Recently people have asked me “Why did you take up cycling?”
My simple answer would be “for my health”, but let me explain further.
In 2014 I was having a really bad year health wise, the worst I’ve ever had in fact. I’d been in hospital three times and been off sick for nearly a month at a time for every visit plus multiple days off because I simply couldn’t do anything.
I had caught MRSA of the lungs and another bug (the name escapes me at the moment) and just couldn’t shift it or get it under control. The Cystic Fibrosis (CF) that I was diagnosed with at six-months-old was winning.
Another big factor that year was that I was finishing Gene Therapy Trials which I now believe is the reason my lung function had held on for so long because the drugs were helping to my lungs and keep me healthy. In 2013 my lung function had been around 75-80% and gene therapy was doing a really good job, but not long after I had finished the trials I was starting to get sick a lot and my lung function was dropping like a stone and infections were feasting on my lungs like an all you can eat buffet.
By the end of 2014 I was back in hospital for the third time looking for help, looking for answers and getting frustrated with the whole situation. I needed to try to stop my health declining, in hospital I couldn’t breathe and had to be put onto oxygen.
How cycling played its part
I had never felt so ill, so scared and so down mentally let alone physically, this was all new to me. I knew everybody who has CF is different and everybody’s fight is different but this was my first time experiencing this and I was out of my depth thinking I could handle it. I didn’t cope at all, it’s most likely taken me until this year and it was committing to a cycling challenge that played an important part.
It was the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 Ride that got me started in 2015 and this year I want up my game even further to tackle an Olympic distance triathlon with the help of Ribble.
During that lowest point three years ago, I sat with the doctor and said, “Once this admission is done I’m going to go away and assess things. I’m going to prove you wrong that this isn’t going to carry on and that I can help my health and my diabetes, if there’s no more that you can do, I want a go at trying something different”. I appreciated that the doctors were trying to help but I think my mindset was that “I’m going to take things into my own hands and I feel this is something I need to do, if the drugs can’t help then let me find out if I can do something”.
But what would I try?!
I had been looking into big, physical challenges where I could maybe try and see if that helped my health. I’d thought about the London marathon but, I didn’t think I could cope with running that distance with my weak left leg. What about a shorter distance? What about walking up a mountain like Kilimanjaro? I had been wanting to go there for a while but I had to be realistic. With 50% lung function walking up a mountain with the lack of air becoming more and more apparent – I wasn’t sure. What could I do?
I could cycle? I could do that. I liked cycling and I could go as fast or as slow as I wanted and it wouldn’t put too much pressure on me (well so I thought, how wrong I was!)
SO cycling it was. It had to be something big, something I would remember forever and know that I had done it starting from nothing. It had to be something I could say to the doctors “See I did it. Two fingers to your complacency”. I was trawling the internet and came across something that caught my eye.
The Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100
I came across this ride in simple terms its 100 miles on closed roads through beautiful London and surrey countryside taking in the sights of world famous London. I mean 100 miles is big enough for the challenge to be big, catch people’s attention and maybe few a few pennies for the CF Trust. But firstly I needed a bike.
I was fortunate enough that my partner at the time offered to buy me a bike for my birthday (thank you) in November 2014. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t a carbon fibre, ‘go fast’ bike, but it was mine. My bike that I hoped would pedal me to great things. I had no idea how far it would take me and what challenges I would achieve, but I loved this bike from the first day I picked it up.
Starting to ride and falling in love with cycling
I went for my first bike ride a few days later (the picture above is me after my first ride) and it shocked me. I managed a measly six miles, just six miles and I was beat exhausted and my lungs hated me, but I had the bug, I knew I wanted to do this. I fell in love with cycling straight away, Lycra isn’t a fashion statement but knowing your dressed in it sort of gives me a sense of pride because I know I want to achieve something whilst dressed in my cycling gear. Over time I put my training gear on and I know I’m doing it for a purpose, to stay fit, to show others what’s possible and to help the CF trust and hopefully the money raised with help of you lovely people has helped made a difference to others in some way no matter how small.
That day I signed up to the RideLondon-Surrey 100 with the CF Trust and the rest as they say is history.
Since January 2015 I have cycled about 7000 miles and I’ve completed:
RideLondon-Surrey 100 Bike Ride 2015
KM Bike Big Ride 50km 2016
London To Brighton 55 mile bike ride 2016
And I’ve managed to raise around £3,500.00 for the CF trust along the way.
