Cycletta: A chat with Victoria Pendleton

As mentioned in the last post I'll be taking part in the Cycletta North cycling event in October. Woohoo!

I was offered a "media place" on the ride and I'm usually funny about accepting free things (remember I fartarsed around with those Zumba DVDs last year?). I feel uncomfortable blogging about something for any reason other than "this thought popped into my head today". So why yes to Cycletta?

  • It's a cool idea to encourage women to try cycling
  • It's in a part of England I've never visited before – good excuse to explore!
  • It's on closed roads with "gently undulating hills"… perfect for a fraidy cat!
  • It's been bugging the hell out of me that after five years of ownership my bike has actual cobwebs on it.
  • Gareth is a mad keen cyclist, as are many of our good mates. Last weekend they all pedalled from Edinburgh to St Andrews and back together. I don't aspire to that level of prowess, but it would nice to:
    • know what the hell when they're on about when they talk about various bike parts
    • perhaps go for a casual pootle around the countryside with them one day
    • instead of wanting to spew at the very idea.

So the plan is to give cycling a proper bash, and if I absolutely hate it after training for and taking part in Cycletta, then I will put the bike on Freecycle (near mint condition!).

. . .

I recently took part in a bloggers' conference call with World & Olympic Cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, who is the Cycletta ambassador. It was very cool to be able to pick the brains of a proper champion cyclist!

She was quizzed on everything from cycling tips to cycling fashion so once it was my turn all the good questions had been covered. I present you with my pair of "Move Over Jeremy Paxman" enquiries:

Do you have any advice for anyone who
a) can barely ride up hills, and
b) is shitscared of coming back down them?

Here is the sage advice of World and Olympic champ Victoria Pendleton:

Going up…

  • Make use of your whole gear range. "Lots of people stick to the same couple of gears – you need to be using all of them and know how they feel and when to engage them. Earlier rather than later is best!"
  • Alternate sitting and getting out of the saddle to give different muscles in your legs a rest
  • Go at your own pace – if you're tempted to go faster than you're capable of or try to keep up with faster rides you'll conk out. She said, "I do suffer from a bit of that riding with the boys sometimes – I have tendency to try and keep up with them then I die a horrible death before I get to the top!"
  • Going slower than you're capable of "will make you suffer too", so stick to your natural pace.

Coming down…

  • Scan the road ahead of you – "look out for obstacles, potholes and potential hazards"
  • Keep your head up – "it's very tempting to just look down when you're descending but it can make you more nervous"
  • Using too much brakes can, "make it worse and more dangerous so you have to be able to relax and let the brakes go a little bit"
  • If it's very steep it's really helpful to put your weight back over the back of the saddle… so get out of the saddle and move your weight backwards towards the the back of the seat – "distributing your weight that way might make you feel more control on your descent".

I wish I could say I'm looking forward to putting Victoria's advice to the test 😉

Now here's the second question, which was contributed by Dr G:

What's the top speed you've ever reached on the track?

Her fastest ever speed at the velodrome is 78km per hour (48.5 miles per hour): "Riding behind the motorbike on the track gives you a slipstream and you get the chance to go faster than you could on your own. You can't really see much at that speed but it's really good!"


There are two Cycletta events scheduled for 2011:

Cycletta South: Whipsnade Park on Sunday 11th September

Cycletta North: Tatton Park on Sunday 2nd October

Entry price is £45 per event and the deadline for entry is 31 July 2011. For registration and full event information, visit 

Image from Cycletta.

Friday Link Feast #15

What do you mean, it's Saturday?!

  • The Baby-Sitters Club Changed My Life
    Loved this post by a bloke called Stu about how Stacey The Well-Dressed Diabetic From New York helped the girls in his life understand his Type 1 diabetes.
  • Cycletta – Cycling events for women
    Any UK cycling ladies out there? I'll be taking part in the Cycletta North bike ride on October 2 in Tatton Park, Cheshire. Cycletta events are women only bike rides on safe, traffic free roads for complete novices and experienced riders alike.

    I was offered a media place and my first reaction when I saw the email was to scream/delete – not coz of the distance (can hear my hardcore cycling pals snorting at 40km 😉 but because five years after buying my bike I'm still too shitscared to ride it! Once or twice a year is pretty rubbish Cost Per Ride economics.

    But I ended up saying YES coz Cycletta seems like a great way to give cycling a proper go, once and for all. More on this soon – including a wee interview with Olympic Gold medallist Victoria Pendleton (woo!) – but thought I'd mention the event now in case anyone out there was up for it too!

  • Medicinal Marzipan – Body Lovin' Homework
    I met Mara at Fitbloggin and she was smart, hilarious and charismatic as heck. As soon as I got home I stalked casually perused her blog and discovered Body Lovin' Homework, a series of writing prompts "created with the express intention of bettering our relationships with our bodies through creative means". I tried out some of the exercises and it was powerful stuff.
  • Zen Habits – The Spiral of Successful Habits
    I know I've banged on about baby steps around here far too often but this post reiterates how small actions can grow into honking huge changes!
  • Green Gourmet Girafe – Why does food history matter?
    You could spend a week reading this amazing post from Johanna – it's packed with fantastic links and insights about food history and memory and meaning. A must for food nerds!

