enthDegree Cycling Blog

enthDegree Cycling Blog

Groundhog May

cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Mon, May 08, 2017 12:50:21

I love racing a week into May. I don’t know why but something special always happens from a cycling and personal perspective.

And the weekend past was no different. Yesterday, just like a year ago, I stood on the podium in a national time trial with a silver medal. Last year I was working hard to catch my top mate and GTR teammate Chris Smart. Yesterday it was the new kid on the block, the irrepressible and incredibly talented, John Archibald. Last year it was 8 seconds, yesterday, 43. And for a minute or so I think I had the, CR - Course Record!

Have we gone backwards? Absolutely not! I was telling someone a couple of months ago that last year someone had unofficially labelled me as the fastest guy on the road in Scotland because on a Tuesday night in mid-August I entered the elusive 19’ club for 10 miles and then the following Sunday smashed the Scottish record for 100 miles. Composite all rounder. And so this year, I’m already fitter, stronger, faster and more powerful.

Impossible, surely?

No it’s not. I’ve proved it. I’ve done my homework and I’ve stuck to my task. No deviations. I trained for 3 years with a 10 year plan (I actually have a 25 year plan, but that’s for another day). I wanted to make the most having quit smoking and I was fed up being a tubby, grey family man with good genetics and a massive aerobic tank who believed he could do better even if no-one else did. So I worked hard, trained harder, rested smarter and slowly the snowball began to, well, snowball. But in 2017 I'm not the fastest, so far.

Yesterday’s defending champion, Chris Smart, is national winner (Scottish and British), umpteen times over. I won’t go into details because he won’t thank me for it. But he has a cupboard full of trophies, medals, jerseys and like me he’s a bit uncomfortable talking about them or showing them off. But I’ve seen it and it’s impressive. Like me, he works really hard and he has a plan which he sticks to and he too is fitter, faster, stronger than before.

So we haven’t gone backwards. Nope. We’ve simply been eclipsed whilst travelling at what feels the speed of light. And quite frankly, I think it’s wonderful. One of the advantages of having a tiny ego, is that I can enjoy my racing, do my best and live in hope, not expectation. Race because we love racing. Not for positions, podiums, white envelopes. Someone has to come last, someone has to come first. It’s that simple. I wasn’t beaten. I was 96th slowest, or second fastest. And on the day, I gave it my best shot.

As so did my teammates, ex-Marines, Chris and Lewis. We literally left it on the road and it still wasn’t good enough to take the team prize, but we’re a team regardless and that matters more to me than anything else. Mates, band of Brothers. We look out for each and we support each other. We win together, we lose together, we swear at each other and we do fist bumps, high fives and the odd man hug too.

Last week after I won the CTT Scottish 10 mile Championships on the Westferry course outside Glasgow, I’d found my own elephant in the room. How would John have fared in the race? The truth is he would have won by 30 seconds. I’ve been using software to model my clients and rivals for a couple of years now and he’s got the power and a CdA to die for. It’s an aerodynamicists dream and now justifies 4 years of studying turbulence to gain that PhD from Edinburgh Uni back in 99. So after the CTT champs, Chris and I spent the afternoon, figuring out how he can go faster (we’ve started with a new helmet, more changes are coming). I did this last year when we were just rivals as I felt I owed him for planting the seed of the 19’ club in my head and I badly wanted him to join me. And so he did, 4 days later. And then a couple of days after that, a certain John Archibald posted 19:59 on the Cambusbarron Stirling course (he has simply obliterated that back in March with an incredible 19:25). The wunderkind has arrived, rejoice!

2017 thus far is John’s year. But it’s also Jon’s (without an “h”) year too. My eldest daughter who I don’t see much of these days messaged me to ask how I got on. You can read the transcript in the photo above (excuse the grammar Natalie). I’ve made somebody proud and hopefully inspired both young and old to pin a number and have a go. That’s what it’s all about. I always say even when you win there’s always someone faster than you. And if we can’t give John something to think about (believe me we are trying!) then I personally hope he quickly moves up another level too, or we will never see his true potential and I for one, would be truly gutted.

So silver once again after a week of May. One for the collection, but I got more satisfaction out of learning how to team time trial when Lewis, Chris and I took to road after the medal presentations to try something I’ve never done before and always wanted to do.

