#ParisRoubaix 2013 – I’ll have mine on the rocks

roubaixchainLast year I spent two weeks in the panic chamber, phaffing over bikes, kit, wheels and tyre pressure. It all went to plan and even my lightweight frame (mine not the bike) managed to glide across the cobbles unhindered. A year on and I couldn’t wait to get back on the cobbles, without doubt Paris Roubaix is my all time favourite ride. I doubted Sean Kelly when he told me it should be ridden once, I can safely say I disagree with him – it should be ridden again and again and again.

A change to this years format meant our ride was an untimed event on open roads, however it also changed to the day before the Pros’ race and while I was not able to go back to try and win the challenge, the experience of watching the pros over the cobbles was second to none.

IMG_2908It was like watching a herd of bulls chasing down the world’s last cow. The stampede of a raging peleton, throwing up dust as they hit the cobbles, the sound of rims hitting the cobbles, chains whipping and my great friend Tracy next to me going “Oh my god, oh my god”. All helped of course with the support of some local nectar called “La TrouĂ©e d’Arenberg” and a two hour queue for the worlds most undercooked frittes. Where are the Belgians when you need them.

Blessed with something we’ve not seen in a while: sunshine, warmth and dry weather; we lined up along the railings to watch the nail biting finale on a big screen at the Arenberg Trench.

IMG_2909You don’t have to ride a bike to love this race, but it sure helps to appreciate the skill of the select few who get to race these legendary cobbles.

Marathon Season – happy days

It’s one of our favourite times of the year, Marathon Season. With close to ten years of treating injuries, fixing them feels like old hat, watching the process runners go through and the changes in their bodies is very interesting.

We are very lucky to have runners coming to us at the start of their marathon training and we get to quietly observe how their bodies change and more interesting how their fear of not being able to complete a marathon dissolves as each week of training goes by.

I feel like the doctor who nods knowingly when I tell him what’s wrong, I’m guessing I’m the 100th person he’s seen this week with the same symptoms and he only needs to look at me to know what’s wrong. But I still need to tell the doc how I feel and want him to listen to all the symptoms I am suffering from.

I see the panic on the runners faces at the start of the marathon training, “I am struggling to run 8 miles, how am I going to finish 26 miles”. When runners make it to the 16 mile mark on their training plan, you can see the belief starting to happen and after their first 18 mile run there is relief and a bit of excitement building, despite the rather sore, tired legs attached below the waist.

Then the training is over and the tapering starts. Real panic sets in: have I trained enough, will I get sick, will I finish. The list goes on. What a privileged place to be as a sports massage therapist, to be able to reassure and offer useful advice is truly rewarding. In all my years of treating runners, only one did not make it to the finish-line and that was because we decided that the week before the marathon was not enough time to fix a crunching/grinding knee and he was happy to defer his place to the following year.

For every runner (such as the one who only made it to 14 miles in training but “had” to run NY marathon) we were able to help with a race strategy to get them to the finish-line, even those doing their 5th marathon on a good-for-age time, we analysed areas where they could make small improvements. As the years go by, the experience doesn’t diminish for us, we get to learn and grow with our clients and love hearing the stories of how they made it through (bleed nipples and all).

When I started the marathon MOT, it was to offer a proactive solution to preventing running injuries. However there was a little surprise in store for me, I realised I was observing a journey someone was on, quietly allowed to meet them on-route, offering advice to suggest a direction they hadn’t considered. To be able to observe how they go from uncertain to believing to completing a goal and then to be allowed to share in their joy – hey I won’t get heavy, but it keeps our little world going round.

So a huge thanks to who ever invented the marathon – you’ve made us a bunch of very happy massage therapists.

Sports Massage – why we love our job!

Live to work, or work to live? Luckily I get to do both. Growing up playing sport (a total of 8 different sports in one school year), means sports has always played a huge part of my life, so finding a job so closely integrated into sport means my job is also my passion.

Sports Massage in London has grown massively from when I started, going from only 3 of us in the City to now having 5 clinics just on London Wall, where I’ve been for the past 3 years. In 8 years it’s gone from the back rooms of serviced office space, shunned by mainstream medics to the must have of every physio, chiropractic, osteopathic clinic and bike shop.

