I survived my first hill climb Time Trial this week and I need to tell you all about it. But first, let me apologise. I realise that this little corner of the Internet – are we still capitalising Internet? – tends to morph into a full on cycling blog rather than generalised fitness blog over the summer as I delve deeper into my love affair with the wheels.
The love I have for cycling has been rampant since the long, heady days of my childhood, razzing my battered BMX round the pump track and into town, leaving it right to the last minute before my curfew to see how fast I could cycle home. My own mini TT and I didn’t even know it?
So as mine and Chris’ bike babies multiply all over the flat and into our tiny garden it’s clear that my love affair is showing no signs of slowing down and therefore I apologise for yet another blog about cycling if you’re not into bikes. The silver lining for you, however, is that the hockey season starts again tonight and autumn and winter is allll about trail running for me so do make sure you stick around for that, won’t you 😉
Becoming a ‘proper’ cyclist
This year, after many years of talking about it, looking into it and promptly doing sod all about it, I FINALLY joined a cycling club, with actual human cyclists who go on proper group rides. And lots of different rides there are too – Come And Try It rides for newbies and beginners, Steady Social rides at a steadier pace, pub rides, mtb rides and throughout the summer months, 10 mile and hill TTs, to name a few.
On our ‘proper’ club rides I’ve learnt how to ride in a peloton nice and close together, and now fully appreciate the beauty of proper hand signals to signify hazards like pot holes, drains, wandering pedestrians and rogue car doors. I’ve been on group road rides before but tend to bring up the rear (and a very nice rear it is too) so have a bit more space to see. With club rides, you ride so close together at a set pace – usually two abreast for easier overtaking – that you can’t actually see what’s in front of you – apart from your lovely club member’s arse of course. So the dancing hands that sometimes look like bad renditions of the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive are actually all very important.
It’s not just the hand signals that I’ve learnt either. I’ve even started to learn the roads further out from my usual routes after going on these rides. That’s right – Tess Agnew, paying attention to where she’s going, instead of bimbling along on the bike gushing about how much she loves cycling. These self-navigation skills will come in very handy for some exciting things happening in the coming months so stay tuned for more on that.
And then in addition learning the hand signals, the rules of peloton riding, the different types of rides and knowing whether I’m hard enough to step up to the next pace group, there are the specific learnings from within each ride – hence today’s blog.
I’ve never knowingly done a Time Trial before, or known much about it at all, so joining my new found bike buddies in a country road layby to pin a race number to my back and ride up a hill as fast as I could was an exciting (and slightly daunting) prospect.
Here’s what I learnt:
6 things I learned on my first Time Trial
I’ve wanted to do some racing for aaaaages – on the road and mtb – but have been too nervous to do so. How does TT actually work? Would I be fast enough? Have I got the right kit? Will they all be on TT bikes wearing sperm helmets? Do I ride there or drive there to save energy? How do I warm up? Will there be any other women there? And what if I come last?
Well, I found out the answers to all of those questions by employing the tried and tested mantra of the badass women’s cycling magazine, Casquette: JFDI (Just fucking do it, for those not in the know).
How does TT actually work? Time Trials are organised events – either informal club events with minimal entry fee or open events that require entry two weeks before – taking place throughout the spring and summer.
There various distances to race – 10, 25, 50 or 100 miles, or specific hill climb TTs like the one I did on Tuesday. Each rider must register and be given a race number to take part. You start from a held start (a lovely club member will hold your bike for you so you can be clipped in from the off instead of faffing with pedals), and everyone sets off in one-minute intervals according to your number. Ride the hill / distance, as fast as you can sustain without dying, then stop, get your breath back, cheer the others in and make your plan of attack for the next one.
You can read more about the history of Time Trial and what you need / don’t need on the Brighton Mitre website.
Would I be fast enough? I’d be as fast as I could go, which is exactly the same as what everyone else was doing, so yes.
Have I got the right kit? I’ve got a bike, helmet, legs and lungs, so yes.
Will they all be on TT bikes wearing sperm helmets? A couple, but I’d look stupid in a sperm helmet so it’s OK.
Do I ride there or drive there to save energy? Ride there with some of my Brighton Mitre CC chums 🙂
How do I warm up? Ride there and then recce the hill with one of my lovely club members and HSBC Breeze Champion Alison Lewis. (Watch a video of my first Breeze cycle ride with Alison here).
Will there be any other women there? There’ll be one less if I don’t go, won’t there. REPRESENT!
And what if I come last? Even if you do, you won’t notice as everyone goes in one-minute intervals from each other. You’ll be overtaken, you might overtake, but technically the only one to come in last is the one who starts last – if they can’t catch up with the others! Incidentally, I was second to last, and give zero fucks about this.