And for a brief moment, despite my usual cluelessness, we moved like a well-oiled machine at high speed, inches from each other’s wheels at high speed having listened intently to the guy who I have the upmost respect for, who’s been there, done it all and will come back and do it all again, as he moved effortlessly through to the front, I had a moment of complete and utter euphoria and shouted to Chris almost in tears of joy…

“This is what it’s ….ing about!”

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Warts And All

cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Thu, May 04, 2017 10:45:22

I really wanted to write this post in the middle of last week, when I was at my lowest ebb, but as per usual my instincts overrode any negative self-indulgence and forced me to get through the weekend as I had a funny feeling I would have some positive self-indulgence to write home about instead.

And, once again, sorry twice, so it proved.

But let’s rewind a couple of weekends.

My racing season started with a 200 km off-road gravel event/race. It’s not a race, apart from the top 20 fastest get a prize. And it’s timed. But then you are set off in waves like in a Sportive. Me confused (easily done). Whatever it is, I decided to enter it for a number of reasons. One; I feel I needed a long day in the saddle. Two; it’s a proper challenge, both mentally and physically. And three; I had coerced a number of my coached clients to enter it – and as I you know, I like to practice what I preach.

And so the Dirty Reiver was a grand day out. Great weather, great to catch up with my Team JMC buddies and great event. What wasn’t so great were my guts. The Jedburgh chippie from the night before reminded me to take it easy, which was the plan, but when Keith Forsyth goes out of the traps like he’s been shot out of a gun, it’s very hard not to be tempted to get the race face on.

But it isn’t a race I told myself, so settle down and stick to the plan (you silly sausage Entwistle).

I got to the first feed station pleased there were more “facilities” than a table full of carbohydrate. That said, I stayed a little longer than planned as I decided with a National TT the next day, fasted riding for today was off the cards. I was coaxed back on to the bike, when a familiar accent in Team JMC kit shouted “Come on Jon or you’ll just get fat!”. And so for 20km I rode with fellow JMC teammate Jason Miles, chewing the fat I was trying to burn (now that the chippie supper was out of the way and I was beginning to feel better) until his back tyre went flat (again) and for the next 130km I rode basically on my own.

And it was mentally tough. Long drags, longer views, but my mind wasn’t really in the groove and I found myself stuck in one gear, albeit a very efficient aerobic one. So I devised a new strategy at the half way point, to eat two Haribo every 5km. And from that point the ride started to accelerate and I was really enjoying it. But the course was sketchy, because it had quite a bit of yes, you guessed it, gravel. I decided to overinflate my tyres prior to the event as I’d suffered a recent spate of punctures of late and fixing them in situ makes me a bit grumpy. But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh and I found descending around corners at speed and staying on the bike quite nerve-wracking and amusing at the same time.

Which was merited as in the last section when unfortunately I found a female rider I’d been yo-yoing with all day, Amanda Nauman on the deck. Arm covered in blood, gravel rash and a non-functioning Di2 rear shifter meant she had two gears to work with for the remaining klicks. I was more concerned about head injuries, so I rode with her without making it look I was chaperoning Amanda and after an hour she seemed fine if pedalling gingerly, so I subtly got out of sight as the afterburners were finally starting to light and I found a range of aerobic gears to click through - only eight hours into the ride. Ha ha!

After a little over nine hours of riding. Job done. Now time to recover, hydrate, feed and get ready for the real race – Scottish National Olympic distance TT (aka Tour of the Meldons). So, once my co-traveller and Reiver rider Rob had got his bearings together and could remember his name (he’s an Ironman, he recovers quickly), we bombed up to Peebles to refuel in diesel, curry and Belgian beer and I started to focus on my first proper race of the year.

I wasn’t planning on doing two big efforts back to back. It was a consequence of poor planning. But I’m always curious as how my body responds to any stress it is put under and I’ve noticed after big endurance efforts like the Puffer, I’m often in great condition the day after. Omegawave once did some detailed heart rate analysis on exactly this and confirmed as much. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to test out the legs in a hilly time trial that lasts under an hour and guarantees a world of physical as well as mental pain. Double bonus!

Once Sunday morning arrived I decided to exorcise a demon I had in my head overnight. Could I manage the cruel sting in the tail of a 13% sharp hill climb up to the Barony Castle finish line with my new 60 tooth single chainring? It would also be a good test of the legs to see if they were willing to play ball.

No problem. Doddle. Next, race preparation.