Hard work and dedication of leading schools, such as the London School of Sports Massage, have set the standards for providing a clinical process to treating soft tissue injuries, demonstrating that specialist knowledge can make a difference to treating injuries which are not responding to other modalities. Working standards and recognition in the wider medical arena are largely thanks to organisations such as the Institute of Sports and Remedial Massage, who have driven the qualification standards to a level not achieved previously, gaining a level 5 BTEC standard took over 15 years of dedicated work by a team of tutors who never left the clinical environment, meaning teaching methods closely followed the successful treatment results being seen in clinic.

My eight years as a sports & remedial massage therapist and sports massage tutor have seen some of the biggest changes in research into the field of soft tissue and my excitement being at the leading edge of Fascial Treatment, or myofascial release work means the treatments we are now doing are bringing about changes in weeks where previously it took months. Great news for sports people.

While I plough through a years worth of fascial research, developing new treatment methods and planning a training course in Fascial Fitness, I have put my bike aside for the day, knowing I am still working on my fitness, in a manner of speaking.

Visit us at 1 Throgmorton Ave, London, EC2N 2JJ or book in at our Sports Massage clinic.

What goes up, must come down…

…and up it went and down it came.

20120721-122957.jpg 201km over some of the Tours great climbs, there was only ever going to be one way to describe this Etape: Tough. Four major climbs dotted the profile, but on closer inspection the flat sections were in fact gradual inclines to the base of the climbs. As usual the start was like being shot out of a cannon and if you wanted to avoid working on your own then best go with the flow.

This year I got put in pen 2, so the pace was slower to the climb but the group riding a little more sketchy. As the years go on I’d rather go “balls out” in the red zone with half decent group riders than at a fair pace with riders on the brakes all the time. There were about three incidents with riders on the ground on the way to the base of the first climb.

At the top of the first climb awaited one of my first memories of the Tour de France: the swooping road which connects the Aubisque to the Solour, a helicopter shot panned across a road clinging to the contour of the mountain as the peleton formed a colourful sting threading it’s way through the rocky arches. Almost tied to both ends like flags at a local festival, a lasting view which kindled my passion for the Tour. By the time we reached this part of the course we looked like washing hung out to drip after the failed spin of a washing machine.

Clouds hung low over the mountains, where we were spared the worst of the weather on the leeward side climbing the mountain, cresting the top brought us face on into the driving rain. It is a phenomenon that I’ve not encountered before, a tailwind nudging us up the climb, yet a headwind (with driving rain) taking us head-on down the descents.

Call me crazy, but somehow I was happier to have this weather than the scorching heat the South of France can bring. I missed my window of opportunity to do any heat training (read as: preferred the sofa to the turbo) so having endured a Summer of rain and wind, this is what we’d “trained” in. Besides, descending in the rain doesn’t phase me, so it played into my hands quite well.

To get up the mountains you need to train properly, the part I’d missed out on this year, but to go down mountains you just need to relax and be confident in your tyres, bike handling and decision making. Experiencing a slightly sluggish feeling going up, I released the back brakes, to no avail, nevertheless the placebo effect was enough to keep me happy. As I headed down the Tourmalet I gave my brakes a little squeeze (my usual check before the speed gets up) realising there was nothing on the back, I flicked the lever down just before coming into the first bend.

20120721-122920.jpgThe back wheel started skipping around, standing the bike upright, oops too much back brake. Ahead lay a very quick descent, off piste, which I wasn’t willing to try, well not on this bike anyway. Release brakes, knee out, throw the bike round the corner, off you go without even battering an eyelid. I don’t think my heart rate increased one extra beat, am guessing the cold weather slowed it’s reaction times, that or I spent way too much time descending mountains last year. Pity the ascending effect doesn’t last as long.

The bottom of the Tourmalet was a bit of a casualty zone, those who chose to leave their rain jackets at home (most riders) were taking shelter in the feedzone, shaking uncontrollably. The two squares of emergency foil blanket I’d cut up and taken along just in case came to good use, as I wrapped one piece around my chest, I spotted a clubmate who was in a worse state, wearing only a gilet, it was a relief to see him return to some semblance of normality.