The Amazing Adventures of Philippa

Philippa Philippa, from Hampshire England, is a longtime Dietgirl reader. She's just finished the Up & Running 5K Course and inspired my socks off with the amazing changes she made over the eight weeks, inside and out.

I asked if she'd write about her running experience for you guys and she kindly obliged!

Running was for fit people. Cool, confident people with bouncy ponytails who never broke a sweat. Not people who once ate a whole takeout pizza, plus side dish, plus dessert for dinner, nor people who got breathless walking up stairs. Running was for other people.

So how did I end up in the park on my day off, wearing trainers and a sports watch!?

A year ago I'd been in much the same position. I'd downloaded the Couch to 5K programme and gave it a go… for a whole 10 days. I turned purple, almost hacked up a lung and proved all the things I thought I knew about running, including the fact that I couldn't do it. I went back to the couch and the calorie counting. This had worked for the last few years, taking me from 220lb to 162lb. There was never much exercise involved; I didn't stick with anything for long.

So why would running be different this year? I was still a bit overweight, I still hated public exercise and I had already established that I just couldn't do it. I wrote to Shauna about Up & Running and she assured me that being a bit overweight and unfit wasn't a problem. My negative little brain insisted, C'mon, she doesn't mean you, you're a whole new level of couch potato! But Shauna gave me a firm nudge, saying that if I really wanted to do it, it was possible.

I really really wanted to. I signed up for Up & Running and for the next eight weeks I walked, skipped and stretched. I did arm swings, side-stepped and skipped some more.

And I started to run. Slowly.

It was so slow that I could probably have walked faster! But the first time I ran I laughed out loud, right there in the park. I was like a kid in the playground going down a slide, that feeling that makes you want to shout, Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, look at what I can do! That first 10 seconds of running was amazing. That was what got me out there for the next session – I wanted more of that feeling.

Occasionally the training messed with my head. I had to push Little Miss Grumpy out the door when she didn’t want to go. I'd doubt my abilities as I read the training plan, “They want me to do what?". If I had a 'bad' workout I'd be convinced the magic was gone and everything was about to come crashing down. Years of negativity about my abilities weren't going to disappear in a few weeks. But it wasn't magic that had got me running – that wasn't going to disappear either! It was simply an off-day and with the support and advice from Coach Julia and the other ladies, I got back out there and kept going.

Along the way I've learned so much more than just how to run. The person who started the Course didn’t know what she was capable of. She was scared of so many things, with failure being top of the list. She hated what she looked like and she sure as hell didn’t want to draw attention to herself either.

PhilippaBut now? Looking in the mirror I can still see the stretch marks and a belly roll and thighs, but when I run it doesn't matter. My thighs aren't monsters any more, they're strong and powerful. And they work! I've never treated my body very kindly, damaging it and filling it with substandard fuel, but it's mine and despite what I've put it through it still works. Whenever I run it does what I ask it to do, rewarding me for treating it more kindly.

The Course finished with us completing a 5K race. Each training session had covered a maximum distance of 4km, so I wondered if I had it in me.  As I started my stopwatch I was terrified. The old feelings of self-doubt were there until I ran past a little old lady. She asked me how many miles I was running.

"Three miles!" I said.

And just like that the fear was gone. She saw a chick in running clothes, running. She saw a runner. So of course a runner would be running a few miles on a lovely sunny morning! God bless that lady.

I finished my run in 37 minutes 8 seconds feeling good. Not anything amazing, just good. I came home and it all felt like a bit of an anti-climax.

But then the tears came.  Wonderful tears, as another Up and Runner called it, "talking with water". Thirty years of fearing failure poured out out with the realisation I’d accomplished something I'd never thought possible.

I'm planning my running future now. I did a 5k local parkrun this past weekend, then in mid June I'm going to Scotland to run with some of the other Up & Running ladies. I'll meet Shauna and thank her in person for being a huge part of my journey (and to apologise for using that cheesy word!).

I still have some weight to lose but it's not the only goal now. I want to run well and I know that being a little lighter will help, but I want to achieve things with this body of mine. I want to run 5km FAST! I want to do the Up & Running 10K course in September and I want to run a marathon some day!

I don't know how yet or what else will happen along the way, but I do know my body can do amazing things now. And I won’t let fear stop me any more.

New Years Goals Check-in: May

I'm doing monthly updates on my New Year Goals.

I'm a wee bit stunned that I've made it to a fifth New Years Goals Check-In. Part of me thought it would have all gone to pot by now! But I guess keeping the goals small and sane has ensured they are do-able.