Slowly riders started to appear in the parking area outside the village hall in Eddlestone. GTR teammates Chris and Lewis along with the ProVision gents and good natured banter started to flow as tyres were pumped and the riders battled with getting into their skinsuits. Although I’m sure I heard someone say to me in jest, “Hope you get a puncture” as I got ready to join the diminishing starting queue over the bridge.

Being seeded, I was one of the last to start and the traffic was starting to build exponentially. I always look forward to the line up at the start line as I enjoy the chat with the time keepers, Commissaire and officials as it stops me from getting too excited. This time the topic was about my namesake bass playing legend and someone pointed out that my number 113 might be lucky. Being seeded meant I had two minutes once John Archibald had disappeared up the road, but it soon goes quickly and as the countdown started from 10 seconds, it was time to flip the switch into race assassin mode.


This is more like it, yes legs, go go go! I was just about getting into position before the big huck of the first challenge – the Middle Burn climb, when I got slightly distracted by someone passing in a car yelling abuse, but that wasn’t the reason why I hit one of the many potholes hard, there were so many it was like the Millenium Falcon negotiating the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back. One hole was so big I was convinced lava was about to pour of it!

Bang. Oof. Ouch. I cursed myself for not seeing it, too concerned on aero position rather than focussing on the terrible road surface. No excuses, I should know better, I’m a mountain biker in disguise for Pete’s sake. I was just relieved to get away without another puncture.

As the Middle Burn climb approached I clicked down the gears and cranked up the power to attack the first hill into an unforgiving headwind. This is my territory. But I ran out of gears quicker and I felt I was decelerating despite the legs being on fire. How? Erhm, what’s happening? What the…

I looked down at my wheel and saw the problem. Puncture!

Game over.

Damn it. First time ever I’m not going to be on the podium in a Scottish national TT. I guess it had to happen sometime? I decided to turn my attention to the remaining riders. Kyle Gordon was up next and seemed baffled as to what was going on. “Just smash it mate” I urged him. Next up was the winner for the past two years and teammate Chris. As soon as he saw me, he knew. My heart sank. Any whiff of a GTR team prize was gone and we both knew it.

Once Chris had disappeared up the aptly named Middle Burn which is a highway to certain hell, I spotted a photographer on the crest of the hill. I figured it was Martin Williamson from VeloVeritas and as I’d never met him before I decided to go and have a chat. But before I could open my runaway mouth, he had already offered to give me a lift back to HQ before heading up to the finish to snap the faster riders. What a Godsend and thank you very much Martin (former winner of this race) for the lift. Our chat in the car kept my mood upbeat. These things happen, of course they do.

I wandered up to the castle to see the last riders come home and meet up with my cousin’s family who seemed somewhat baffled to see me walking with my bike. “That’s racing” I replied, law of averages and it was my turn for a DNF! I was quite philosophical about the race and it was warm and sunny so I decided just to chat with various people. John Archibald who smashed Chris’s course record and won by three minutes on my teammate seemed a bit perplexed on his return from the finish and wondering why I was standing in cheap knackered Crocs and super expensive aerodynamic skinsuit. It must have been some sight!

But it is what it is and I reminded Rob Friel (who finished on the podium with a superb bronze) that I got further than he did last year as the cheeky banter started to flow again in the car park as bikes and wheels were getting dismantled and loaded into cars and on bike racks. There’s always next year. And there’s next weekend…just need to stop puncturing!

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Fun In The Sun?

cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Mon, April 17, 2017 11:42:48

Some folk say I'm lucky. Two holidays in the Iberian sunshine sandwiched between an unseasonably warm and sunny week in deepest, darkest Aberdeenshire. All of it just riding my bike.

In my world, there's no such thing as luck and if there is you make it yourself. And if there is such a thing, then the converse is true - and I've had more than my share of bad luck, for which I have no desires to bore you to death with any negativity. Nope, it's all positive these days. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

I digress, again.

Fun in the sun?

The first trip was an impromptu pub conversation (in the newly refurbished Learney Arms) that actually went north for once, once the beer started to flow. And before we knew it, the Torphins Typhoons flew south and landed in Mallorca!

Four days of riding our bikes. For me no heroics. I was simply shattered. More mentally than physically. The last 6 months had all been about change and survival - and as per usual I survived with flying colours, but everyone has a limit and I was beginning to reach mine. After being referred to a neurologist over a decade ago to diagnose an episode of serious and bizarre myalgia, I now know the signals and signs, but more importantly how to manage it. It was time for time out!