20120721-122900.jpgThe final two climbs were quite manageable and finding my body coming to life after 170km when many around me were starting to fade, was an odd position to be in. There were no real goals for this ride, bar enjoying the ride and taking in the scenery. Low cloud put paid to the later goal and 9 months on the sofa the former goal. So it was a pleasant surprise to get in around 9.5 hours, which was what I thought it would take. What I hadn’t expected was to get 7th. Damn had I not stopped to get my cranks reattached on the Tourmalet (something to do with my dodgy mechanical skills) who knows where that would have left me.

The stats for Etape Act 2: 14 July 2012

Pau to Bagneres de-Luchon
Distance: 201km
Ride time: 9h31
Top speed: 69.9kph (in the rain)
Gels consumed: 6
Energy bars consumed: 1.5
Feedstops: 2 – taking in some very dry cake (where are those Belgium waffles when you need them)
Peestops: none (mmm maybe needed more water)
Position woman: 7th

@raphacharlie Marigolds to a bike race?

20120711-120700.jpg

Marigolds, quintessentially the domain of the domestic scene and not really the domestique seen (in them).

The creme de la creme of washing up gloves, in a range of colours to suit your outfit of the day, they can be dressed up with some feathers on the cuff or perhaps a string of pearls. Neatly lined to prevent a build up of sweat while you toil away at last night’s dinner party dishes.

20120711-121106.jpg

Closer inspection of this picture of a very organised rider’s kit for the day reveals a nifty little, well not so little, pair of Marigolds, careful selected in a fetching blue combination. So this begs not just the question of who would take a pair of Marigolds to a bike race, but why?

It’s France, it’s Summer, it’s the Etape. But it’s not just any summer, it’s this summer and with a track record of being more foul that a Wiggins’ press response, better prepare for the worse. Secondly it’s the Etape in the Mountains where the weather will be less predictable than a journey in London during the Olympics. For the experienced Etapers, suffering the trials and tribulations of wrong kit choice on past rides, they know their hard won experience will ensure to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

20120711-120651.jpg

So why Marigolds (M) and not a lovely, expensive pair of well researched, high-tech waterproof gloves. If like me you laughed at the idea at first, you may soon come around to the fact that it’s a pretty smart idea. The lining and long cuff make it a perfect cycling solution, no sweaty hands, a long cuff to protect the wrists from rain and cold, and should it warm up a tad you can roll up the cuffs (though to the detriment of a little aero dynamics). Coupled with a pair of toasty merino wool gloves, my choice are the Defeets (D), as I noted were Charlie’s, you’ll have all bases covered. Cold wet (D)+(M), cold dry (D), wet (M), warm (none). And should the day turn into a scorcher then, at a minimal investment loss, you can ditch the Marigolds.

20120711-173428.jpg

With six Etapes and a RAAM under the belt, Charlie Pearch knows better than most. And if Charlie’s taking the Marigolds to the 2012 Etape Act 2, then woe betide anyone not kitted to the nines for bad weather.

2 down, 1 to go

20120708-155600.jpgThe Etape-2 looms on the horizon, another epic stage of iconic Tour climbs, five in total, all of which I’ve ridden before. Where ignorance is bliss, knowing what lies up the road can burst that blissful bubble. So to keep the mind focussed I have a “top-tube timetable” (so to speak) giving me the heads up on what’s coming up and where those crucial water stations are in relation to the climbs.

While my formal training has been non-existent his year, mostly it’s been the commute to and from work, with the odd ride out to Windsor. A combination of poor weather and fatigue from last years efforts, put me on the sofa for a huge chunk of time. Coupled with an appetite the likes I’ve never seen before, grams turned to KGs and I surpassed my regular weight while the pounds continued to click up. In my mind I kept saying the added pounds would help my Paris-Roubaix efforts, I doubt that was the case. However, those additional 5 bags of sugar I’d have to lug up the Pyrenees would definitely be noted, most likely in my lungs, followed by my legs.