Reaping the benefits
Since I started training at the end of 2014 my hospital fortunes and health have stabilised. I wouldn’t say its improved as such as my lung function hasn’t improved since 2015 but it has most certainly slowed down in its declined and stabilised at around 50 to 55% for the last two and a half years. I am the fittest I’ve ever been even with my lung function and I’m still smiling look ahead to the future and what other challenges I can take on. I won’t lie, it’s been bleeding hard there been days still when I’ve not been able to do anything and my CF has affected me even on good days, but I feel better mentally knowing I’d rather be in pain training than be in pain in hospital or coughing. All the miles, pain, tears and falls have all been worth it.
Since 2015 my hospital visits have decreased massively with two admissions in January 2015 and September 2015. And that is the last time I was admitted to hospital for IV Treatment it’s been 21 months since I had a stay in hospital. It’s not been easy I’ve pushed myself like mad, I’ve still been really sick at times and I’ve still had infections and other problems and bugs have taken their toll on me at time and I’ve swallowed a lot of tablets to fend off sickness but I haven’t had to stay in hospital.
Positive effects of training
All the training has also had a positive effect on my diabetes. I now have much lower levels which I’m still working on to improve and I’ve got it under control and by having a good diabetes control it helps my chest and reduce infections because infections feed off sugar and can turn in to a vicious cycle of problems.
And now you know why I took up cycling, that’s the long and short answer but without deciding to get on two wheels and put my feet on the pedals I have no doubt I would be in that terrible place I had feared two years ago getting more and more used to hospital beds and going insane because I just wouldn’t cope. Thanks to cycling and maybe my stubbornness to prove people wrong, I’m here talking walking and still breathing through my lungs without any further grief.
And what next in 2017?
It had to be another big challenge. I felt it had to be a triathlon, an Olympic distance to be exact. On the 24th September 2017 I’m taking part in the Hever Castle Olympic distance Triathlon to in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust:
1500m swim + 40km bike ride + 10km run
One after the other, all in one go.
Thank you Ribble
I have to give a huge shout out and thank you to Ribble Cycles, I wrote to them this year asking if they could help me at all in lending me a bike and they went above and beyond what I expected. They kindly offered to give me a new bike to help me complete this challenge and my future challenges that I want to take on. The day I visited their new shop in the Birmingham Mailbox was amazing. They are all so lovely, so supportive and couldn’t be any nicer. Their offer of support will never go unappreciated, they have inspired me to keep pushing and wanting to achieve more. Without their help I could never have got a bike like this. So thank you thank you thank you to everyone at Ribble. You are all amazing for helping me and supporting me on this journey and I will forever be in your debt.
Triathlon training commences
I started training in in about October last year nothing too serious, the odd ride, the odd run but I didn’t start swimming until January this year and that’s when I started really upping my training and thinking seriously about attempting a Triathlon. I knew this would be big. The biggest challenge I’ve ever attempted. Hardest thing I’ve ever wanted to finish and the pain and training hasn’t disappointed in challenging me and making me doubt myself that’s for sure.
Training for this has been a whole different world to just biking and it’s getting harder every day. I’m swimming twice a week running twice a week and cycling twice a week plus doing short exercise at home. And not small distances either. I’m now swimming two to three miles every week, cycling 50 miles per week and running about 10km a week at present, I know that may not sound like a lot but I’m still learning still improving and still increasing my distances.
First a Sprint Triathlon
And so far I have managed to complete a sprint Triathlon in April as a practice run but that is nothing compared to the big one and I learnt a lot from that, mostly how hard and painful it is and that was only 250m swim 10 mile bike ride and 3 mile run. That is nothing compared to what I want to attempt.
I now have approximately a dozen weeks to keep training improving and hopefully dodging hospital until the big day. It’s already tough but I’ll write again soon about training progress.
What’s pushing me through this training is my health, my stubbornness and wanting to raise awareness and funds for the CF Trust. This is what inspires me to keep pushing.
Taking on a multi-day event and how to get the nutrition you need to succeed.
There are many multi-day cycling events throughout the year and a growing number of sportives run with this format such as the Haute Route or London to Paris. Track cycling has it’s thrilling Six-Day races which are contested by pairs of riders and made up of several individual events spread out across a set number of days typically during the autumn months. The London Six Day is set to take place at the city’s iconic Olympic velodrome at the end of October.
