Friday, 27 July 2012

Tour de France 2012 - Allez Team Sky

It didn't seem appropriate for a UK based, cycling focused blog, not to celebrate the moment in history that was the first British winner of the Tour de France. I thought about writing something about how marvellous the win would be for British Cycling, or maybe a narrative about how Team Sky dominated the majority of the race or perhaps an analysis of how Bradley Wiggins won the race?

To be honest by the time I got around to writing this post, thousands of other people have done all of the above so instead of subjecting you to more Pixie thoughts on the subject of TDF 2012, I'll let some of my favourite images of this years tour do the talking instead - Enjoy.
The picture Britains cyclists waited so long for

Bradley Wiggins clinches overall victory

The final stage of the race - Wiggo and Cav ready to pounce for the stage win

Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome 
Wiggo - Classic TDF image

Team Sky in a formation we all became very accustomed to

After the yellow jersey was secured - the aftermath of a hard day in the saddle

Cav crashes on stage 4

Cav wins the final stage for four final stage wins in a row

Thomas Voeckler on his way to king of the mountains

Fabian Cancellara on his way to a win in the Prologue

Andre Griepel wins stage 4

David Millar wins his fourth Tour stage - A great win for one of the sports true characters

David Millar after taking stage 12

Chris Anker Sorenson - This is what happens when you try to remove a newspaper that is jammed in the front wheel - Yes he finished the race

Peter Sagan sprints to victory in stage 6

Cadel Evans stage 11

Nicholas Roche working hard

Phillipe Gilbert stage 11
Chris Froome wins stage 6

There are so many great images from this years Tour that this post probably could have been three or four times the length that it is. I hope that some of the images provide an insight for non cyclists reading this and for the cyclists reading this I hope that one or two might have captured what this years Tour meant for you.

As always, thanks for taking the time to visit the blog and have a look through the rambling thoughts of the Pixie, I hope you can find the time to visit the blog again in the near future.


If you are the owner of any of the above pictures or you know the identity of the owner please get in touch and I will credit the owners for the relevant pictures - Thanks VP

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Speed increasing, climbing getting easier!

Just a mini post this one...........

Over the last few weeks I have noticed that since I took Simon's (Total Cycling Performance) advice to change my training regime and just as importantly the composition of my nutritional intake, I have seen a very real increase in on the road cycling performance.

To recap on previous posts my training programme is now much more structured and is focusing on developing muscle strength, core strength, cycling stamina and developing my lactate threshold through very focused training sessions that are regulated by heart rate rather than "how I feel"
It's early days as yet but after the first couple of weeks I noticed that on my regular training routes my average speed increased by 2 mph and that not only had the average speed increased but I didn't feel like I was working as hard as I used to. Riding using my heart rate monitor has undoubtedly help with the feeling of not working so hard, as I am largely staying within my optimum heart rate band and avoiding allowing my heart rate to go above my lactate threshold.

Whilst I was pleased with the 2 mph increase in average speed that I had been consistently achieving, last Sunday I didn't feel like going out for a long ride so I set out on a straight forward out and back run of a little under 25 miles. The added dimension to this run was that it was early morning, the roads were empty and I wanted to see just how fast I could average over the distance.

By the time I arrived back at home, I had increased my average speed by a further 3 mph over the 2 mph increase I had achieved previously. To say I was pleased with a total increase of 5 mph in average speed over a two to three week period would be an understatement. I have even wondered whether I could have a go at Vets Time Trialing, such was the joy which that 25 mile ride brought!   

The other thing I have noticed is that hills that i have previously found to be hard work are actually getting easier and again through making the effort to manage my heart rate I'm not "blowing up" on hills or wasting energy early in the ride.

Stamina is definitely improving and where as a novice cyclist of a little over two months, previously anything more than two straight hours in the saddle was a real struggle, two hours is now a breeze and three to four hours is comfortable with a couple of short breaks to throw some peanuts in my mouth and get out of the saddle.

As a novice cyclist, who until two months ago hadn't been on a bike in around thirty plus years, I'm quite pleased with the progress I'm making and feel more confident now that I will achieve my goal of completing a hundred mile ride before the end of October.

It's still early days with getting the nutrition consistently right every day, some days I just don't eat foods that are high in volume of the right type of carbs. Largely this will be due to me not planning what I am going to eat when I am away from the office or when I find myself at a meeting where a buffet lunch has been provided (these could be called "beige lunch") The effect this has on energy reserves is quite pronounced if I it happens two or three days in a row. When I do get it right, the positive effect on energy levels is really quite pronounced.      

I'm sure there will be days in the coming weeks where my average speed isn't quite as consistently high and maybe the rate of progress will slow up a bit, but all the signs are there to indicate that my on the bike performance is moving in the right direction. 

