The week after Ride 100 I finally got to start riding with my local club, Ampthill Velo Club. They were a newly formed, social group, they ride out from our local town, every Sunday morning at 08:00. My Mum read about them in a local magazine and suggested I go out with them. I’d been looking for a new club ride since I’d moved to the area. I’d tried to ride with them on a few occasions before Ride 100 to help with my training but with a young daughter 08:00 starts can be quite difficult. It’s not the getting up, we’re usually up it’s leaving so early and getting back at lunchtime or later, feeling brain dead after exerting yourself, being left with no energy to look after a baby for the rest of the day. That’s the biggest problem. As I was working in London Monday – Friday my time with Savannah in the week was limited to 1 or 2 hours per evening when I got home so taking up one of my precious weekend days seemed quite selfish on my part.
However on this day I made it along, wrecked with nerves and still very tight legs from the week before. Ampthill Velo Club (AVC) quite proudly publish their riding speed as 16 – 17mph average, this isn’t the type of club ride where other riders pick up the slower riders at the back. If you’re slow you get dropped. This is a club of good, strong, fast riders. Given I’d ridden 100 miles the week before at 18.2mph I prayed with some optimism I’d be OK.
I arrived at the town square, I was early and the first one there. This is a terrible habit of mine; I waste a lot of hours of my life being early. After a short wait the riders soon started to appear and all very politely introduced themselves. I was wearing my Prudential Ride London 100 Jersey, not because I wanted everyone to know I’d done the ride but because it was the nearest match jersey I had to the AVC jersey. I didn’t want to stand out anymore than I would; I was the only girl in this club. My jersey did start conversation, the other riders asked me about the event and we quickly got on to the subject of times. Some other AVC riders had also ridden the event. When I told them my time I remember Richard reeling off a list of numbers that I can’t remember completely but he said, Nicole it appears you’re our fastest rider in the Ride 100 event. I wasn’t quite sure where to put my face, I didn’t know if this would get me off to a good or bad start on my first day.
I visited Yorkshire recently, we’d booked a cheap weekend away at a pub The Black Bull in High Bentham. I checked the British Cycling Events website and by chance found a sportive on the same weekend. The event was organised by The Open Wheel I looked at their website and the event route looked great, taking in at least 50 miles of Le Tour stage 1 with a French themed feed station offering moules marinières, strong coffee and even a small glass of wine halfway. The route was 94 miles and listed as mostly flat. I sent an email off to the organiser asking for a copy of the route map, I was quite nervous by this mostly flat terminology, quite flat for who, a local who’s used to riding monster hills. I received a map with 5500ft of climbing, so this equals mostly flat does it, I’d argue it equals a lot of climbing. However I’d made a commitment this year to make friends with hills. I wanted to enjoy the challenge of climbing, stop fearing hills, I wanted to embrace them as they are a big part of cycling so this event was going to be part of my commitment. I stopped worrying about it and booked myself in.
On the day we arrived in Yorkshire it was beautiful, the sun was shining and it was a barmy 24 degrees in June. We checked in to the pub which turned out to be lovely, the landlord and landlady were very welcoming. There wasn’t a lot to see in High Bentham so on the advice of one of the locals we took a drive up on the Dales. Savannah loved it up here. She’d been sat in the car for most of the day so she was finally free to run around. The views were simply breathtaking, you could see the Three Peaks of Yorkshire. a famous walk that people do in 24hrs.
We also took a drive to the town of Clapham, this is where our ride would start the following day. Clapham turned out to be a gorgeous little village with a really nice pub and hotel The New Inn so we stayed for dinner. They served delicious, local, home made food and it was really well presented. The children’s portions were gigantic and Savannah did her very best to finish the steak pie, she loved it. I didn’t get to visit this cafe as it was closed, it’s also in Clapham but I get the impression they like cyclists.
The weather forecast for Saturday, the day of the Yorkshire 101: Grand Reserve Special Edition was not looking good. Heavy rain, thunderstorms and even lightening but I wasn’t going to let this deter me. I actually had other things on my mind, those hills. Kidstones Bank was on the route, the King of the Mountain (KOM) for Le Tour Stage 1. I’d stupidly read some reviews of it and it sounded horrible, one of the corners maxes out at 20% and kicks and hurts.
