment. A stress fracture and sprained ankle have hampered his plans to go long right now. But he’ll be fine, we don’t worry about him at all.

If you have the guts and determination to have a go, which one would you be? In the meantime, you can follow our progress to the start line at Run To Live.

Thanks Nicky, and best of luck to all of you! My husband did Ironman Switzerland some years ago and I was there as a spectator and supporter – completing the course (regardless of speed) is no mean feat and I take my hat off to all of you. I’ll be keeping an eye on your progress via your blog!

Guest post: Nicky at Run To Live on Ironman training is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

The Fit Writer’s pick of 2010

December 31, 2010

Me and Richard of Richard’s Transrockies 2011 blogging amidst the New Year beer…and wine….and Bailey’s…and whatever else you can spot there in the background 😉

How was your 2010? I’m not hugely into resolutions (I prefer to make them as I go along, regardless of the date) but, as it’s the final day of the year, I wanted to look back at 2010 and pick out some highlights for you. A kind of a New Year’s Honours list, if you will. Without the royalty.

So here are The Fit Writer’s picks of the year gone by:

Favourite commission
Ooh, well. Most of my commissions are favourites (how’s that for diplomacy?), because I just love writing. But some stand out for being a little more unusual. How about a week in Croyde in August, training with the RNLI Beach Lifeguards to get a taste of what their qualifications consist of? (Hint: really hard work) That was for an article which appeared in Coast magazine. I also thoroughly enjoyed meeting, swimming with and getting some swimming advice from Liam Tancock later in the year. Judging by the search terms which lead to this blog, it would seem that many of you would like to do the same! You can find Liam on Twitter and he’s a jolly good sort of chap. Did I tell you that I tweeted I was on the way to meet him, and someone who follows me on Twitter said how much of a fan his daughter was. I told Liam, who was happy to pose for a photo for the guy’s daughter, and then said hello to her on Twitter. Nice guy 🙂

Favourite race
Another tough one. I really enjoyed getting into road cycling this year, completing several sportives having never done one before. But I think the Favourite Race gong has to go to the Folkestone Half Marathon: it’s in my home town, I was cheered on by my new nephew and I got a PB. What’s not to like?

Favourite event
Speaking of new nephews, event of 2010 has to go to the birth of my nephew Henry. Nothing to do with sport, I realise (although, a few weeks later when I was struggling through the Little Woody half Ironman triathlon, I did draw on the strength I’d seen my sister demonstrate during labour!) Nephews rock, particularly mine.

Favourite bit of fitness kit
Although I’ve been asked to review lots of lovely bits of kit and gadgetry this year, the award for favourite bit of fitness kit has to go to my kettlebells. You saw me using them during my 10,000 swing kettlebell challenge, and I use them regularly for both strength and CV work. So handy!

Favourite training session
I’m a bit of a hermit. So it takes someone fun to persuade me to give up training solo for once. And when I end up crying with laughter, I know I’ve found a good training partner. So props to Kat Millar, PT and now a good friend, with whom I trained a month or so ago. Second place goes to one of the many beautiful road bike rides I did back when it was burning hot and sunny: just lovely.

Favourite sporting moment
I watched as much of the Commonwealths as I could, and cheered as loud as any of you when Rebecca Adlington won both the 400m and 800m freestyle. Whadda woman!

Well, that’s it. I can’t bear this super-slow internet connection any longer! I will bid you a very happy New Year’s Eve, a great evening and a fantastic start to 2011 – and I’ll see you on the other side. Thanks for reading!

The Fit Writer’s Pick of 2010 is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Away for New Year? Keep training!

December 30, 2010

Every year, we go away with a group of friends to a big old house somewhere for New Year week. In many ways, it’s a bigger deal than Christmas (there’s certainly more food and drink!) In the face of all the beer, wine, port (and cheese), nibbles and massive portions of dinner, you could be forgiven for thinking we might give up on exercise altogether for the week. Not us!

Amongst our party, we have two mountain bikers, one runner-turned-mountain biker and one Personal Trainer. Oh, and me. So I thought it might be useful to show you how we keep a balance (a kind of “detox/retox”, if you will) and keep training whilst we’re away from our respective gyms and out of our routine.

