Archive for the ‘fitness’ Category

My Retül fit at Bespoke Cycling

The Wilier mounted on the turbo, ready for position scanning.

The Wilier mounted on the turbo, ready for position scanning.

About a month ago I had a Retül bike fit at Bespoke Cycling in Farringdon. The experience could prove to be some kind of watershed in my cycling history, and was probably the best £200 I’ve ever spent on bikes and riding.

Retül (‘re-tool’, ‘rettle’?) is a 3D bike-fitting service that aims to optimise your riding position. After scanning your existing position on your bike using sensors attached to various points on your body, the system suggests adjustments based on the optimal angles (torso, elbow, hips, knee, ankle) for power and comfort. The outcome is a document tailored to your physique, that you can take to any bike shop to assist with the fit process.

Bespoke Cycling insist on a bike fit before they sell you a road bike. It makes complete sense: although with enough spacers here and there you would fit almost any frame of the correct height, your figures will naturally match certain models and will guide your selection. The complete service is a 2-hour one-on-one process that starts with a discovery process about your riding – how much you ride, whether you’re comfortable riding, and how balanced and flexible your body is naturally. It moves on to the Retül fit, and finishes with a final fitting on your new bike.

My initial analysis by Ben Hallam, Bespoke’s resident physio and bike fit guru, indicated the following about my riding position:

  • My torso was stretched out and at an overly racy/aero angle on the hoods. I’d kind of always known this because I had never been naturally comfortable on the hoods, my preferred resting position was about 2 inches back on the curve of the handlebars.
  • My saddle was too high and too far back, exaggerating the stretched position and resulting in my rocking at the hips to lever my left leg over the pedal. My saddle rails were actually bent as a result of this.
  • My handle bar drops were too deep and my bars weren’t in the right position (this was me compensating for the fact that the drops were too far away).
  • I was a ‘paddler’ i.e. my pedal stroke tended to pull up from the toes after the down stroke. This was caused by 1) incorrect cleat position and 2) sitting too far back, and was evidenced not only by the Retül angles but also by my shoes and insoles, which revealed indents from my toes where I had been digging them in to claw the pedal back. This was also leading to discomfort in my foot arches on long rides.

Basically, I may as well never have ridden a road bike before for all that my bike fit me or that I knew how to ride it.

Once I had been analysed on my existing road bike, Ben put me on the Retül jig to fine tune my position and correct the wonky angles. Here are some before and after shots:

Before and after photos.

Before and after photos. Note the Fausto Coppi-esque hunch in the before shot.

Ben had the following recommendations to improve my pedalling efficiency:

  • Keep your chest up and away from stomach, maintain a longer flatter back (tuck chin down and back slightly).
  • Try and grow long and look over your bars for the front wheel skewer.
  • Relax the upper shoulders and pinch shoulder blades gently back and slightly down to open the chest and slightly bend in the arms.
  • Rotate the hips slightly forward.
  • Keep the pressure on each sit bone even throughout the pedal stroke to minimise hip movement.
  • Relax your ankle into a slight toe down position on the up stroke.
  • Drive the knee forward from 9 o’clock position (horizontal back)
  • Pick foot into a toe up position at 12 o’clock (top dead centre) to land onto the ball of the foot.
  • Squeeze your glutes and push down with pressure on the 2nd ball of the foot (base of the second toe) throughout the stroke.
  • At horizontal forward (3 o’clock), pressure should be going straight down through the ball of the foot and not through the heel. Scrape the feet through 6 o’clock (bottom dead centre) as if you are scraping mud off the bottom of the balls of your feet.
  • Continue to scrape backwards until the crank is at horizontal back (9 o’clock).
  • Keep your toes relaxed throughout.

In some ways it is quite infuriating that I didn’t go through this process back in 2007 when I bought my Wilier. Then again, it is hugely positive to have a fresh start at this stage, and to be able to look forward to a new era of efficient, comfortable riding. Already, after only 8 hours riding my new bike, I no longer seem to experience much lower back stiffness; my hot feet and sore arches have gone; and I can ride for prolonged periods both on the hoods and even in the drops.

My advice would be: if you’re doing any kind of serious road riding, riding sportives or racing, get a proper fit. I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough.


Product review: High5 Protein Recovery

Get this. Drink it.

Get this. Drink it.

I’ve been knocking back the protein shakes for several months now, and can totally recommend the High5 Recovery Tub.

Whether after a hard ride or heavy weights workout, drinking a bottle of this within 20 mins of exercise leaves me feeling significantly less fatigued. It doesn’t mean that you can skip meals, especially high-carb refuelling, and obviously you’ll still feel tired after hard efforts, but for me this makes the difference between being totally knocked out and being able to function as normal.

A case in point: after the Puncheur yesterday, my sister handed me a pre-mixed protein shake at the top of Ditchling Beacon. I drank it straight away, and followed it up with a bowl of pasta. I then drove home, cleaned my bike, did some chores, made dinner – basically felt pretty perky. I’m feeling a little soreness today, but probably less than I would without my hardcore protein fix at the end of the ride.

Happy New Year

So, it’s 12th January.