To understand this in a little more detail, we spoke with expert nutritionist Annie Simpson of OTE Sports to find out what each rider needs in order to succeed.
Simpson is quick to point out that breakfast is all about replenishing any depleted energy stores and refuelling for the day ahead. Protein is important for muscle recovery, while carbohydrates play a pivotal role in replacing any calories that got burnt during the previous day’s racing.
Simpson’s staple multi-day breakfast includes:
A large bowl of porridge made with milk, topped with a banana, a sprinkle of seed and nut mix and a drizzle of honey.
A two-egg omelette is also advised in order to hit optimal protein intake.
“Lunch can effectively be the pre-race meal if consumed between 2pm and 3pm” explains Simpson. “The idea is to have a meal that’s packed with carbs – a move which should ensure riders have enough energy to compete in the evening race.”
She also adds that it’s important to avoid foods that are high in fibre and fat, as both can take a long time digest – an issue that could lead to discomfort during and after the race.
“A good meal idea would be Chicken Arrabbiata served with white pasta” says Simpson – emphasising the need for clean carbs over stodgy options such as carbonara or other cream-based sauces.
During the pre-race period, Simpson adds that the intake of liquid is just as important as food. “A real emphasis needs to be put on hydration” she explains. “Velodrome conditions can often be very warm, especially with a full crowd in the stands.
“It may not sound like much, but a 2% drop in body weight due to dehydration can negatively affect someone’s sporting performance, so it is in the rider’s best interest to stay as hydrated as possible before and during the event.”
Ideally, each rider should consume 60g of carbohydrates per hour. This should ensure that they have the energy to compete throughout each event, as opposed to running out of energy or operating at sub-optimal performance levels.
“Between events there may not be time to stomach a significant snack, or the rider may not feel like eating much after fully exerting themselves each race” says Simpson. “This is where sports nutrition products like energy drinks and energy gels play a vital role.”
Being made of simple carbohydrates, they’re much easier for a rider’s body to break down. They are also quick and convenient to consume, making them the ultimate source of energy.”
Simpson also recommends protein bars and OTE’s recovery shake – as both provide lighter options for riders looking to take on board as much protein and carbohydrate as possible without feeling uncomfortable between races.
After the race, there’s a chance that it might be too late for riders to consumer a proper meal without compromising their evening routine. Because of this, Simpson recommends the following options:
Bowl of cereal with Greek yoghurt.
Tuna and couscous salad.
“Finally”, Simpson adds, “a top tip would be to have a high protein snack before bed. The idea behind this is to help aid recovery overnight. A pure protein shake such as OTE Super Protein, or a protein bar, are great at doing this.”
Have your say
We’ve heard from Annie Simpson, and now we want to hear from you! Do you have any top tips you think we should know about? If so, enter your recommendation in the comment section below.
Like you, we were glued to our screens until the early hours during the Rio Olympics, watching record-breaking TeamGB and their ravenous appetite for gold medals. In the Velodrome particularly there were some truly inspirational performances, not least from Laura Trott and Jason Kenny. Like you, it made us want to get straight on a bike.
Our bike sales since Rio have increased by 61% compared to the same period in 2015, and sportive bikes have been immensely popular – sales are up 85% on last year.
If you are new to the party – welcome, we hope you get as much out of cycling as we have over the years. If you’re not, what are you waiting for?
Since we’re not just about selling bikes, but also helping you get the most out of cycling, this is our complete guide to sportives. From what you need to enter, to how you need to train and what events you should consider, we’ve got it all here.
What are Sportives?
Sportives are mass-participation cycling events, and although there is always a competitive element, riders are looking at their own times rather than racing specific individuals on the road.
To understand the difference between a cycling race and a sportive, think of a running comparison. In a fun run, there are simply too many competitors for it to be classed as a race, so rather than competing against one another, they’re competing with themselves, trying to achieve their best possible time over the distance.
Why do them?
For those looking to make the step up from long bike rides and work commutes to proper, physically demanding cycling events, sportives are a great place to start. There are usually three distance options to choose from, and the friendly faces you meet along the way make every inch of torturous inclines well worth it.