20120708-164005.jpgBeing somewhat exposed in a bathing costume in a steam room, there’s no way to hide those extra pounds with careful clothing choices, hearing I was carrying 3kgs too much from those in the know, was what I needed to adjust some habits. I have never had to diet before and I can certainly say I don’t have the character for it, the only way it was going to happen was to cut portions and no carbs at night, well most nights. I’m sure there were some extra calories burnt chewing through those extra veg, I’d forgotten how easy carbs are to plough through.

20120708-144434.jpgThe weight seemed to drop very slowly and I was wondering whether I’d have to chew for longer or take more drastic measures. So this was a welcome sight one week to go before the Etape. Still a massive 4kg more than when I did the Etape last year, but that was exceptional, but none the less a good 2.5kg lighter that a few months back. Phew.

Touched by the hand of God #L2P2012

“Lying in bed in the hotel room I can hear the rain hammering down outside” is the opening line in Stephen Roche’s recently published book “Born to Ride”. 25 years later 460 riders gathered to commemorate his incredible Triple Crown win by riding the 2012 London2Paris Hotchilee event. The night before the start all of us were looking out the window at the rain hammering down.

Across the seven groups riding to Paris, the atmosphere was electric despite the inclement weather, helped along by knowing that in Group 7 were team of hand cyclists whose journey to Paris would far exceed the pain and suffering I was about to experience by racing in Group 1.

A glance around Group 1 gave a count of several ex-pros, a triple crown winner, a current world MTB champion and double world paralympic cyclist. But reassuringly, next to me were several riders I’d raced alongside in Group 1 in previous years.

20120626-120620.jpgLets get the weather out of the way, we had a lot of it on-route to Paris. Wind, rain, lashing rain, buckets of rain, rain blasting wind and a touch of sunshine. Waiting in Dover to board the ferry found a handful of us seeking refuge in the back of a truck while the sound of thunder and lightning were almost drowned out by the rain hammering down on the remaining 450 riders who stood outside. The upside to this was a pretty clean bike.

One of the things which brings me back to the L2P (this was my 5th year riding) is the people you meet on the road or in the bar. In this case it was the Brasserie on the ferry to Calais, where ahead of us in the queue was an Ardbeg clad, lone cyclist who we adopted to join our table. Being in the marketing business for some of whiskey and champagne’s best brands, the conversation over food was not dull and ended with an organised tasting of champagne.

As with most of my rides, I set a few simple goals, for L2P2012 they comprised of: racing the whole way to Paris in Group 1, not crying over my handlebars and not falling asleep over my beer. I am proud to report back that I achieved all my goals and despite it not being officially reported, managed to nab 3rd spot in the ladies race.

While the organisers chose to only report on the first two ladies places, giving the false sense of a two horse race. It was a hotly contested race between the four ladies who started in Group 1 and by Day 2 only a few seconds separated the top three positions. Annette Loubser, who rode in the Pro ranks for 8 years, showed top form taking the pink jersey off Tanya Slater who fought hard to retain the jersey she’d won the previous 2 years.

20120626-120855.jpg

I often question my sanity for punishing myself by racing in Group 1, being dropped on the climbs, pacing back in the red zone to get back on. But then a snippet of etiquette makes it all worth while. A heavy cross wind tore at us on Day 2, sapping our energy and with tired racers clinging on at the back of Group 1, I found myself being outmanoeuvred and driven directly into the line of the cross winds, this was timed to coincide with pair of dying legs attached to my hips. As a heavy gust of wind blew me off the wheel ahead of me, I drifted backwards despite pushing as hard as I could on the pedals accompanied by some tennis-style grunting. It was then I felt the hand of god, well the hand of a god pushing me back onto the wheel and looking back saw Stephen Roche giving me a little help to get back on. Maurizio Frondriest (an ex-pro and world champion) then took up the windward side and offered me that little respite from the wind to allow me to hold the wheel. So that’s what riding in a Pro-peleton is all about. Sign me up, I’d love to be a pro cyclist.

It’s also why I keep a little budget aside every year to ride the London2Paris, where else can you ride with the stars, reunite with old friends and make a whole heap of new ones in just three days.