As always, thanks for taking the time to visit the blog and read the random thoughts of the Pixie, hope you can find the time to visit again in the future.


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

How to lose or maintain weight?

Had an interesting conversation today with somebody I have only met a couple of times over the last couple of years and only in a purely business environment. The lady in question was asking me what "diet" I had been on to lose weight and was it really difficult to adhere to?

Before I had a chance to answer the first two questions she then went on to say that she had tried a number of diets and weight watcher type clubs but hadn't had any real success with any of them. The lady in question is by no means obese or significantly overweight and it was actually a surprise to me that she clearly felt the need to "be on a diet" as she isn't somebody who looks to be very overweight, just not particularly slim. Maybe being on a diet had become a bad habit for her? 

She was quite surprised when I explained that I hadn't been on a diet and I certainly hadn't been attending any kind of Weight Watchers or Slimming World clubs and questioned how then was it possible that I had lost nearly five stone in weight without being on a diet?  

The conversation then went down what is a now a fairly well trodden path for me, (I seem to be asked this same question a few times each week at the moment) where I explain that what I have done is change my outlook on food and exercise. I then explain that all I did was decide that I wanted to be able to participate in some kind of sport, that I was actually envious of the skinny people that seemed to be able to jog down the road without breaking into a sweat and that I wanted to be comfortable in an airline seat of the "bucket class" variety (yes I know this may not ever be possible)

In order for these things to be possible I explain that I came to the conclusion that I needed to be lighter than I was and I needed to get back to my previously excellent fitness levels. These two objectives can be achieved by doing two things at roughly the same time;
  • Consume less calories, by eating less processed and fatty foods
  • Burn some calories each day by resolving to take exercise each and every day
Now I don't know what it is with "serial dieters" but as was the case with the lady today, this simple explanation doesn't seem to be complicated enough because there always follows a number of other questions about how do you know what to eat? how do you know what exercises to do? how do you plan your meals? It can't be that simple whats the secret? All of these questions are valid but actually when you get down to it, losing weight is as simple as eating less and exercising more.

One of the things that I personally changed once I had made the decision to change how I viewed foods purpose in my life was to try and understand what "healthy eating" meant for me?

The conclusion I came to is by no means rocket science, healthy eating for me in order to meet my original goal of losing excess weight meant consuming plenty of fruit and non starchy vegetables, increasing consumption of low fat proteins, and cutting back on fats and sugars. It really was that simple.

Something Mrs Pixie and I noticed was that if you stop and try to picture what all of the fatty, starchy, high in sugar, junk or processed food looks like, it invariably is a variant of the colour beige, which is dull and not very attractive to the eye.

Check out the fat in these bad boys!

If you think about what colour the foods are that are generally accepted to be healthy and good for us they are usually bright colours that are attractive to the eye.

Easy on the eye, easy on the waist and heart! 

If it's beige in colour it's probably not very good for you, if it looks bright and breezy, the chances are that it will be good for you. 

Fundamentally excess weight is caused by a disparity between calorie intake and calorie usage. The answer to lasting weight loss is something most of us already know but find hard to accept in a world full of convenience and junk food. If we change our relationship with food and eat healthily, exercise regularly and walk whenever possible, weight will be lost or maintained and we become healthier.

So how did I do it? How do I continue to manage my weight? I simply try to understand what I am eating, I eat far less empty, beige or rubbish calories and I try to make sure that I burn off any excess calories by taking exercise.

Try it you might like it!

As always thanks for taking the time to read my blog and hopefully you will be able to visit again in the future.



Monday, 23 July 2012

June Training Update

Well it has been pretty busy recently so yet again updates to the blog are being held up by my tardiness. As we are not very far from the end of July I thought it would be a good idea to post a summary of Junes training and progress made in respect of weight loss.

June was a funny month which felt like not much progress was being made, this was I think largely due to the amount of rain we had which made me somewhat reluctant to go out and put some road miles in. The purchase of the Turbo trainer definitely turned out to be a good decision because this allowed me to still be on the bike, clocking up miles without getting wet, which was a real bonus and allowed "on the bike" training to continue.

Of course if I were offered to chance to ride in the rain with this chap, I wouldn't be such a softie and I'd get on with it!

Allez Wiggo!

Towards the end of the month I had my performance assessment at Total Cycling Performance (details of this session are in earlier posts on the blog) which gave me an accurate picture of my current fitness levels and identified the aspects of cycling fitness that I need to work on in the coming months. One of the most important things to come out of the day was the identification of a need to re-introduce a significant amount of carbs back into my diet in order to provide fuel for an increased training load. Carbs are the fundamental source of energy for the body so with hindsight it's pretty obvious why I was running out of energy after around 90 minutes, when my diet contained almost zero carbs on some days. Lesson learnt, and I am now taking on board more carbs and managing my nutrition even more carefully than before to avoid what cyclists know as the "bonk". The bonk is what happens when your body simply does not have enough energy to carry on working and is caused by the body having insufficient fuel to work at the level being demanded of it.