1: Bring bikes, running kit and other outdoorsy stuff

Even if all you want to do is go on long walks with the dogs, make the most of the fact that you’re somewhere different. We always end up somewhere pretty remote and very beautiful, and running/cycling/walking is a pleasure. So it would be a shame to find yourself with no kit. Pack the running shoes!

2: Pack indoors exercise kit

I brought my kettlebells, Personal Trainer friend Jo brought her Z-Trainer (a suspension trainer – review to come soon) and more kettlebells, and Gliders. I put a few exercise DVDs in my bag I’d been asked to review. It’s all stuff we’d rarely use at home, but being away from the gym and running a totally different routine is the perfect time to experiment with other bits of kit. And, of course, having a Personal Trainer on hand is too good an opportunity to pass up!

3: Plan your exercise

I know, this sounds terribly dull. After all, we’re away for the week with friends and meant to be enjoying ourselves. But our group of friends do enjoy training, so it’s no hardship. We have all day to do whatever we want whilst we’re here, so 30 minutes here and there making up a new routine with kettlebells is all part of the fun. The rules are there are no rules, just the opportunity to train if you want. Two of our party don’t exercise and really aren’t interested. That’s OK, we still love them 😉 Every day, one or more of us will be heading out for a run or a bike ride, or heading to one of the larger rooms to do some indoor training. Anyone can join in, but no-one has to. It works for us! (And it makes that first beer of the evening taste all the better….)

My friend Jo (one of the group I’m away with for New Year) is a Personal Trainer. Here’s her advice on training whilst you’re away from home (she’s the PT):

“Keep it simple: you really don’t need a lot of time, space or kit to stick to an exercise routine whilst you’re away. Don’t forget that you carry the best bit of gym with you all the time – your body! Put together a routine of simple, compound bodyweight exercises (any kind of full or modified squats, lunges, press ups, planks, triceps dips, step ups) and work hard – job done!

“Write down what you want to do every day so you have a plan to stick to which can become part of your day. That way you’re less likely to find that the day has flown past without you getting your exercise session in.

“If you’re training for something, don’t panic that you might not be able to get your regular training session done. You won’t lose any fitness or strength in just one week. It’s far better to do something than nothing at all, however short and however different to your normal training it might be.”

I’ll do reviews of the various bits of kit and DVDs we do whilst we’re away this week.

Oh, and a note to all the burglars reading: yes, we’re away from home but neighbours are keeping an eye on the house and popping in from time to time! 😉

Away for New Year? Keep Training! is a post from The Fit Writer blog

Stocking-fillers for sporty types

December 16, 2010

Still got most of your Christmas shopping to do? Yeah, me too. I’ll do it later. Once I’ve been to the gym.

Right, here’s the thing. If you have a partner, Dad, Mum, sibling or bestie who’s into sport, chances are you’re looking for something to do with fitness, nutrition, kit or gadgets.

So here’s my list of things which – in my opinion – most gym-bunnies, runners, cyclists, triathletes and swimmers might like to find in their stocking. A couple of things to note, for transparency’s sake. Some of these things were sent to me initially by PRs, but they’re all things I would buy (or have already bought) again. Some weren’t. All of them are things I genuinely like and use on a regular basis.

Not all of them are festive but they’re all things I reckon you could put in a sporty person’s Christmas stocking for a two-thumbs-up. Personally I like to get gifts I can use again and again. These are those things.

OK, shall we get on with it?

Wingman Wipes

These are extremely manly wipes for the chap in your life. If he cycles to work (as mine does), goes to the gym at lunchtime or goes out on his mountain bike and gets grubby (as mine does – and did, along with two other terribly manly chap friends…then all three came back to our house only to find our boiler had broken and we had no hot water for showers), then I think a pack of Wingman would go down a treat. The packaging is all steel-grey and superhero-ish. You get two wipes in a pack: enough for one moderate to large chap, slightly soiled and of medium sweatiness, I’d say. Oh! And they’re going to be featured on a BBC2 programme called “The Next Big Thing” presented by Dragon’s Den’s Theo Paphitis soon. So your chap could kind of have a random claim to fame in linking his armpits to Theo. Kind of. You get them in Boots stores.

