Trying track cycling – a velodrome taster

I RODE A BIKE WITH NO BRAKES! And I did not fall off, crash, or generally damage myself. And I sort of want to do it again. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about track cycling. I was lucky enough recently to take a trip out of the office down to Herne Hill Velodrome . Considering I lived in Tooting for two years, I am actually now quite ashamed that I never made it down. And I definitely think that if I was still in Tooting, I would go again.

My parents bought me and my sister a track experience at the Lee Valley Velodrome for Christmas. My dad went a few years ago (ironically, we bought him this as a Christmas present also…) and I had popped along to watch and remember thinking it looked fun – and he had a whale of a time. I think my mum was secretly a bit disappointed that I was giving it a go before using the voucher (and my sister is annoyed because she thinks I now have a headstart and will be better than her) but I could hardly say no.

If you’ve been to either of these velodromes – or seen a picture – you’ll know they are a little different. Herne Hill has been around for decades, and is the last remaining venue from the 1948 Olympics (where apparently, their scheduling was’t too great, meaning that the final races had to be lit with car headlights and the photo finish impossible to see!)

It has an inner circumference of 450m, maxing out around 30 degrees in steepness, whereas your typical Olympic standard velodrome is only 250m, with a max gradient of around 45 degrees. Herne Hill has had stars such as Anquetil, Coppi & Tommy Simpson (I was one of the few people fangirling when we were told this) and is an incredible place, having been maintained and saved from destruction, and is now a key part of the London cycling community. There is an incredible history and they are rightly proud of it – the recently rebuilt clubhouse is full of photos from bygone eras, and has local club jerseys adorning the walls. It’s also where Sir Bradley himself first started racing.

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If you know the people I work with, you’ll know we have several cyclists and LOTS of sporty, competitive people. But it seemed that track cycling was giving a few people the heebie jeebies before the session, and I think a lot of that was down to a) knowing there were no brakes and b) the banking. However, skipping to after – I genuinely haven’t found anyone who didn’t enjoy it. The good thing about track cycling is that there was flexibility to do what you wanted. If you wanted to keep going round at the bottom of the track at your own speed, go for it. If you want to pretend you’re in the Olympics, go for it. Just be safe, respect the rules, and listen to what you’re told.

Firstly, the bike. It has one gear, no brakes, and we were in toe cages (ugh…I felt like a child again)

Gloves, helmets, long sleeves are all key (unsuprising really) Lean your bike against the railing, get in, toe-caged rather than clipped (eek) in and hold on for balance! (Track cycling means you have to pay attention or you fall over) To start, you basically just check for traffic, use the rail to propel yourself forwards, start pedalling and off you go. AND DON’T STOP PEDALLING.

You can’t freewheel (don’t try it) and you brake by resisting against the pedals and slowing down your cadence. And then grabbing hold of the railing again, ensuring you are going slow enough to avoid pulling your arm out of its socket. This was a mildly terrifying concept to get right seeing as I had zero idea how long it would actually take me to slow down. But you suss it out pretty quickly.

The team of coaches were great, and basically gave us a selection of different tasks and activities.

  1. Getting used to the bike – cycle round in a circle, don’t fall off, get used to slowing and stopping and holding onto the rail again at a sensible speed so you don’t fling yourself around and dislocate a shoulder. MAKE SURE YOU ALWAYS LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER!
  2. Ride the lines – there are several coloured lines around the track. The aim here was simple – ride one on the white, one on the red, one on the “ghost line” (basically a faded line) and then one between the ghost line and the top of the track. It is surprisingly easy to go high up and no, you don’t slide your way back down, you don’t really feel like you’re about to topple over and yes, it is easier and less scary than it might first appear. The more you pedal, the easier it is.
  3. Make a shape – ride along the white line on the straights, before hitting the bend hard and riding up at the top. Check your line and drop back down to the white for the back straight. Repeat!
  4. Play the animal game. Basically ride in a line, with the distance of a named animal in between you and the rider in front. We started with elephants, then ended up with very dubious rabbits. There was also a lot of discussion about whether it was a labrador or a chihuahua when we were told “dog”. Riding that close together is quite hard, particularly when you are worried about the lack of brakes.
  5. Team pursuit style. One long line, and at each end, the first person peels off, goes up the bank and then drops back in at the end. This definitely challenges your ability to maintain consistent speed relative to the others in your group! It also challenges your ability to pay attention and listen to when you are told to stop (except secretly we just wanted to keep going for another lap)
  6. Pairs changeover. Ride in a line of pairs – then the front pair peel off to the top, keep riding and drop back in on the end. Again, challenging your ability to maintain speed relative to the others!

It was a great experience – we were then informed we had done our taster session and therefore would be welcome at other sessions, and then could move towards becoming accredited. I was particularly interested when i found out that they ran ladies-only sessions, as well as the ASSOSLDN women’s track league.

Seriously, give @HHVWomen a follow on Instagram, they’ve got workshops, training, ladies night and all sorts! Again, as I said, I wish I still lived in Tooting as unfortunately it’s just that bit too far for me to go.