And it’s wet out. Although I guess we’ve had worse.

A brief update on my cycling:

  • I’m not doing a lot of riding right now. I resolved last year that I wouldn’t stress out about winter miles, and that I wouldn’t ride in icy conditions or pouring rain.
  • My weight is 11st 3. I feel pretty tubby, but actually this is 2-3 pounds lighter than I weighed in Jan 2010, and 6-9 pounds lighter than Jan 2009. I’m 6 pounds heavier than my target weight, but this will come off easily over the next few months.
  • I have been in the gym, not just on the spin bike, but hitting some weights, at least once a week since the start of November.

2011 plans:

  • I have the Puncheur on 6th March – the by now traditional early-season benchmark.
  • 12-19 March I’ll be in Girona for a cycling training camp with Millsy, Jonny and Simmo.
  • I’m signed up for the Tour of Wessex in late June, which promises to be a new (and tough) experience.

I don’t have any plans for a European sportive mission this summer. I couldn’t get enthusiastic about the two-part 2011 Étape du Tour – neither leg on its own offered as distinctive a challenge as La Marmotte, and signing up for both was too much money and too much holiday. However, the event is still very much on my list for the future. The Tour of Wessex is a big event on home turf, and for the moment that’s enough.

Other plans will hopefully involve an MTB expedition to Spain around Easter time – ‘stay tuned’, as they used to say during the 90s.

In it to spin it

Spin - not for the hungover.

Spin - not for the hungover.

A few weeks before Christmas I was schooled by a spin class. This was the true low point of my cycling year in 2010 (I’m working on the highlights).

Spin – it’s a cake walk, right? You turn up, you spin, you sweat, you leave. Good cardio, but for 30 mins, nothing on the scale of a fast sportive? Such were my naïve preconceptions on arriving at the gym for my first spin class.

In terms of fitness, I was hardly at my peak, but I figured I still had a handle on things – at least a vestige of late-season form. I swaggered into the spin ‘arena’ in a stained t-shirt and my gardening trainers, confident in the knowledge that I would be kicking everyone’s ass, including the instructor’s, within a few minutes’ time. I chose a bike in the front row and started pedalling.

I made 12 minutes of the session. I honestly had expected some kind of warm up, but was denied – we were straight in at 70% of max resistance . The instructor instructed me to work it, so I worked it. Well, first of all I dismounted and made a Mr.Bean-style hash of adjusting the saddle and stem height on my rig, then I worked it.

My heart rate went from about 100 to I guess at least 175 (I wasn’t wearing a monitor) in the first 2 minutes of the workout. At 4 minutes in, I was on the rivet. At 8 minutes, the instructor told us to kick the resistance up a notch. I was starting to feel seriously stressed out – my heart and lungs were pumping way too hard, but short of stopping completely I didn’t see how I could recover. When I started to feel faint, I realised I had to bail. I made some kind of risible ‘A-OK’ sign at the instructor before almost falling off the bike and out of the class. I very nearly vomited into a bin.

I will be going back, hopefully this week, and will be keeping the following tips in mind:

  1. Warm up on your own before the spin class for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Ignore the instructor.
  3. Get a bike in the back row, near the exit.
  4. Don’t go on even the second day after a festive party. You need a full, clean tank of gas.

Winter diet

Wheat biscuit breakfast

At 26 January my weight is already down below 11st / 70kg. I’ve lost the Christmas flab simply by not over-eating at every meal. However, at this stage I’m not convinced it’s wise to lose much more weight. It will be easy to shave off 5-6 pounds between now and 4 July – no need to get hysterical.

With this in mind, here is a rough outline of my daily diet. This is accurate for days when I commute into work (40 mins), do 10 hours at my desk, then commute back.


  • 2 Weetabix with grapenuts / porridge
  • 1 fruit (banana or apple)
  • 2 toast with jam
  • tea
  • orange juice


  • coffee
  • optional nuts / dried fruit
  • very occasionally, a banana – mostly I can keep going til 1pm


  • ideally, a plate of warm food e.g. pasta, rice
  • or – Pret a Manger / Eat / Sainsbury’s sandwiches, in that order of preference
  • possible cup-a-soup, samosa, crisps (basically, this is my point, it’s January)


  • tea
  • 3 Weetabix, fruit (crucial to avoid the bonk on the way home)
  • possible biscuits / office munchies


  • all I can eat, plus seconds, of whatever it is – my girlfriend makes phenomenal curries and stews with chorizo, chicken etc.
  • beer
  • tequila shot
  • butter and soft cheese still allowed in moderation
  • yoghurt
  • chocolate if we’ve got it in
  • honey, ginger and lemon hot drink

I wanted to record this realistic picture of a hungry cyclist’s food intake when it’s cold outside and he’s already a bit skinny. There’s plenty of room for trimming out the munchies and the fatty / sugary stuff in due course.


My goal this January is to ride for more days / hours than last January.

In Jan 09 I had 15 days or 21 hours of some on-bike activity, 10 hours of which were commute days, and the others being regular winter training rides on the road. So far, I’ve already racked up 4 days and 7 hours, so hopefully, weather permitting, this should be an easily achievable goal. However, the weather isn’t exactly permitting – it’s the coldest winter for 30 years.