This one rocks

No one who wins Paris-Roubaix will ever get any silverware for their trophy cabinet, but more monumental is the rock that represents the “roads” they get to race on. Pride of place for this little piece of rock pales in comparison to the size of the cobbles the Pro’s race over to get that coveted Pave.

A race steeped in history and won by the hardest men in cycling in my opinion, was never going to be a place for those of the fairer sex, but who can turn down the advice of the greatest classics winner, Sean Kelly, who told me “Everyone has to ride Paris-Roubaix once in their life”.

He was right. Despite my panicking before the race: about which bike to take; which shoes, gloves, kit, wheels, tyres; crashes; the weather, cold, rain and wind; big blokes wiping me out on the cobbles; punctures; did I have enough inner tubes; how many pairs of gloves to wear; what to put on the handlebars. The list goes on. Ok this is a little bit like most of my pre-race panics, but this one was amplified ten fold. In the end, all my decisions worked out. It was THE perfect day.

A cold, but dry day with a headwind left me with two goals for the day, hide from the wind and stay upright. I managed both well, bar one very elegant dismount in slow motion into a bed of nettles. My attempt to stay off the cobbles brought me in close quarters with the banking along the side of the road, I’d slowed down too much to glide over the top of the rough surface and had to correct my line of travel by shifting my weight out. That’s when my foot caught up in the banking.

With 19 sets of cobbles in the 148km sportive, they come think and fast, the learning curve is pretty quick on this ride – get your fuel in when the road is smooth – the last place you want to bonk* is on the cobbles. The faster you go the better the ride, slow down and you are thrown uncontrollably in every direction, both vertically and horizontally to the point where your eyes are going in opposite directions to your body and your arms feel like they’re holding up a washing machine on full spin. At this point the best place to be is in the gutter, quite literally. It doesn’t matter if you only have 3cm of “smooth” gravel to ride, it beats the cobbles and riding the thin brown line between ploughed-up fields and bone-shaking cobbles is a sweet place.
*(a technical cycling term to all those sniggering as they read this, it’s like hitting the wall in a marathon)

But don’t be complacent here, the chances of another rider moving into the space ahead of you is quite likely. They of course will now be moving slower than you and as your hands are gripping the top of the handlebars, your fingers are nowhere near the brakes. Thus, your best option is to look for options, either take the banking to the side, or get back on the cobbles, or just yell. I yelled and then took the banking on the left of a rider whose trajectory off the mound in the middle was timed to coincide with my passage on the inside of him. Others were not so lucky and for them the cobbles were an unforgiving surface to land on.

The end of the cobbles is a bitter-sweet experience, the silence is overwhelming, the relief of not being shaken about is met with the bitter reality that your legs are now two bowls of jelly and the headwind is a lonely place to be. Either you’re going to have to bridge the gap to the guys who came off the cobbles first or sit up and wait for the next group to catch you.

The road to Roubaix is strewn with punctured tyres and lost water bottles, so I have added a latent goal to the day – to arrive in Roubaix with the same number of items on the bike as at the start.

Having the same number of bikes as the Seven Deadly Sins gives one too many choices, however in the end it was down to two bikes, both from the Blue stable. The decision was easy, “Ride that one” Kelly said pointing at the Cross bike, which is the top end full carbon Blue Norcross EX bike. Both bike choice and kit choice worked well and I can gladly confirm that I arrived at the end having lost nothing bar the fear of riding cobbles. (I’ll blog up bike setup and kit choice later on).

The Arenberg Trench, feared and regaled in equal quantities, is every bit as much as the legend that is. Cobbles the size of footballs make up a path which looks like a game of hopscotch and had my eyeballs not been attached to a jack-hammer at the time, I’m sure I’d have seen craters the depth of the Marianas Trench staring back at me. I confess to making all of 30 meters along the cobbles before declaring a truce, waving my white flat as I surrendered to the gluey soil at the side of the cobbles.

The crowning glory to this ride was finishing in the Velodrome where Paris-Roubaix (the real race) finishes. I imagined all my cycling hero’s who not only conquered these cobbles, but had out ridden their rivals to cross the line first and take honours in this absolutely Iconic Monument of Cycling.