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The Women’s Race Workshops are back again this year and better than ever! Each session will focus on an event which features in that month’s @assos_ldn Women’s League, so if you’re unsure or need to brush up, they’re the perfect opportunity to learn or practice skills, techniques and tactics before each race. 🚴🏻‍♀️ The workshops will be held on Sundays during the regular 5-7pm Women’s Session (£10 for adults; £8 for Special Friends of HH; £5 for eligible youths). 🚴🏻‍♀️ Fire up your diary and get the dates locked. Even if you’re not racing they’re still great fun! 🚴🏻‍♀️ #womencycling #womeninsport #trackcycling #womenwhoride #ridelikeagirl #fixedgear #hhvwomen #thisgirlcan #velodrome #fixie #hhvwomensleague #trackbike #assos #assosldnwomensleague #bikeracing #cycling #hernehillvelodrome #hernehill #london 📸 @arpadernyesphotography

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Unfortunately, we then had to go and do some actual work. Booooooo.

But, it’s made me think more about what I want to get from cycling, including some interesting discussions now about crit racing over the summer…very much looking forwards to my trip to Lee Valley!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Easy running and HR training

So, latest running news is that I now have a coach (more about that in another post), my race today was cancelled BUT I am running THE READING HALF (which is quite soon, as the 18th March has snuck up) However, my ultimate A race is the European Duathlon Champs in October. Yes, October is quite a long way away. And yes, the word “European” is scary. Hence the coach.

Therefore, the Reading Half is in my diary, but not necessarily a goal, go for glory, set a new PB race. My current PB is an OK-ish 97 minutes, set in Watford a few years ago. If you know Watford at all, you will know that Watford is NOT FLAT. So much more to be done in comparison to the rest of my distances…

So why I hear you say, are you not going to go all out for a PB at a lovely, fairly flat (and fast) Reading?

Perfectly good question. It just isn’t my goal this year, and I didn’t really fancy a whole load of miles early in the year (this is also why I am not using my deferred marathon place this year)

My current schedule looks something like this (although clearly skiing gets in the way here!) – so we’ve got easy doubles, shorter speedwork and quite a lot of turbo. But not a huge amount of leg mileage 😬 (or any long tempo!) You’ll be happy to know that the next two weeks pre-half marathon include at least 3 double days (run and cycle), so I can’t really say I am tapering…

training plan

I don’t know the race plan yet, but will probably just do it as a long run. Or maybe a “just go out and see how you get on” strategy (I doubt this, I think we all know this would mean I go out far too fast and blow up)

I would not advocate following my training plan/approach if you are going for a PB at the half. Nor if it’s your first half. I’ve got a fair few years of running experience and decent fitness under my belt, meaning that I know that, 99% of the time, I can get round a half even if I haven’t done a huge amount of miles. Anyway, enough of the preamble. I am currently doing a lot more easy running that I used to, and the majority of this is not dictated by pace. Instead, I have now become very good friends with my heart rate monitor (yay)

So, here are some things I have learnt about easy runs and using a heart rate monitor to actually make them easy.

1. OMG IT IS SO NICE NOT TO HAVE “THE HARD SESH” dread. I can wake up, safe in the knowledge that I don’t have to run very hard or fast and just pootle along and it is lovely. And I don’t have to watch the Garmin (as much – see point 4)

2. It means you can run easy depending on how you feel that day. I have quickly learnt that your heart race can increase due to lots of things. The cold. Being hungover (oops). Being tired. Being busy at work. But if you’re trying to always hit the same pace, these can make a session pretty horrible. By using HR, it’s a slightly better representation of your fitness on that specific day.

3. You have another marker to compare progress. You know how sometimes runs just “feel easier” but you aren’t really sure if they were? Well, having your heart rate recorded means you’ve got a different metric to look at than just pace. If you’re running the exact same pace for a loop as you were 3 months ago, but your average HR is 10 BPM slower well, good stuff, you’ve probably made an improvement!

4. Uh oh, the HR screen becomes equally as compelling as the pace screen. I would love to say “using HR means you rely less on your Garmin” but that would be a lie. I watch it like a hawk and delight in making it go lower.

5. Sometimes you will swear at the heart rate screen because NO MATTER HOW SLOW YOU RUN IT WON’T GO DOWN. Especially if your interval session is based on HR. I swear my legs don’t actually move that slowly.

6. Hills will be avoided for fear of increasing the average heart race. I live at the top of a hill. In winter, I have to run down it to get to the majority of street lights. This means I have to run back up it (it’s basically nearly a mile uphill) at the end. It’s really hard to keep your HR low running up a hill.

7. You will try to get your heart rate as low as possible. It becomes a super fun challenge (debatable use of the word ‘fun’ here)

8. Deep breathing doesn’t necessarily make your heart rate any slower. Sorry. You can keep trying though!

9. I guarantee that “easy” is actually much slower than you think easy is. My own easy pace is not 8 minute miles. It’s anywhere between 8.30 and 9.30. It took time to learn that. Look at any of the elite runners and their “easy” sessions – and you’ll see what I mean! Easy means well, just that. You should feel like you could continue on forever.

10. Which leads into my main point – easy running is incredibly good for you as part of your training plan. Too much higher intensity work and impact means you don’t fully recover or get the benefit of the rest of your training – roughly 70% of your week should be easy. There are plenty of articles about the benefits and how to define easy. Google and running resources are your friend.

So there you go – I fully advocate trying out some HR training and keeping an eye on your definition of easy. And HR training isn’t just for easy running either, I’ve started using it for my speed work as well, which means I’m less worried about inclines impacting my overall pace. Monitors are generally quite inexpensive and often come part and parcel of your GPS watch. I spent a good 8 years never really using my heart rate monitor (!) and it’s now a key part of my training set up.

Unfortunately, entries are now closed for Reading so no more opportunities to get involved, but I promise you a full debrief post race. (and maybe some mid-race insta stories if I’m running it easy…)