Sure Maximum Protection

Let’s keep it sweaty for a bit. I know ladies are purported to glow, not perspire (let alone sweat) but…come on. Really? Well I sweat, so there. In the gym, it looks kind of good. Outside the gym – in a meeting, say – not so much. I really like Sure Maximum Protection (you can get a spray or a solid cream thingy). It smells nice, fits in gym bag/handbag, does what it should do and it very reasonable (£4.99 I think). Should Santa see fit to pop either product in my stocking I’d be very pleased. I mean, you’re always going to use deodorant, aren’t you? Like you, Santa could buy it from pretty much anywhere – Boots, Superdrug, supermarkets.

Halo sports wash (for your clothes not for you)

OK, one more thing about being smelly and then I’ll leave it, I promise. If you train a lot, I know you’ll understand what I’m on about when I talk about that….smell….your favourite bits of kit get, no matter how well you wash them. Some kit just stinks, doesn’t it? It’s gross. Well, no more! This stuff is the bees knees. It really does get rid of all stinks and, whilst it makes your kit smell more strongly (of “clean”) than normal washing liquid/powder, it “dries down” (ooh, this is like a perfume review!) to a fresh smell. Not too girly, I swear. Then I’m told that it’s anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, killing all sorts of germs, bacteria superbugs and MRSA and what not. I really do love this stuff and wash all my sportsbras and other kit in it now. Go buy! (You can get it in Wilkinson’s stores or online from Germ Warfare).

OK. Let’s try to be a bit more ladylike now. What else….um…oh yes! Food!

I love food, but I try to make it good food. And, let’s face it, there are nuff snacks and sweets around at Christmas, you don’t need to get your own as presents. So I tell Santa “no chocolate thank you!” Poor chap probably wonders what the hell else to get me if he can’t pick up a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Well, here’s what I’d be well chuffed to get.

Linwoods Flax products (especially the…er…cocoa (!) one)

Not to everyone’s taste, but I like flax. And I like it even better when it’s mixed in with other yum stuff like nuts, berries and cocoa (cocoa being different to chocolate, alright?) It’s so good for you, particularly if you’re really active and either trying to build lean muscle or burning a lot of energy doing cardio. You can get lovely big packs of Linwoods flax products in health food shops, Holland & Barrett and probably supermarkets too. Here are the two I like best: the one with nuts and the one which is like cocoa powder only good for you. To me, a gift of these would say “I respect your efforts to eat well but I know your secret adoration of very dark chocolate. Now go and have a Christmas smoothie.”

Yummy pistachios

Forget a dusty old walnut in the toe of your stocking. You want to step it up and get some sort of lovely nut treat like these. Salt and pepper flavour, which appeals to the savoury-toothed amongst us and is great for sporty folk who tend to need a little extra salt in our diets. My friend Richard won’t like these – feel free to ask him what happens when he eats pistachios – but that means there’s all the more for me. Great for a portable snack or for chucking on salads (recipe ideas here. PS It took me three goes to spell pistachios correctly. PPS You get them in Tesco. PPS Check out the website, there’s a cute “Peanuts” video on it.

Stuff for muscly people

I try to pack a lot of protein into my diet (reason why will be revealed soon on these very pages) and often I have to do it with whey/other powders. My online protein portal of choice is the aptly-named myprotein. In fact, I had a delivery yesterday (their Facebook page was offering 15% off orders) and did a little dance in the kitchen. Ask my husband, it’s true. Anyway (anywhey? ha!), there are a few products I’d pick as my latest favourites from myprotein. Won’t be for everyone but if you know a gym-bod or anyone interested in building muscle, they may well appreciate stuff like this as a gift.

1) Goat’s whey powder. Yep. I really really love this stuff. They say it’s flavourless but I think it actually tastes very mildly of goat’s dairy so if you’re a goat’s cheese fan, that will actually be a plus point for you. Having said that, it mixes perfectly in smoothies or with flavouring products. I tend to leave it plain for a minor goat-experience. Baaaa! Oh and check the nutritionals – pretty stellar – and apparently goat is easier to digest for many than cow’s dairy.
2) Flav drops. There are lots of flavour drops on the market (goodness knows I’ve tried most of them) but these are yum, thicker than most so you can kind of drizzle them. The toffee in particular is lush.
3) Handy shaker. Yes, it’s just a shaker, but if you make recovery shakes or want to take powder to the gym to make the shake there, these are great. They’ve got a little thingy inside which helps mix everything together.