Sportives take place on pre-planned routes up and down the country, with varying challenges on offer depending on the length of the course and the difficulty of the route. So it should be easy to find one that suits your level, and you don’t have to worry about planning your route or getting lost during the event.
What do you need?
Sportive-specific bikes might not look especially different from regular racing bikes, but there are subtle differences to benefit the rider. Weight is still kept low – any weight you carry you have to carry up all those hills – but it’s not as strict as on racing bikes, as a few concessions can be made to suit an endurance race.
The overall shape of the sportive bike frame typically has a more relaxed geometry, making it more comfortable when spending long periods of time in the saddle. The relaxed geometry makes a longer wheelbase for stability, while bringing the handlebars closer and higher so the rider is less extended.
Exactly what geometry is best for you depends on your height and what you find to be a comfortable position – you can find out more detail about bike geometry in our blog, and check out our range of sportive bikes here.
A sportive bike also uses the same tyres of that of a road bike, meaning if you have more than one bike in your garden shed, you can swap and change the tyres depending on the events you’ve got coming up.
First of all, you’ll need a helmet. If you only get one piece of kit, it needs to be this – organised sportives simply won’t let you participate without one.
Specialist cycling shoes are also a must-have, although it’s fine if you’d rather make a steady transition from riding in cages to being fully strapped if you’re just starting out.
One thing that’s worth bearing in mind however is that even the slightest movement of your foot on a bike pedal can impact the way in which the power is transferred from your leg, through the pedals and into the wheels.
Do this once and you compromise your speed at that time, but do this over a whole race and you are making things a lot, lot harder than they need to be. Cycling shoes anchor to the pedals of a sportive bike in a way designed to transfer your leg power to the pedals in the ideal fashion. Trust us: once you try them you will see how much easier it is to accelerate.
As for clothing, specialist cycling attire with modern, man-made materials is the way to go. You can feasibly complete a sportive in a cotton T-shirt and shorts, but cotton retains your sweat, which will leave you feeling clammy, cold and weighed down.
Cycling jerseys should be on all riders’ shopping lists, not only because they come with specially designed pockets for storing food and essential accessories, but because the synthetic materials are designed with comfort and endurance in mind.
Padded shorts are a must-have too, although for those that don’t quite have the funds to invest straight away, a tub of Chamois Cream will certainly help to cure any aches and pains.
While you may see Tour de France riders in just Lycra shorts and a zip-necked Lycra riding shirt, in Britain you’ll need a few more clothing options. Being exposed to wind or rain will leave you feeling cold, which can have a debilitating effect on muscle performance.
In changeable conditions, a combination of a short-sleeved cycling shirt and arm warmers or gloves, along with cycling shorts and leg warmers, will give you options. In colder weather, full-length cycling shirts and trousers may be a better bet.
Modern cycling jackets come with windproof fronts and breathable backs. This is important as windbreakers keep air out but therefore also lock sweat in. Trapped sweat cools you down and can leave you feeling cold. If rain is expected, a thin but waterproof rain cape will keep you mostly dry. The great thing about these is that they can easily be folded up, which makes them extremely easy to transport.
Whatever you decide is the best approach on the given day of your sportive, remember that layering allows you to take off clothes when you get too warm during the ride, but you can’t magic up clothes you don’t have if you get too cold.
You’ll want to carry plenty of liquid on a sportive, so make sure your bike has a couple of bottle cages added to the frame.
Aside from refreshments (more on in-sportive food and nutrition shortly), you’ll want to carry only the bare essentials with you. A small seat-post bag could carry a puncture repair kit, but repairing a puncture is time-consuming and fiddly, and not something you really want to do by the side of the road during a race, possibly in the rain.
Instead, use a seat-post or top-tube bag to carry two spare inner tubes and some tyre levers. If you get more than two punctures you may just have to accept that it has not been your day and put it down to experience! Make sure you practice using your tyre levers at home, so you know exactly what you’re doing should you get a puncture during your ride. Oh, and don’t forget the pump!
A sportive is more than just a long bike ride and although tackling one doesn’t demand the same level of fitness as a cross country or race event, there are a few things to consider before signing up. Even if you’re used to exercise, you still need to get your body used to using the particular muscles associated with cycling, and spending long periods in a cycling position.
Food and nutrition
Our bodies can burn both fats and carbohydrates to generate the energy needed to exercise, but carbohydrates are a far better fuel. Carbohydrates are the petrol in your engine.