The next morning the pub did a great job of preparing us breakfast, a huge bowl of steaming hot porridge filled up with jam and sliced bananas. They also served up an OK capuccino too so I was all set to go. So far there was no sign of rain but the bunting in the village was flapping in the wind, it was definitely very wild out there. On arrival at Clapham Village Hall where the ride started I was a little disappointed to see so few riders congregated. On this occasion, not knowing the area, riding a sportive gave me the chance to take in the best the area has to offer without getting lost but I love riding sportives and don’t mind paying money for them because I enjoy meeting other riders, I like riding events where there’s large numbers of cyclists. I have a competitive spirit, I am driven by a challenge and I like seeing someone ahead of me and trying to chase them down, keeping them in my line of sight, it motivates me. The weather forecast most definitely kept a few people in their beds today.
We collected our numbers and timing chips, got ourselves ready, packed our pockets full of energy gels and bars and said goodbye to my Mum, Dad and Savannah and set off on our journey. My current favourite energy food to fill up my pockets with is the PowerBar Ride energy bar. I buy them in a box from Wiggle as it works out a bit cheaper. I usually start off eating one of these after 40 minutes or if I’m going out for an early morning ride, before work, straight out of bed I’ll eat one of these instead of having a bowl of a porridge. They’re really fast acting and they taste great, both flavours. They’re not very good on warm days though, they do melt but there was no concern for that in Yorkshire.
The ride had no sooner started and we found ourselves climbing with strong force winds blowing in our faces but so far no sign of rain. The climb out of Austwick was a good leg burner but I couldn’t help notice how beautiful everywhere was and this is when it struck me how awesome it was going to be that Le Tour is coming to Yorkshire. England as a nation is currently nursing a World Cup hangover, England are going home, the players are apologising and trying to avoid further humiliation with a promise to try and beat a meaningless match against Costa Rica. The nation is desperate to feel proud of their country. Well as a rode around this route and took in stunning villages, dry stone wall lined roads I just couldn’t stop thinking about how proud I’m going to feel watching Le Tour in Yorkshire. Everywhere we rode through, you could feel the energy, the excitement, campsites were ready, the bunting was up, the flags were out and yellow painted bikes were displayed in front of every pub. Furthermore we’re good at cycling and we sometimes win.
Then the heavens opened but Yorkshire still looked amazing. I remember checking, imagining what I could see around me was on the TV and it still looked epic. Climbing Kidstones Bank with torrential rain smacking me in the face motivated me to keep going, not to stop. When that 20% gradient corner kicked in and hurt like crazy the rain was coming down so hard but I just kept turning my pedals. I could see another cyclist ahead of me so I used him as my guide, as long as I could keep him in my sight I’d be OK, I’d make it to the top. And to the top I went, I felt the most insane sense of relief and satisfaction when I got there. I’m just a few weeks off 40 and I’ve just ridden up Le Tour’s stage 1 KOM and I lead a group of riders up and no one overtook me. We were rewarded with a descent after this with a beautiful road surface, because Le Tour is coming I think the roads have been repaired so we flew down.
On a sportive ride I usually wouldn’t stop at the feed station, I’d usually just eat my own gels and bars and carry on through going for a good time instead but I was completely soaked and in need of a hot drink. My Mum, Dad and Savannah had been following us around the course so far. It’s so lovely when they drive past because Savannah’s face lights up when she sees me on my bike. I hope this is a positive message to her, I want to inspire her to live a fit and healthy life. Once stopped at the feed station I swapped clothes, I had a complete change of jersey, jacket and shorts in my Dad’s car so I thought I’d start fresh for the 2nd half. There wasn’t much point but it felt good for a few minutes and at least I was warm and dry while I stopped. We actually stopped for around an hour, we had a good feed, drank loads of coffee and chatted to the other riders that had made it through. I also spoke to the organiser and asked about the landscape to come. He mentioned a hill in Cowgill and said it was twice as bad as Kidstones Bank, sounds brilliant.
We set off from the feed station, this time saying goodbye to my Mum, Dad and Savannah. One of the other riders had suffered a terminal, technical problem and my Dad had offered to drive him back to the start, to his own car because the broom wagon was a long way off. The rain had stopped for a while as we headed out but it didn’t take long for it to come back. It was the heaviest type of rain, giant rain drops fell and we were soaked again in an instant.
