Autumn Cycling Must-Haves

Autumn Cycling Kit

Cycling at this time of year can be off-putting to say the least. Rain, wind and dark mornings aren’t exactly encouraging are they? On my recent ride of all weathers in Belgium I very nearly didn’t head out, but having good cycling kit with me pushed me out the door. I think having trust in your kit makes all the difference, which is why I’ve been having a look on the internet at what Autumn/Winter cycling kit is on offer.

  1. Castelli Perfetto RoS W Long Sleeve

Kicking my findings off is the Castelli Perfecto jacket, which I’ve actually tried and tested. If I’m completely honest I’m ‘borrowing’ Ryan’s, but I know Castelli don’t let the quality drop just because a product is for women. At £190 you’ll be please to hear you get some GORE-TEX technology for the price tag. On the front panels are made up of WINDSTOPPER and water-resistant material, but towards the back the material has more of a stretch and breathability. I’m particularly a fan of the dropped tail on the back of the jacket, which keeps more of your back covered when riding down water-logged country lanes.

2. dhb Classic Women’s Thermal Tights

With a warm jacket you’ll obviously need some cycling longs to go with it. I personally rides in some Castelli longs, but I thought for this post I’d look around a bit. If you’re active on Twitter you’ll find dhb is a brand that regularly pops up in kit recommendations. It doesn’t cost the earth, but still does the job. On the likes of Wiggle you find plenty of positive reviews on the brand and its products. Having a look around these Classic Women’s Thermal bib tights caught my eye as they help keep your torso warm too. Any extra warmth is always a bonus.

3. Sealskinz Waterproof All Weather Glove

Sealskinz have been a market leader for as long as I can remember. They’re a logo I’ve seen around since the early days when I first started cycling (well MTB). The biggest benefit with these is the fact they’re waterproof and constructed with three layers for added warmth. I’m actually on the look out for some new gloves and I think these are high contenders.

4. Endura Pro SL Overshoes Black

When Ryan introduced me to overshoes a few years ago it was a revelation. Being a Raynaud’s sufferer the cold is certainly not my friend, but since using overshoes my toes stay toasty for longer. My recent Endura overshoes have been fab for a few years, but I was slightly heavy handed with a zip so have had to replace them. These are the closest thing I can find to them. Scottish brand Endura certainly know a thing or two about bad weather!

5. Castelli Fresca W Headband

Cold ears on a ride are never fun, so I normally go for one of two options being a Buff or thermal headband. Buff’s tend to speak for themselves. I’ve worn one since I was little hiking up Snowdon, but thermal headbands work rather well under a cycling helmet. When it’s ice cold you might opt for a Buff, but at this time of year I normally use a thermal headband. I was trying to keep the brands varied, but Castelli just do the thermal headbands so well. I hate it when mine’s in the wash and I can’t wear it. They’ve got some funky design this year too. You can even get a Fresca Jersey to match…I mean Christmas is coming up right?

6. Stolen Goat Women’s Mesh Base Layer

Just because it’s a base layer doesn’t mean it has to be plain. I think it’s just more of an excuse to be as exotic as you like and you can’t go wrong with polka dots. I’ve always seen Stolen Goat to be slightly ahead of the game when it comes to their designs and how colourful they are.

 

How I Ran Sub-4 Hour in my First Marathon

My London Marathon Training header

This time last year I was in full panic mode at how on earth I was going to run 26.2 miles around London in a time I was proud of. I don’t just ‘try’ things. If I start something I’m getting it done properly. London Marathon 2019 was no different.

By the title of my blog it’s pretty obvious I’m not a runner, so it was my first marathon as well as never having actually done a running event before. From so much cycling you’d maybe think I’d find swapping my bike for running shoes a breeze, but I quickly found out it was a whole different type of fitness. A good 3-4 hours on my bike could match a 2 hour run effort-wise. It was a steep learning curve that’s for sure. That steep learning curve also means this isn’t a blog post for seasoned club runners, just those who jumped in the deep end like me feeling like a rabbit in headlights.

I owe a lot of my training inspiration to Rachel Ann Cullen, who is the author of ‘Running for my Life’. Her story was amazing to read as a lot of my previous reading was from athletes like the Brownlee Brothers. My head was full of speed sets when in reality I just needed to get miles in my legs. Rachel’s gone on to do London multiple times now, so she’s certainly moved to the seasoned runner category!

So how did I accomplish a sub-4 hour London Marathon simply?

From the start of October when the ‘Congratulations’ magazine dropped through the letterbox I only had 7 months to go from cyclist to runner. After reading Rachel’s book I streamlined my training plan drastically and here’s a little example of how it went.