As far as weight loss is concerned I guess compared to previous months June would appear to be a bit of a disappointment as total weight loss for the month was 7 pounds, however during June I gradually increased my calorie intake as even I knew I wasn't eating enough to fuel my training load. This will have had an impact on the rate of weight loss as will the development of muscle tissue. All in all, June was still a good month for weight loss and as I get into a more intense and structured training plan I suspect any loss of weight over the coming months is likely to be minimal. For the record when I was weighed at Total Cycling Performance on the 29th June, I weighed in at 12 stone 4 pounds, which is a bit different from the just over 17 stone that I weighed in the second week in January. If you are reading this and want to know how I lost this amount of weight without using fad diets, gimmick dieting products or paying a monthly subscription to a diet club, contact me and I will happily talk it through with you.

So, what did June look like in numbers?
  • 34 training sessions completed during the month
  • Total training time was a little over 33 hours (so a little over an hour a day on average)
  • Average heart rate during all training sessions was 125 beats per minute
  • Average maximum heart during all sessions was 155 beats per minute
  • 14,600 calories burnt as a direct result of training sessions (so about 4 pounds lost due to exercise completed)
  • Total weight loss a little over 7 pounds
  • 369.5 miles covered on the bike 
When I view the months numbers in this format, the months hard work starts to become clearer and I can see that I am making progress with my fitness levels and getting my weight close to my target of 12 stone. I certainly feel healthier, fitter and less "lardy" which is a feeling that I had been a stranger to for far to many years.

July's training summary should look a little different from the previous two months as I have been working to a new training programme from the 15th July. I have also changed my nutritional goals from 1st July to reflect the fact that I am now not concentrating on weight loss, and focusing on maintaining my current weight, reducing % body fat and building strength and stamina which requires a significantly higher intake of calories to fuel the required training sessions.

Understanding my own percentage body fat figure has been really enlightening for me and I would recommend that for anyone who partakes of sport and is considering taking steps to lose the "spare tyre" having a body fat measurement and focusing on reducing the actual fat content of the body is likely to be the most effective way of losing the "spare tyre" and maintaining (or increasing) sports performance. Focusing on weight alone is likely to result in a loss of muscle mass as well as fat, which is bad for performance. My own % body fat measurement is currently 14% or measured in weight around 26-27 pounds, the aim is to reduce this number by around 12-14 pounds which should take me to just over the 10% body fat figure that seems to be close to optimum for cyclists competing in endurance events in mountainous terrain. This will be a long process and I am anticipating that losing those 12 pounds of fat will take around 26-32 weeks - quite a change from the rate of weight loss experienced over the last six months.

The above chart is a generic one pinched from the internet and really should only be used as a guide, if you are reading this and want to know more about % body fat, I can only recommend that professional advice and guidance is sought. Talk to your GP (if they aren't on strike and you can get them to talk to you about something other than BMI or absolute weight) or better still talk to a sports nutritionist or coach. Personally I would recommend Simon at Total Cycling Performance - no nonsense advice and approach, contact him via his web site or on twitter @bodybullet            

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my blog and I hope you are able to find time to visit it again in the coming months as I progress towards l'etape 2013.


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Total Cycling Performance: Test session update

Well I think I have just about recovered from my day spent with Simon at Total Cycling Performance over in South Wales last Friday (29/06/12) The first thing that struck me when I arrived in the area that Simon is based in was the stunning countryside that Simon has on his doorstep, there are some seriously hilly cycling routes available which I will be exploring with Simon in the near future.


Upon arrival at Simon's I was pleased to find that the first item on the days agenda was a cup of coffee and a chat whilst Simon completed some medical questionnaires and checked that I didn't have any pre existing medical conditions which might make the days activities dangerous for me to undertake.

Once the paperwork was completed we moved onto the actual testing which took place in Simon's self contained fitness testing and training building. Simon eased me into the day with the tests that related to ascertaining what my body composition is, including body fat analysis, muscle analysis, hydration analysis and BMR (which works out how much energy, or how many calories, my body uses in a 24 hour period whilst simply resting) The highlight of these tests was the news that I have less body fat than I thought I had and my hydration levels are good. 

We then moved onto the piece of work which prompted my contacting Simon in the first place, the "bike fit" session. I won't bore you with details but it is safe to say that the set up on my bike was a country mile away from where it should be for optimum performance and comfort. Simon checked the bike using lasers and made all of the required adjustments to both the bike and the pedal cleats on my shoes. The bike was so far away from where it should have been that we suspect that now that it has been corrected, a niggling pain in my left knee may now go away. 