As it’s unlikely that you’ll be going on long training rides every day – particularly as you’re just starting to build up your riding capability – you need to make sure that your intake of carbohydrate matches your training. Too much carbohydrate in our diets – i.e. carbohydrate fuel that doesn’t get burned – can disrupt our blood sugar levels, leading to energy fluctuations and mood swings, and cause us to gain excess body weight.
A sensible serving of carbohydrates for a regular meal is about the size of a clenched fist, but before big rides, you can up this to about 50% of your total plate. This is called ‘carb-loading’. While our bodies cannot store huge amount of carbohydrates, you can top up your stores to give yourself the maximum amount of fuel for your big ride.
Good sources of carbohydrate include rice, pasta and bread, but the wholegrain versions of each are better for you and provide a better, steadier carbohydrate release.
While carbs provide the fuel, protein helps you not only build muscle, but repair muscle that gets damaged when you do strenuous exercise. So balance your carbohydrate intake with lean protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey and fish. You may want to supplement your protein intake with protein shakes or bars.
Everyone is different, and by paying attention to what you eat, keeping everything in appropriate moderation and assessing the impact your food has on your energy levels during training rides, you’ll be able to work out what the best food intake plan is for you.
As you approach the sportive, you can take on a very specific nutrition regime that extends into the race itself. We linked up with Annie Simpson, a nutrition expert from OTE Sports, to provide a detailed pre-, post- and during-race nutrition plan for a 100-mile sportive. You can find that detailed guide here.
Unsurprisingly, the best exercises for inexperienced cyclists focus on the legs – squats and deadlifts, building in intensity, will add necessary strength to your legs so that those first long rides are possible. These exercises can also provide you with ways to keep your training going during those short evening slots when you’re not able to get out on your bike. British Cycling has a useful video guide on the right squats and dead lifts available here.
Once you’re able to tackle longer rides, the best way to prepare for a sportive is simply to ride your bike regularly. Start with shorter, more sedate routes, and slowly build up to more challenging hills – steeper and longer, then add in more hill frequency. Ultimately, you should study the route of your planned sportive – the event website will have this – and try to start tackling similar hills on your training routes. National Cycle Networks will help you find a list of cycling routes in your area.
For those running short on time, why not try extending your commute or investing in a turbo trainer (below) to help you get the most out of your new found love for cycling?
Join a Riding club
A sportive isn’t a personal thing and being part of a riding club can really help you prepare in the best possible way. Riding with others can enable riders to get all sorts of tips and advice, while any long training rides become more of a social event than a mundane workout.
There are over 1,500 UK-based cycling clubs registered with British Cycling, or you can use a site such as RideSocial.co.uk to look for other cyclists in your area.
Or why not start your own club? If you commute daily to work by bike, and are looking to make the step up to a sportive, are there any colleagues who are up for the same challenge? Having peers who are of a similar experience level striving towards the same goal can really spur you on, help maintain interest and training intensity, and make it more fun and rewarding too.
Events for you to ride
The Isle of Wight is a fantastic place to ride a bike, with beautiful scenery and rolling hills galore. The annual Randonnee on the island offers both 55km and 100km routes, making it a suitable event for beginners and more experienced riders alike.
For something a little different, the Lincoln Grand Prix Sportive may seem like easy going over the famously-flat Lincolnshire countryside, but there is an almighty challenge presented by the city of Lincoln itself – a climb up winding, narrow cobbled streets approaching inclines of 20% is definitely an unusual way to end an endurance event. All riders are catered for with routes of between 33 and 102 miles available.
For the more experienced rider, each year the organisers of the Tour de Yorkshire give amateurs the chance to tackle the same final stretch of course as the pros do on the last day of the race. The course changes each year but will undoubtedly be a challenging one.
At the far end of the scale, perhaps the ultimate sportive test found on these shores is the mid-Wales ‘Monster’. Nearly 200km with a seemingly never-ending number of huge climbs over ten hours, up to a third of the 100-rider field have been known to fail to finish. Not for the faint-hearted.
Whatever level you’re at, or want to get to, the huge number of sportives and led rides around the country means you’re sure to find something to aim for.
British Cycling can help you find your ideal sportive with their event finder, then the rest is up to you. Best of luck!