There were a number of rides happening that day, all offering the thrill of riding along the route of Le Tour so we had to be sharp looking for the right directional arrows as some were very similar. We met up with some riders doing another event and one guy from East Finchley where I used to live. He fancied himself as a really strong rider but said Yorkshire was kicking his butt, he said nothing can prepare you for this. I thought I was doing OK, I was going a bit slower than normal and the hills were really hard but I was loving it and really enjoying it despite the weather.
We carried on riding up and down for the whole day and then we rode past a sign saying Cowgill. There was a constant climb after this, it was tough but nothing terrible. We fooled ourselves in to believing that we’d become accustomed to the hills and we could handle them and maybe we’d ridden the horrible beast the organiser had spoken of. Then we turned a corner and were faced with the steepest hill I think I’ve ever seen, at least on a bike anyway. There were a number of riders already at the bottom and I rode past all of them thinking this was the hill. Then it turned and kicked and went up again, and again, and it just kept kicking and hurting. We had 77 miles in our legs at this point and we were soaked through to our skin. I can only compare this climb in my mind to climbing a wall, I had to zig zag sections of it and I’ve never done this on my bike before. I was determined not to get off, walking was going to be harder and slower and I would’ve been so disappointed if I didn’t complete the whole ride on my bike. Luckily I’d read another blog just days before and they suggested zig zagging as a way to climb really steep hills. It’s obviously dangerous on roads where you’re likely to encounter cars but I’m not even sure a normal road car would get up this ridiculous thing. I did a lot of breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth to try and keep the oxygen flowing and I just gritted my teeth (whilst trying to breath) and got myself through it. The gradient maxed out at 20% and the climb was 1.6miles long, it was epic. I had to put the pain in my legs to the back of my mind and just keep telling myself over and over that if you get off and walk it’s going to hurt a lot more.
As far as climbing went I thought that was it having studied the route profile, it looked like it was all downhill from now. We did get to ride an amazing 18km downhill section after this and knowing that was coming was definitely a motivator whilst I was climbing Cowgill. However with 88 miles in my legs I turned a corner and was faced with not 1 but 3 really tough climbs. I was absolutely exhausted at this point, I’d be out for over 6 hours. I was soaked through and I’d had enough and I did swear very loudly which possibly assisted me getting over those last 3 hills.
I finally arrived back at the village hall and it was very quiet. Mum, Dad and Savannah were waiting along with the organisers. Only 11 other riders had made it back so far and 3 of them hadn’t done the full ride, they’d turned around and gone back because the weather was so bad. The organiser was very complimentary, I’d done a quick time and ridden well to make it back. It turns out I was the 8th fastest rider on the day overall and the quickest lady. My official time was 07:18:25 but if you exclude my feed stop Strava clocked my riding time at 06:21:33 with an average speed of 14.4mph. I usually ride at 16/17mph locally so given the weather and the hills I was very happy.
If any one tells you they’re broken hearted about the world cup just remind them Le Tour is coming to Yorkshire and it’s going to be awesome, the world will be watching, we should all be really proud and we might even win something.
A few weeks after I started my Herbalife program, in late April I also started training once a week with my former personal trainer from London, Reza. I used to live in London, I lived there for 15 years. I’ve worked with a few personal trainers, they’ve all been excellent and we all went on different missions together but there’s something quite different about Reza. The first time I met him was at a spin class in Finchley. I used to go boxing every Saturday morning but on this particular week the boxing class was cancelled. I checked the gym class schedule and noticed there was a space free for spin so I booked in and went along. I had no idea what I was turning up too. There was a queue of really fit, attractive girls waiting outside the studio. When the class before ended there was a huge rush and everyone waiting surged forward to grab a bike, I just held back and watched with surprise. I entered the studio and found myself on a bike at the front, I thought nothing of it, I was OK at spin, I was fairly fit at this point. I think this was 2009, I’d recently started road biking. Previously I’d been mountain biking since 2003.