Put away your fears – get out a set of rollers, place them on top of your washing machine and set the spin cycling to 1000rpm, you too can train to ride Paris-Roubaix in the comfort of your own home. (Please don’t try this at home without the full support of a back up team and medical staff to hand).

So all that’s left to say is, how did I do? I didn’t bring any silverware home for the trophy cabinet, however I now have a little piece of cobble to add to the collection.

Ride Stats:
***********
2nd lady
1st in category
143 out of 1419 starters (only 893 finished)
Ride time: 5:02
Distance 148km
Temperature: 1 degree going up to 11 degrees
19 sections of cobbles
1 nettle diving incident
No loss of skin
No loss of any kit, not even an inner-tube

Ecstatic!!

Thanks to Janet Pearch for the photos at the finish and on the podium, not to mention the support in getting us to the start line and picking us up at the end.

When the bike gets cross

It was the moment I’ve been waiting for, warm front meets cold front followed by flakes floating to the earth creating a fresh powdery path to lay some virgin tracks on. Nothing to do with ski’s but rather half road bike, half off-road bike – CycloCross is a crazy concept, but half a million Belgians can’t be wrong, and if it’s half as good as their beer, well it’s worth a go.

For the uninitiated, you get a road-looking bike with some knobbly tyres and lots of mud clearance around the wheels. Unlike a mountain bike which rides over most obstacles, the cross bike requires dismounting, lifting the bike over the obstacle and then remounting the bike in one fluid movement.

With fresh snow in Richmond Park, I layered up, then layered up some more, going from a size 8 to a size 10 in a short space of time. Hitting the paths was great fun, letting the bike snake underneath me as it hit a squelchy part of the snow, or gripping a bare patch of path. Great fun and apart from a few butt clenching moments, I stayed upright, evening pre-empting unclipping one leg, Belgium style, to keep the bike upright on a slippery slope.

Then came the dismount, off in one, hang on two awkward steps, lift bike – too late – clunk clunk over the log, remount. This is where the bike got really cross, rather than landing on the saddle, I wrapped my leg around the seat post, promptly sat on the knobbly rear-tyre and ended up in a pile on top of the bike. Jeez it was angry.

For the next half hour it wouldn’t allow me to mount it, as I attempted the remount it rushed away from me, doing everything in it’s power to keep me out the saddle, like a unbroken horse. I tried from the left side, then the right, nothing doing. So I walked it for a bit, let it calm down then holding the brakes very firmly, I swung my leg over the saddle, pushed my cleat hard into the pedal and then tentatively shifted my weight over the bike as I pedalled away.

What followed was a fast and furious ride back in the fresh snow, whooping like an excited child, guessing that one day I’ll get the remount figured out, but while there’s fresh powder to pedal in, “make fun while the snow lasts”.

Peta rides a Blue NorCross EX bike provided by Multisport Distribution

Report your near misses

I listened with interest to someone from TfL saying how strongly the AA and RAC lobby for motorists rights, ensuring the vehicle remains King on our roads. They have stats to hand which they can use to defend their rights, promote their mode of transport and ensure their members needs are taken care of.

Without stats, cyclists have little information to lobby change for safer cycling. The number of near misses I have in my 45 minute commute too and from work is quite worrying, yet today I experience a near miss too far. I am still sitting here wondering how I am alive. An Addison Lee taxi could not wait 2 seconds, I was some way ahead of him and had eased up to allow the car ahead to move left to come around the car turning right. The Addison Lee driver sped up to try and squeeze through the gap. I was right up against the curb and a glance down at my handlebars showed a 2cm clearance between his car and me. I was doing around 30kph at the time, so was not a slow cyclist holding up traffic.

Even though I didn’t manage to get his number plate, I decided to report this “cycling near miss” to RoadSafeLondon, a system set up by the Metropolitan Police to report such incidents.

Report your cycling near misses here: https://secure.met.police.uk/roadsafelondon/

Please encourage your riding mates to do so too. The more stats we can build up on the cycling near misses we accept as part of our daily commute, the stronger our case for lobbying a change in the law to give cyclists real protection, as they have in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and France. They once had unsafe roads for cyclists and it took a change in the law to stop needless deaths.