LM Blog

So rather than having weeks broken down into a strict training plan, I had simple milestones to reach before the big day. For me it was a training plan that was realistic with a job where I’m on my feet all day. I had injuries along the way, but I think if I’d tackled London with any more training I would have had a DNF or even a DNS.

After running the Half Marathon in 1:51 I had a rough idea of what I could run London in, which was under 4 hours. From then on it was just a case of continuing to up the miles and try and stick to around 8 and a half minute miling.

Lucys Marathon

For the 20 miler I clocked a time of 2:52.

Then smashed London in 3:57.

The point I’m trying to put across is that tackling London Marathon doesn’t need to be complicated. If you have a coach, then fab listen to them. If you still feel like a rabbit in headlights, then I have a few little rules to follow:

My LM Rules

Got your own tips and tricks for training for a marathon? Feel free to drop them below in a comment!

Want to read more about my London Marathon 2019 training? Then hear’s my training in blog posts:

Seasons of Change

Cycling

We’re certainly into off-season now aren’t we? The leaves are falling and hill climbs are happening up and down the country. A blog post on the Horseshoe Pass hill climb will be coming your way soon. I didn’t compete after my non-existent race season, but loved hearing how everyone’s race had gone. From the juveniles right up to the over 80’s! Hill climbs are certainly the most inclusive part of cycling as a sport.

With a break in the weather this weekend, I made the most of it and got out on my bike, which was a far cry from where I was a few months ago. My week went from bad to worse, but all I could think about was getting out on my bike on Saturday. There was a new cafe to visit, which obviously came with a new route to follow. Cheshire lanes with coffee and cake and sunshine in the sky to match.

Cycling in Cheshire

I could have got my Winter bike out,  but with the weather as it was I wasn’t quite ready to put my Liv away. I needed the feeling  of riding fast and it just doesn’t feel the same on my Winter bike. I collected all my bits and bobs together; I don’t know how, but I always manage to fill the pockets of my jacket/jersey pockets. My excuse is how small my cycling kit is…

It was the first time in a long time I felt comfortable out on my bike. I wanted to be out on it. The sunshine helped obviously, but I would just take each mile as it came whatever they entailed. With a few turns here and there I was lucky to have a route that avoided any long stretches on main roads. There’s less pressure. You can stop when you like (for Instagram of course), or ride as hard as you feel. Whatever my legs would allow me to do.

Cycling in Chesire

The roads were fairly quiet and 90% of the time I was passed by cars with plenty of rooms. Meeting Ryan at the cafe after he’d been out to walk the dog, we could chat about anything and everything whilst the pup slept. It seemed to be the start of a new tradition for us. The hole of not being able to ride together anymore seemed to be closing and we’d not even anticipated it.

It’s just a new part of our lives we’re slowly adjusting to I guess. It’s not perfect yet, but life never is really, even if it is hard to swallow. I joke about Instagram, but it’s so  important to remember Instagram will always be the best bits. The parts of life that made you smile enough to capture in a square on Instagram.

No 18 The Park Coffee Shop, WrenburyCafe Stop

Full of coffee and cake, I could make my way home. I was in my own little world with a clear head for once. Not focussing on everything that isn’t great right now. I started to feel a little more myself again. Attacking the hills and hammering the pedals. Just having fun out on my bike really.

Cycling in Cheshire

The internet has been full of Mental Health Awareness this week and it’s easy enough to get lost in it all. People saying how you should and shouldn’t deal with it. Life’s hard at times and it just seems to get worse the older you get. There’s more stuff you’ve got to  worry about. Stuff consumes your mind until you snap. I think sometimes you’ve just got to appreciate what you’ve got going on whether you think it’s affecting you or not. The reality is it probably is. Take a breath and watch a funny film. Go running in the rain. Put your phone down. Walk in the hills. Jump in a lake for a swim. You might have an endless to-do list, but you’ll feel a whole lot better tackling it if you can ease the weight  of the world on your shoulders.

Life’s not perfect.

Our body’s aren’t perfect.

But as long as we’re living the best life while we’re here, that’s the important thing right?

I haven’t felt like myself for a while, but hopefully I’m stepping in the right direction now.

Spa Six Hours 2019

Spa Six Hours 2019

There was a plan for this blog post to be how amazing Belgium is for cycling, but Belgium weather scuppered those plans a little bit. Especially weather around the Spa-Francochamps motorsport circuit. Weather can change at the click of your fingers. You can leave the paddock in a t-shirt, but get to the other side of the circuit needing a thick winter jacket and hood. Clouds just roll in and out like waves in the sea.

Spa-Francochamps

Off what people told me prior to my trip, my image of Belgium cycling was long roads that were fairly flat. Yet I don’t think that exactly goes for the part of Belgium I was in. Travelling through Belgium the wide expanse of crop fields quickly turned to rolling hills covered in trees. The track itself is known for being technical to drive. It’s certainly the most hilly motorsport circuit I’ve ever been to.