For swimmers

Don’t you just hate that water-in-the-ear thing? It can seem to last for days. Here is something which helps me…earcalm. It’s a spray, it’s anti-bacterial and you get it from the chemist or from Boots. It really does work and it gives you peace of mind that you’re not picking up all sorts of nasties from your local pool and storing them away in your lugholes. Yuk.

Sporty book

Every stocking needs a book balanced on top, just in case you still wake up at 6am on Christmas Day and have to read under the covers until everyone else wakes up. Amongst other things, I am currently reading Mental Mastery by Ken Way. I got a preview copy (thanks Becky!) but it’s now available as advanced copies from Amazon. It’s all about how to coach yourself to a winning mindset – pretty crucial in any sport, regardless of what level you’re at. Whether you’ve got a goal set down and want to steel your mind as you work towards it, or have some issue which is troubling you – nerves, poor race-day performance, etc – this well worth a read. And it’s a bit of a tome (over 500 pages) so had great thud-factor.

So there you have it. Stuff to stop you from smelling, stuff to stop your kit from smelling, stuff to stuff in your mouth, something to spray in your ears and then something to read once you’ve done all that.

Never say I’m not a useful resource.

Merry (nearly) Christmas! 😀

Stocking fillers for sporty types is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Sports journalism: Nicola Joyce interview

November 12, 2010

This week I was asked by the website Essential Writers to talk a little about my journalistic niche: sport and fitness. The interview is now up on the Essential Writers site; if you’re interested in how to get into sports journalism or just want to read what I have to say about the job, the perks and the challenges, head over and have a look.

Here’s an extract:

It’s difficult to untangle my career as a sportswriter from my own adventures in sport and fitness. In fact, I don’t think I’d be doing this job had it not been for one, rather special, sporting achievement. This is how it happened:

I made the decision to become a freelancer when I was made redundant and moved out of London. It seemed like as good a time as any to pursue a career in writing (something I’d always wanted to do). Initially, I took on copywriting clients, but knew I really wanted to write features for sport and fitness magazines.

I just needed a way to get my foot in the door. At the time, I was just a few weeks away from swimming the English Channel (the first of two successful swims, as it would turn out). If I couldn’t pitch a first-person piece about swimming the Channel, it was unlikely I had what it takes to be a freelance writer of sport-related features…

Thanks to Essential Writers for inviting me to be part of their specialist genres pages.

Sports journalism: Nicola Joyce interview is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

The Southern Sportive (did someone mention hills?)

September 13, 2010

I am hungry like the wolf today. Yesterday I was on my bike for over 4.5 hours and I missed my lunch, you see.

Just before I did Little Woody, my husband said that his colleague Pete was planning on doing the Southern Sportive and did we want to do it with him? So I entered it. Then Pete ended up being on holiday, and my husband ended up doing his back in. So muggins here woke up at 6am yesterday, drove to Petersfield and did the sportive. Yes, I did ask myself “why?” at several points before and during.

The Southern Sportive is renowned for being a hilly ‘un, but it wasn’t til the night before that I actually looked at the course profile and worked out that it would be a) the furthest I’d ever ridden, b) the most amount of climbing I’d done in one ride and c) almost the maximum incline I’d ever ridden up. And only 14 days since Little Woody.

In a moment of blazing inspiration, I went to the gym this week and did a relatively heavy legs session (having not done any free weights for ages). In a second moment of blazing inspiration, I did it again a few days later. Consequently, my legs were screaming just from, er, walking downstairs and kneeling down and stuff like that. “It’s only my quads which hurt!” I told my husband, and I desperately rolled around on our foam roller on Saturday night. “That’s a shame,” he said, “since it’s your quads you’ll need on the sportive.”

Hey ho.

So, I got to the sportive, was directed to carpark C which was nowhere near the start and had to ride to registration.

I was doing the medium route, an advertised 112kms/70 miles (with 1443m of climbing) through the climbs of the South Downs. For those who know the area, it started in Petersfield and went…oh, loads of places. Here’s a map. And the profile.

The standard times had been tweaked from those on the website and were now longer, which was a bit ominous. To be perfectly honest, I consider my season officially over now, and I was just doing this ride for fun (!) I didn’t even bother to write the standard times on my hand, nor did I set my bike computer to show average speed. I just wanted to have a nice day out on my bike.