May highlights

  • The biggest highlight was, derr, the Fitbloggin conference. For both the people I met and the feeling of renewed enthuasism for living that I left with. Holy cornballs, Batman. But after a year or two in the wildnerness, the stinky depression and the utter disconnection from my body, I finally felt like I was all joined up again. I felt like I was actually there. Cool.
  • I accidentally started salsa lessons! My pal Claire and I went to try a new Zumba class this week and they had a special offer – stay for the salsa class afterwards for only £1. We's planned to dash off to kickboxing afterwards but I've always wanted to try salsa so I put down that extra pound. BARGAIN!
  • The class went on and on for 90 minutes and with the hectic hour of Zumba beforehand I was utterly knackered but it was so much bloody fun. I was so busy trying to follow the steps that the time just zapped by. Four days later my hip and stomach muscles are still singing!
  • I'm definitely back into those size 18 jeans. Although I bought new jeans from a different shop the other day and they were a 20. So the labels are meaningless as we have recently bitched about, but the takeaway here is that a pair of jeans that couldn't be wrestled over my stomach in January now fit great.
  • I went to the USA for a week and lost a pound. Last time I went to the USA for a week I gained ten pounds. Progress!
  • The food diary, meal planning, consistent exercising and pause-to-think-before-eating are still going well.

June is going to be about blowing the dust and rust off my bike, dabbling with kettlebells and testing the limits of the food processor with vast amounts of instant frozen yogurt. What are you getting up to this month?

Fitbloggin #1: Beagles and Walmarts

My Fitbloggin adventure got off to a slightly grumpy start when my connecting flight was cancelled, my luggage was lost and the US Customs Sniffer Beagle rightfully busted me for attempting to smuggle a tasty salad into the country.

I'd bought the salad at Edinburgh Airport to eat on the plane but never got round to it, so I thought I'd scarf it down by the baggage carousel before I officially entered the country at passport control. But noooooo, Sniffer Beagle had to go be really good at his job and stop me destroying American agriculture!

Beagle Note: sample Sniffer Beagle only.
I did not take photo of actual Sniffer Beagle, that would be illegal.

I eventually got to Baltimore by train, amused that it took 7 hours to get all the way from Edinburgh to Newark but 10 hours to get from Newark to Baltimore. Hehe.


Think I'll need to bust out the bullet points now…

  • I awoke at dawn but luckily there was a CVS and Whole Foods nearby so I could wander around jetlaggedly marvelling at American Goods. You can keep your Statues of Liberty and Yellowstone National Parks, give me your well-stocked drugstores and supermarkets. Swoon! Find of the day: Justins Peanut Butter Cups.
  • I met Carla! My beloved podcasting partner in crime. I opened the hotel room door and there she stood with her Pantene hair and beautiful smile, looking exactly like her Twitter avatar. But then she started moving and talking! It took me a good fifteen minutes to get used to her having three dimensions. After that awkwardness passed we yammered for hours as if we'd known each other for the cliched all our lives!
  • I met Denise! We go way back to the early 00s when we carved blog posts onto rocks with mammoth tusks. It was so good finally meet her. She generously offered to drive me to the shops to buy some workout clothes – I had enough normal clothes in my carry-on for a couple of days but no gear for the fitness activities coming up on Friday. Denise rules!
  • On the way to the car park I held open the door for someone with fabulous hair and it turned out to be Carrie! Another lovely person met from my Meet Or Bust list!
  • The Walmart Mini-Roadtrip was ace. It was peeing down with rain as we zoomed around Baltimore. The sky was black and lightningy, which almost made the Rapture billboards seem credible. BUT NOT QUITE.
  • I scored some great workout clothes at Walmart, saw the most enormous bottle of milk ever, and learned from the checkout lady that Governer Schwarzenegger had been a cheating git (I'd been out of the news loop awhile). Thank you again Denise for a great afternoon!
  • Afterwards I hid in my room for awhile to get psyched for The Room Full Of Stranger-Friends. I know I wasn't alone with the whole sneaking-back-to-your-room-to-recharge thing. It's weird you can be so delirious with anticipation to meet people yet utterly shitscared at the same time!
  • But once in the fray it was all okay. The conference kicked off with a Name Tag Social, in which we decorated our name tags and mingled. It was good fun – being a conference for people who blog about fitness, you could always find something to talk about.
  • Every was so friendly and real with none of the "And who are you?" dismissive glancing at your name tag that I've experienced at some events. It felt like we were all on equal footing… a really cosy, welcoming vibe.
  • At one point I confess… I had a wee Fat Girl Freakout. I said to Carla, "People keep looking at my STOMACH! I know I've stacked on the weight but dude, I think I need a t-shirt that says NOT PREGNANT, JUST FAT". Carla with her usual patient wryness replied, "Are you sure they're not just trying to read your name tag?"
  • By 8pm I had reached that deliciously delirious stage of jetlag where you love the world to bits. Good timing as I was lucky to wind up having a dinner with these extremely groovy folks – Carla, Charlie, Gail, Julie Julie, Kerri, Laurie, Lisa, Sean, Steve and TJ (please forgive me if I missed anyone, it was a big table!). Tasty burgers and hilarious times ahoy!
  • Back to the room… roomie Jennette had arrived! And she had brought an autographed Chocolate & Vicodin book and a jar of my favourite Trader Joe's Almond Butter. What a legend 🙂

There will be another Fitbloggin installment or two but I promise to keep it lean!