Spa Six Hours 2019

I’d love to be sat here saying that I got the chance to ride around it, but I was there to watch the Spa Six Hours race. One of the biggest races in the historic motor racing calendar, teams race for 6 hours requiring driver changes and two fuel stops. The best part about it I guess is going back to the roots of motorsport. There’s minimal fancy equipment. The cars have to be original. Feeling the vibrations through your feet as they come flying down the pit straight is sometimes enough to kick the old adrenaline into play. It’s all systems go in the pits for 6 hours providing drivers with lap times and directing them when to pit. There’s no radios here.

Spa Six Hours 2019

Whilst the 6-hour race was the main event, the weekend was packed with other races too. The alarm clock for each day would be a car engine warming up. And I’m not talking about sitting there early in the morning waiting for the ice to melt off your car, I’m talking full on jump out of your skin wake up call.

DSC_7853

One of the most memorable races for me was the Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends Race, which was full of LMP1 and LMP2 cars. Essentially old Le Mans cars up until around the year 2012. Engines that echo through the forests surrounding the circuit and headlights that light up the sky like fireworks. After my brother and I had made our way up to one of the infamous corners, Pouhon, we could here the cars leaving the pits. It felt like we had the best seats in the house as we looked down on the pit straight and paddock area at the other end of the valley. We watched their headlights come around the circuit with the echoes getting louder as they came along the Kemmel straight. Suddenly they were in view, but quick enough it was back to watching they’re headlights break through the trees. It’s a spectacle I’m struggling to put into words if I’m honest, so hopefully I’ve done these amazing cars justice.

Spa Six Hours 2019

Spa Six Hours 2019

If you take anything away from this blog post, and you are a motorsport fan, I’d recommend going to the Spa 6 Hours endurance event. When the majority only watch the Spa 6 Hours, I’d really recommend heading out to watch the Aston Martin Masters Endurance Legends too. That spectacle topped Bonfire Night fireworks.

Spa Six Hours 2019DSC_8232Spa Six Hours 2019Spa Six Hours 2019

So I started this post talking about cycling didn’t I? Yet I’ve spent a most of it talking about cars…oops.

Not thinking the wet weather would pass anytime soon; I managed to get out on my bike on our first day in Belgium. The cars were out testing, so I thought it would be a good time to get out. I had no clue what the route had in store for me, but I forced myself to go out. It was probably quite stupid going out in such horrific weather on my own in a foreign county, but you’ve got to push the boundaries sometimes I guess.

Cycling in Belgium

I committed the cardinal sin of road by going out with a small rucksack, but it put me at ease that nothing could fall out of my pocket. I definitely wasn’t finding anything again if it did!

After some cyclocross-esque fire road riding, my route eventually turned to roads and landed me in the centre of Malmedy. After nearly turning back when the road became gravel, I’m glad I pushed myself on to get to Malmedy. Tall townhouses, a cobbled bridge bustling with flowers along it and a church steeple all came into view. I breathed a sigh of relief that I could hopefully complete the ride I set out to do now I was off the gravel roads.

Malmedy, Belgium

Climbing out of Malmedy I was soon on a climb that I later found out was 9 miles long. Granted it was not as steep as Sa Calobra, but enough to get the old legs burning. The road just kept meandering up and up.

Eventually I’m on a road that seems to never end. I look ahead and I can just see a pin straight road lined by trees that will probably get felled at some point. Winds blowing at me. Rain is somehow coming at me from the left. Then there’s the small drama of my Garmin going to sleep. I knew roughly where I was going, but I hadn’t seen a road sign for a really long time…

Eventually a junction came into view with a village I recognised. I was starting to think I was riding into the abyss.

I didn’t think I could have beaten the mental capacity to get round Welsh Champs when everything seemed to be against me that day. But somehow a 28 mile day came close to 50. I’d followed the route, but there was an 8-mile ride to the start point and back because of the paddock we were in. There was no cafe stop, just a Clif Bar. (Ok there was an insta photo to take in Malmedy obviously). Sitting writing this I still don’t know where it came from. I haven’t trained for months. But I’ve never been so glad to hear the rumble of engines as I got close to the circuit again.

Spa-Francochamps

I had to ring my kit to get rid of the excess water. There were puddles in the bottom of my shoes. There were points where I didn’t think I enjoyed it, but looking back it puts a smile on my face. I saw more of Belgium than I would have if I hadn’t taken my bike. There wasn’t much chance to take photos, just grey sky. It was just a day I dug deeper than I thought I could.

It was a random weekend, so I guess that makes for a bit of a random blog post. If you’re still reading this rather lengthy post, thanks for sticking with me. My first trip to Belgium has been and gone. Who knows if I’ll head back.