Hey - nice!

Another comparison with last year is that I’m starting it lighter. In Jan 09 I was a stocky 11st 12 – this year I’m probably around 11st 5-6 (lighter than I was in March last year). True, my form is fairly rubbish, but one thing about starting a third year of serious riding is a certain mental confidence. I’m more in tune with my own fitness levels after several seasons of waxing and waning form. I know what’s required of me come July, and I know that my body will respond to the training in due course – better, even, than in years past, because your legs do remember.

In addition to the riding, I’m building in plenty of core work now. I realised too late last year that my core muscles (abs, back and hip flexors) needed to be stronger to avoid fatigue on long, hard rides. I would go into the exercises in detail but Millsy’s already done it for me.

2010 – first ride out

The current conditions just north of Potters Bar.

The current conditions just north of Potters Bar.

Yesterday was my first ride out of the new decade. Following a period of 2 months out of the saddle (a trip to Nepal was partly to blame), which itself included a 2 week drinking marathon (the party season) and a 1 week eating marathon (the Mucklow family Christmas), it wasn’t surprising that my form stank.

My leg strength deserted me; my heart rate pootled along in zone 2; my blood sugar levels bonked as my stomach craved cake and turkey trimmings. Compare this graph from yesterday (peak HR 157):

Heart rate graph 2-1-10

Heart rate graph 2-1-10

with this one from 18 July last year (peak HR 177).

Heart rate graph 18-7-09

Heart rate graph 18-7-09

I remember this ride. I never blogged about it because I was just back from La Marmotte and I couldn’t be bothered. But it was the ride of the year. I was out with Millsy on a 4hr+ circuit from Sevenoaks (possibly the Hell of the Ashdown route). I was rested from my trip to France, but still held the form from months of training. I was hitting the hills hard, and just kept feeling stronger. Then came a truly epic half-hour stretch in the closing stages of the ride, on a gradual climb up to Sevenoaks Weald. My heart rate climbed from 160 into the 170s, and I recall looking down at my wrist to check the effort and seeing 177. There was an almost other-worldly absence of pressure.

But back to yesterday. In a nutshell, I followed Millsy all the way up to Woolmer Green, whereupon he binned it on the ice, and I followed his bloodied carcass all the way back to London. My flabby core is so out of shape that it’s all achey today, and I’m saddle-sore into the bargain.

Looks like more snow’s on the way for Wednesday’s ride – sweet!


Ride to drink.

Ride to drink.

Post-Marmotte, I’ve enjoyed a month of downtime. I’ve found this period invaluable in recovering both physically and mentally, not so much from the event itself, but from the six-month build-up to it.

January to June of this year, I organised my life around the bike. Now clearly, I like cycling; but, in the weeks after achieving the biggest goal I’ve (so far) set myself on the bike, being free from the mental focus of preparing for the event has been a serious load off. Just having the option of riding, if I feel like it, is a luxury. Being able to drink to excess is, once again, a guilt-free pleasure. The gratuitous eating of cake at office parties – a delirious indulgence.

Predictably, since I returned from France, I’ve been on excellent form, so I’ve certainly been out on the bike – but not mid-week, and not if I didn’t feel like it. Mainly, I’ve been hammering my busted commute bike (nope, still haven’t broken it yet) around town at high speeds. I’ve also been out for a couple of rides with Millsy (who’s heading to the Pyrenees this week following a strong performance in the London Triathlon).

I went out yesterday for a 5-hour solo mission, and again, felt strong. I’ve been refusing all requests to enter further sportives this year, but now I’m not so sure…

Lessons I learned on the mountain


Mont Ventoux didn’t hit me in the legs; it hit me in the lower back. (more…)



I got my ass kicked twice this weekend by some very fast riders.

The Phoenix club ride started brisk and was full-on during the third hour. We started as 10 and finished as 8. I just about stayed in contention, but only just. Here’s my HR graph:

Phoenix club graph

Phoenix club graph

Monday’s ride was billed as a ‘social’ with some mates of Jonny‘s who have recently formed their own race team. The ‘Acuto‘ squad was 9-strong on the day, all clad in brand-new lycra team livery, and composed of an ex-pro, several current or former 2nd-cat racers, and this guy, a professional triathlete and xterra competitor. I was the incongruous tenth man in my Mornflake flouro kit.

To be fair I was on the pace for the first couple of hours, as we took a familiar route from Cobham over Shere and down to Ewhurst, easily the fastest I’ve ever ridden it. Then the speed began to hurt, and I was dropped on Leith Hill. It was in a way a fortuitous accident that after we went through Peaslake and began to head home, I took a wrong turn that landed me back in Ewhurst. I radio’d in, then bailed, riding across to Leith Hill (again) then over Coldhardbour to take a train from Dorking.

The moral of the story is, I need to ride with these guys more often. I had a really interesting chat with a guy on my Regent’s Park spin on Saturday, who told me he was a big believer in quality over quantity, and that 90 mins at 20 mph would be more valuable than 5 hrs at 16 mph (although he accepted that for events like La Marmotte there was no such thing as too many miles).