Reza arrived, he had this presence, and he was in command of those ladies, all of them. He switched the music on and we were in full flight from the off. I was in the front row so I had to give it my all. We did moves on that bike that I’ve never seen before. He played the most awesome music that kept the energy so high. I wouldn’t survive the classes without the music. I made it all the way until the end of the class, I was bright purple in the face at the end but I’d done it. I went home and collapsed on the sofa, I stayed there for about 4 hours and didn’t speak for the rest of the day. I’d trained at my maximum level, my body was done but I wanted to go back for more.
I wasn’t aware that I’d broken in to a little spinning cult. This group of girls were so dedicated they would get up at 06:00 a week before on the Friday morning when the gym’s booking system opened to book themselves in to that class. The places would be gone by 06:05. They had their own systems in place, they would share membership numbers and login details and take it turns to get up just before 06:00 to do the booking in shift. Unfortunately I was now hooked and became part of this cult too but I didn’t have anyone to share with so I had to routinely get up each Friday morning an hour before my alarm, login to the booking system, go through this frantic 5 minute panic where you’d watch the numbers available go from 14 to 0 in a matter of minutes and pray that one of the places was mine. Sometimes it all happened so quickly and I was half asleep at the time that I didn’t know if I’d got a place until I got the confirmation email through. I feel totally weird that I did that for months and months, even when I was away on holiday but there was no other way to get in that class.
So I’m back training with Reza in 2013, I don’t live in London anymore so I’m driving 50 miles to his new gym in London. He’s moved on quite a long way. He’s bought his own gym with his brother, Park View in Finchley. It’s got a great vibe, all the right equipment for the way Reza trains, a nice sized studio with excellent spin bikes and really good staff. Week 1, I hadn’t trained with Reza for over 12 months so he said we’re going back to level 1. Wow! I forgot how much this hurt but it was a different kind of pain to cutting your finger, it’s the kind of pain you can tolerate because you know there’s going to be an amazing result. I decided to start training with Reza again because by this point I was doing some decent mileage on my bike and my confidence was growing. The fear of crossing the line before 9hrs had pretty much vanished in my mind and I was starting to think I could actually consider a decent time around 6 or 7hrs. Reza had different ideas, from day 1 he had his mind set on a goal of sub 5hr30 I just didn’t know at the time. We focused on endurance and strength training. I would do 30 minutes of spin, followed by 30 minutes of core work then have a 10 – 15 minute rest and a quick refuel, usually a carb drink. Then the real work would start, a 1hr personal training (PT) session. The PT session with Reza is not conventional. His training focuses on functional training, using your own body with some weight work. He’s so in tune with how the body works, he completely engineers exercises to a different level compared to how I’ve worked with PT’s in the past. He also does pretty ridiculous exercises, there were moments when I had a bungee around my waist and I’d be running across the gym trying to fight his force pulling me back. I’ve had to run around the studio dragging him behind me sat on a towel, he has a whole work out designed using a towel and it’s one of the most painful group of exercises I’ve ever done. Whatever he made me do, he got it so right. Alongside my Herbalife nutrition program and regular cycling within 6 weeks my body was transformed, the power was back in my legs, my endurance was improving and with all this came confidence and self-belief. There was also a lot of pain. I worked my legs so hard I would struggle to walk out of the gym sometimes and for days after I would be in agony. Sometimes I couldn’t ride my bike as planned because Reza had worked me so hard. The training was getting so intense I’d need to take my Mum or my sister with me, I required a chauffeur to drive me home. I was physically exhausted and totally incapable of the 50 mile drive. I was also worried if I got stuck in traffic my legs might seize up.
I can’t remember the exact words he used but Reza had this theory. To do with women who’ve just had a baby, he thought they were in their prime to train for sports events. We’ve been through a pain threshold, we’ve felt deep emotion and we were on the right level to make that connection with our bodies and go to the next level. I definitely went to a different place during Ride 100 and I’ll never know for sure if having a baby prepared me for it but it makes some sense to me. I switched off from all the pain that I felt in my body, I attached myself to the emotion and let that take me home to the finish line. I like to think I have good mental strength anyway, I have the ability to tell myself to keep going against the odds and I think this is required for a long, endurance event if you want to cross the line in a good time. You can ride an event like Ride 100 in 9hrs and have a really enjoyable day, stop at the feed stations, go at 12mph and see all the sights or you can push yourself and ride at 18mph or faster and get back without knowing where you’ve really been. It doesn’t matter how you do it, do it your own way neither is better or right.