The route went up a bitch of a hill (about 14%) within the first couple of miles. I instantly regretted not having chosen to ride Venus, with her big gears. I barely got up it, and my HR was around 180. At the top, I popped a couple of Jaffa Cakes and pedalled onwards. I rode for a while with a jolly group of chaps from a rowing club (one of the nice things about biking is that, even when you’re pushing quite hard, you can still chat, unlike running) and tried to actually ride in a group to get the benefits. At one point, we all scooted round a corner to be faced with a stretch of road completely covered in sand and stones. We all got off, shouldered our bikes and walked over the (deep!) sand. And I thought hike-a-bike sections were just for mountain bikers! In the end, my rowing friends were just a little too fast for me, though, and I never could get up the front to take my turn, so I let myself drop off the back.

I between the first and second aid stations, I rode with a nice chap called Steve who’d come all the way from Dartmoor to ride the sportive for the third time. We were roughly the same speed and took turns pulling each other along for a while.

There's Steve on the right

I wasn’t the only one disappointed at the aid stations – for £25, you expect more than a flapjack and 1/2 a banana (rationed), water and energy drink. Every other sportive I’ve done has had a wide choice of stuff to eat there, or put in your pocket to take with you. That wasn’t possible here (jersey pocket full of crumbled flapjack? No thanks) and I was really glad I’d packed my pockets full of food as usual. At the second and final aid station, there was no water. The marshalls were about to go up the road to refill, but still. It was a blazing hot day, one guy was on the ground with some sort of heat exhaustion and plenty of other riders had resorted to sitting on the ground waiting for water. I still had some, so rode on, but can only imagine how annoying it would be to have to stop and wait for water (the clock doesn’t stop whilst you’re at aid stations). Poor effort, guys.

That was my only complaint. The route was absolutely beautiful, winding its way through chocolate-box villages and climbing (oh how it climbed!) up to the top of the Downs to reveal amazing views right down to Chichester. Or what I assume was Chicester-ish, anyway.

Yep, I got off and walked up this hill. All the better for taking a photo!

The climbs were brutal (I freely admit I got off and walked up bits of two of them – I’m not proud. I did Little Woody two weeks ago) but the downs were fast (even if some of the road surfaces were shocking). We were blessed with a gorgeous day of sunshine (amidst a week of grim weather) and I felt very glad I’d turned up to ride.

Until about 50 miles in.

At that point, my right shin started to hurt. Then my right calf started to hurt. Then I felt very very tired and then shortly after that I felt as if I might cry if the finish line didn’t turn up at some point. The wind had picked up, the road surfaces were sapping my speed and the hills just wouldn’t let up. I was counting down the miles to 70…but when 70 came, we still weren’t home. A mind-crushing loop around Petersfield and finally, finally, I was finished. Actually that’s not true – finally, I was faced with trying to get through the college gates whilst a big truck was coming out, so I had to stop and then squeeze through…a glorious finish!

In true Nicola style, I missed the silver standard time (4 hrs 47) by…..4 seconds. No, I’m not joking. But of course my official time (without stops for aid stations) will be a bit longer, so never mind.

I got my free cup of tea and bit of cake and sat on the ground next to my bike.

I have never been so glad to get off my bike. The Southern Sportive is hard! I suspect I’ll do it again next year 🙂

Before I do, I’m going to work on two things:

– riding in a group. In the short time I rode on the back of a group today, it was obvious how helpful this is. So much less effort for the same speed. I was even freewheeling along on the flat at points, being pulled along by the group. Riding the whole thing by yourself is the nobler way to do it, but undeniably more tiring! But to be a good group rider, I need to learn the techniques and get more confident with it. I also need to get a bit stronger at it so I can take my turn on the front. No-one likes a hanger-on just sucking the wheel of the back rider.

– descending. Honestly, my rubbish descending technique is starting to annoy me now. I lose so much time by descending so poorly, and I’ll overtake a load of people on the flat or on the ups, only to have them whizz past me on the downs. By the end of any long ride, I tend to be better at descending, because I’ve got so annoyed with myself that I just let go of the brakes, or because I just want the ride to be over and I’m too tired to react to a descent with nervousness. Or possibly because my arms are so tired that I can’t be bothered to brake any more. I could really do with improving my descending, even by a fraction.

The Southern Sportive is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

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