The new settings from my bike were then transferred onto the "Watt bike" so that the first batch of the cycling performance tests could be conducted. Simon would normally do an initial test using the original settings from the clients bike to establish a base line to work from, however my set up was so bad we decided it would be a waste of time and elected to use the new settings for the first run on the Watt bike. A number of tests were conducted in this session (details of the tests can be found in my last blog post or on Simon's web site ) however the test that grabbed most of my attention was the pedalling efficiency test. As the name suggests this is a test that analyses the efficiency of the cyclists actual pedalling technique. The picture below is a copy of the results of my first run on the Watt bike which resulted in an uncorrected or coached pedalling efficiency of 51.9%

My first run on the Watt bike was followed by a second run where Simon provided some tuition to correct some faults in my pedalling technique and to say I was pleased with the results I achieved on the second run would be an understatement! The following picture shows the results of the second run which were an average efficiency of 86.7% and a peak efficiency of 91.6%

More information on pedalling efficiency and how its possible to change a peanut into a sausage can be found on Simons web site at 

All of the information that I have learnt as a result of spending the day with Simon is really useful and the next steps are to put this information into use by changing the way I train. An example of this would be the application of my "maximum aerobic efficiency hear rate" which I now know is between 139-145 beats per minute. By focusing my riding so that the majority of work is completed within this heart beat range, I will be looking to increase my anaerobic threshold and increase aerobic efficiency. This together with a rounded training programme that is designed to improve both pedalling strength and endurance should provide an end result that is an all round increase in cycling speed.

We did a number of tests on the day to assess my core strength and overall strength for cycling. It's fair to say that the results were a bit of a mixed bag and as I suspected prior to commencing the testing, my core strength is an area that I really need to focus on. I don't know how many articles in books and magazines I have read over the last few months advocating that core strength is key to cycling performance, what I do know is that whilst I have accepted the validity of this advice, I haven't actually done anything about it. Cyclists, it's true, if you want to go further and faster, spend some time developing your core strength!


The results of the body composition and nutrition analysis make for an interesting read and in a lot of respects have confirmed my suspicions that the time is now right to move my nutritional focus away from simply losing weight. 

The headline figures from the body composition analysis are as follows;

  • Total weight 78.8kg
  • Lean weight 64kg
  • Body fat % 18.8%
  • Hydration 61%
  • Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR 1685kcal) 
When I reflect on where I was at the beginning of the year in terms of weight and probable % body fat (I don't know what the figure was but at 17 stone and being 5 foot 8 inches tall it was going to be a high %) the above figures are quite pleasing and probably validate that what I see in the mirror every morning is not a mirage - Yes I think I might finally accept that I may be a bit skinnier than I was in January!

It's not all good news though, the analysis of my current nutritional intake has revealed that I'm not really eating enough food (specifically carbohydrates) for somebody who is training as a potential endurance athlete. Failing to eat sufficient carbs is almost certainly holding back my progress in consistently being able to stretch out the distance I cover on the bike by simply not allowing the body to create sufficient energy stores to fuel my exercise programme. 

The aim for the next 16 weeks is to shed a further 5-6kg of fat to bring the body fat % figure down to something close to 10% and to modify my nutritional intake to facilitate both the desired further drop in body fat and also to provide sufficient carbohydrate in the diet to fuel the training programme that Simon is writing for me. Taking the results of all of the days testing into account my overall nutritional targets for the next 16 weeks will look something like this;

  •  Total calorie target 1800kcal per day, of which;
  • 300g of carbohydrate (1200kcal)
  • 60g of protein (240kcal)
  • 40g of fat (360kcal)     

Just to put that further 5-6kg of fat that I want to lose  into context, 5.5kg of fat is equal to 22 of these;


As I'm sitting here writing this and looking at the report that Simon produced detailing the results achieved and related recommendations for each of the tests conducted on the day it has made me aware of exactly how much work was completed on the day. To document everything we did on the day would probably turn this blog post into cycling's version of War and Peace so I think I will let Simon's web site provide the details of the actual tests that were completed.

I had a really enjoyable (if it's possible to enjoy pushing your body to it's limits! :) ) and informative day at Total Cycling Performance and if you are a cyclist or athlete that is curious about understanding more about how to develop your performance, I would recommend talking to Simon about how he works and how he might be able to help you train "Smarter not Longer"  

If you are reading this and are interested in asking me something specific about the tests I undertook with Simon and how I got on with them on the day, please feel free to contact me either via this web site or via Twitter @velopixie  

Once again thanks for taking the time to visit and read the blog, hope you can come back again soon.