2. Pace yourself!
You’d be forgiven for thinking a TT is just thrashing yourself as fast as you can ride for a set distance. Strictly speaking, that’s exactly what it is – but it has to be sustainable for the whole way. In running terms, I guess it’s threshold pace, or a little more? Comfortably uncomfortable, as I used to call it. You’re pushing it, your heart rate is up, legs burning and breathing hard, but you can hold onto that pace for the whole duration – without blowing out your arse.
I used to mess up my threshold runs when marathon training back in the early days before I learnt how to pace myself, but at least it was only an understanding that me and my legs had to come to. On the bike there’s so much more to think about – which gear do you get into and when? Do you stand up on the inclines, and if you do, how long for? Should you brake for the corners or will you lose momentum? Don’t hit that hole in the road. Watch that gravel. Don’t ride over the poor dead badger, ffs.
There were moments in Tuesday’s TT where I think I could’ve gone faster, upped a gear, stood up to push, got on the drops for the downward undulations. But there were also periods where I was blowing out of my arse, unable to get enough air in my lungs, legs burning that little bit too much to hold on or push harder.
So lots of work to do on the pacing front, it seems – but a challenge I’m happy to accept!
3. Bring food for afterwards
Even though the actual hill we rode was only 2.5miles long, there was a seven mile ride to get there, a full recce ride of the hill and then a seven mile ride home. Why I didn’t bring even a little flapjack, banana or something for after I’ll never know. No one needs to meet hangry Tess, not least Tess herself.
I’ve never been very good at fuelling, apart from that 4hr55 run of my life when I surprised myself and got my marathon PB, finishing strong with negative splits. Running a marathon is scary shit, and requires – or forces you into – research and practice. It’s never occurred to me to practice fuelling/refuelling or pacing with cycling as it’s never been about performance for me so this is a whole new (and exciting) territory.
With only three weeks to go until my first century ride at VeloSouth this is probably not a good thing to be realising but we’ll see how it goes…
4. Bring something warm to wear afterwards!
You’d be surprised just how cold it is cycling at break neck speeds down the hill you’ve just climbed having cooled down at the top. When you’re climbing and descending as part of a ride you don’t notice the change in temperature so much but as we all had a sit down / vom / cheer at the top for everyone to come in (round of applause was the best bit for me), it got pretty cold pretty quickly and I had no arm warmers or layers to add back on before riding home.
Rookie error, now that the heatwave has gone and we’re left with ‘normal’ British summer weather – I will be packing a bag to leave in the club van next week!
5. Bring pub money!
I realise this is basically turning into a hindsight packing list but this one’s really important guys. The first step to nailing this is actually reading the posts in the club Facebook group properly to know that everyone will go to the pub afterwards. Then you’d have the foresight to bring more money than the £4 entry fee for a post-TT beer!
6. Bring lights!
Perhaps even more important than beer money (?) is lights. It makes me sad that at the end of August it’s already that time but our balmy long and light evenings are already turning to chilly dark ones so if you want to stay alive on the roads, make sure you’re seen!
This week I joined the millions of cyclists across the country ransacking draws, diving under the bed and checking old bags for the long-forgotten bike lights. Racing home to beat the dark was definitely good fun, but seriously guys – WHERE DID I PUT THEM?!
As my annual light witchhunt has been fruitless so far I’ll once again skip merrily down to my local bike shop to restock for the coming months!
So there you have it: lessons learned on my first hill climb Time Trial. Now that I’m a fully fledged member of Brighton Mitre CC I want to join more of the road rides and next season also have a go at track racing at nearby Preston Park Velodrome. Cyclocross season is starting imminently too and a few members are already taking part in the first local event this weekend. I might not be ready to have a go this year but it’s definitely something I want to try for 2019. And I’m gonna get on the TT events nice and early in the spring to do some benchmarking and build up my results.
Oh, and of course I’ll carry on mountain biking as that’s where my true love for cycling really lies. *Looks at beautiful mountain bike* It’s OK babes, mummy loves you. We’ll be together again this Sunday for another dose of singletrack flow courtesy of Marmalade MTB, don’t worry…
If you’re looking for a friendly, inclusive cycling club in Brighton, don’t take as long as I did to join Brighton Mitre CC. Come and Try It rides take place on the first and third Sunday of every month and are open to non-members for two rides. Women get three months free membership and then it’s only £20 a year so come join us!
And if you want to read / watch more of my bike-shaped shenanegins step this way.
Have you ever done a Time Trial? Any tips for my next one gratefully received!