By March I was starting to feel quite good, my weight loss was going in the right direction. I’d lost 2 stone since Savannah was born the previous August. The first stone came off very quickly, just a few weeks. The second took a lot longer, a lot of effort. I messed about with diets. I did the Dukan diet for a while but I already had very low energy because I wasn’t getting good sleep, Savannah was just a few months old. Serving myself a plate of ham and cottage cheese as dinner was quite bad for my self-esteem. The diet made me feel quite unwell both physically and mentally. I’d done it before, successfully and it was ok because I was well, I had good energy and I was getting regular sleep but this time, straight after pregnancy when your body needs nutrients and energy, for me it was really bad.
So Jamie and I were heading up to Liverpool for a friends surprise birthday. It would be our first night away together and our first proper night out since Savannah was born. Luckily we have a lot of local family support, Mum, Dad, sisters, Aunts, Uncles so we have lots of opportunities to get out.
I knew Grace, my friend’s sister had been successful in her own weight loss with Herbalife but I hadn’t seen her since her major transformation. I also knew a bit about the Herbalife program and I thought it would suit me. I’m very all or nothing, I’m either 100% focused or I’m totally off the wagon. Finding balance is the missing link for me.
Later in the evening I got chatting to Grace and she offered me a 3 day trial of Herbalife shakes which included some vitamin tablets. I knew I could do it for 3 days so I agreed to give it a go. Typically, of me I mentally sat by my post box for the next few days waiting for the package to arrive. I was completely set and focused ready to take this on. I was almost certain the mix of protein shakes and healthy dinners and snacks would suit my lifestyle because I often found myself, at home with a young baby eating really nutritionally poor food that worked around Savannah’s feeding time, mostly toast with cheese in the day and if I was feeling time rich a slice of tomato on top.
My Herbalife pack finally arrived, I read all the instructions and went off shopping to buy all the other items I needed. For the first day I did feel a little bit light headed but I just sucked it up and got on with it. I figured you’re cutting down on the number of calories and having mostly liquid so I put this down to normal body adjustment. The next day I felt OK, a few tummy rumbles but it was so convenient, a shake for breakfast, a mid morning snack, another shake for lunch, another snack then an evening meal of protein and veg or salad. In terms of cooking that was simple, throw a load of salad on a plate and grill a piece of meat or fish. It worked perfectly around Savannah because the shake took a few seconds to prepare and it was easy to drink. I ate nuts, yogurts and fruit for my snacks. After my 3 day trial I’d lost 5lbs, amazing. This is so easy, I can do this and I actually feel great, no bloating, I’m full of energy and I can adapt it easily to fit in around my cycle training. On the days when I was planning to ride my bike I’d make myself a bowl of porridge and mix 2 scoops of chocolate protein powder in, it’s tastes really good. There’s no way I could get up the hills without carbs. Grace also recommended some of the other products from the Herbalife 24 sport specific range. I started drinking a product called prolong when I was out on my ride. It’s a carbohydrate drink designed for cyclists riding around 4hrs. I found this worked really well for me, it’s nicer than gels. So I was making this plan work for me, I kept in touch with Grace via email, text and she has a Facebook group. We’d exchange recipes that we’d make and enjoy to help each other break any potential monotony of meat and veg. I did live on chilli, I’d prepare a huge batch with 2 or 3lb of mince and fill it with protein rich beans like black beans, pinto beans and some nice vegetables. I’d serve this up with a big salad or if I was riding the next day I’d include a small portion of lentils, quinoa or other protein rich grains and sometimes brown rice. I’d also mix my shakes in my blender and add a banana to get extra carbs if I was going for a ride. I wasn’t sticking to the Herbalife weight loss plan exclusively; I was making it work for me and my active lifestyle.
Within 6 weeks I’d seen a total body transformation, I’d lost over a stone and I’d hit my dream target weight of 9st12. I was bursting with energy, my skin was glowing and my body was looking pretty good for a new mum. The benefit to my cycling was enormous, my average speed on a ride started to increase, my stamina was improving and overall my confidence was growing. I started to feel really strong and the big event in August no longer felt like an impossible task. My own personal goal post of crossing the line before the broom wagon of 9hrs was moving, I was now starting to focus on a potential, decent time of sometime around 7hrs.