So I just rode my bike, three days at Point Six in the company of the evergreen and a proper multi Scottish road race and TT champion - Willie Gibb. We met on the first climb on the first day and instantly he became an honorary Typhoon. We just rode here, there, everywhere and he knew the best roads, cafes and places to drink beer in the afternoon sun. He also gave some great advice for my third season and racing career which is only still in its infancy.

I returned from Mallorca mentally recharged and actually buzzing. I tested the legs on a popular local climb and found myself in rude form. Good. Ahead of schedule.

So next Portugal's Algarve. A family holiday. Fourteen celebrating my Dad's 70th birthday. Bike hired from Tom and Catarina at Swift Momentum Sports. An Orbea road bike, aluminium, but no worse than the Pinarello carbon bike I'd hired in Mallorca. I grew quite fond of it over the days. But the riding was tough as this time I was physically tired. My annual spring cold triggered by early season pollen had arrived on time and I spent five days nursing myself through it without compromising the fitness and form. It's something I've mastered over the years as my coached clients will testify and this time I got to practice what I preach on myself. Validation. Authenticity.

I started to feel better as the days wore on but my mental state started to challenge me again. Day after day fasted riding, 5 hours, no breakfast, no food, no water, beating sun, takes it toll. But I had planned this. Without the fuel of motivation provided by negativity and realising I no longer have anything to prove, I needed to challenge myself again, to ensure the wee battleship is still battle hardened. I found a solution to get me through it. Another feather in the cap. A technique I can pass on to my clients. I always eat my own dog food (though sometimes it's Wasabi, but that's a blog post for another day).

What was it fun in the sun? Of course it was. For me life is about challenging yourself and dealing with the ups and downs rather than flatlining at zero and doing nothing. If you don't taste the sour you won't savour the sweet. I admit I need to get better at the latter, but I now have the right people in my world that encourage me to do just that. True friends.

Onwards and upwards. Keep moving. I'll rest when I'm dead!

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Point Six

cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Sun, April 09, 2017 16:58:08

What’s my secret when it comes to cycling and the performances I’ve achieved in only two proper seasons of bike racing?

That question has been asked of me quite a lot lately. I’m flattered and humbled. After all I’m just a guy that’s going on a life cycling journey of discovery and I’m surprised that people are actually interested.

So here goes, three things…

1. Mountain biking

2. Consistency

3. Point six

I’ll come onto mountain biking another day. But if you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s so bloody obvious. Leg strength, bursts of power, upper body strength, climbing, bike handling, interval training, top level endurance, that’s down to mountain biking. And I’ve been a regular mountain biker for more than 25 years. As the joke goes it's not rocket salad!

The second thing is consistency. I’ve said it before when Peter Sagan (ex mountain biker) became World Champion, he was finishing consistently in the top 5 of races. The press were having a field day, almost trying to yank the chain of the coolest cucumber in the peloton. Big salary, big pressure, no wins! Then, boom, Rainbow Jersey (the most coveted prize for any cyclist both professional and amateur)! He successfully defended the jersey last year almost with consummate ease after a season of high profile victories. No one questions him now when he comes fourth in a race. He’s earned his rainbow stripes well and truly.

But even if you’re not trying to win a Rainbow Jersey, how do you improve? In the words of Fausto Coppi…”Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike”. It’s really that simple. It’s all I do. I try and ride everywhere, resisting the temptation to take the van out and if I do there HAS to be a bloody good reason. Transform car laziness into bike sharpness. One burns hydrocarbons, costs money, pollutes the atmosphere and makes you fat, the other burns fat, costs nothing (particularly if you’re Ketogenic burner like me), makes you fit and is much better for the environment.

So over the winter, I just rode my bike. As I had no Strathpuffer to “train” for, I just rode, rode, rode like Fausto told me to and nearly all of my rides came out at Point Six or 0.6 as you can see in my TrainingPeaks PM Chart in the picture (blue dots from November to February). Not by design, but by circumstance.

What is Point Six?

Most coaches measure the intensity of an aerobic workout by comparing it an individual’s maximal hour effort. That is the maximum effort you can do for an hour before you and completely and utterly burst and death seems like a soft option. So years ago Borg came up with Rate of Perceived Effort or RPE. And on the 0 to 10 scale, I use 7 as the maximal hour effort. This is everyone’s personal hour record. Utter hell. Eddy Merckx said when he broke the hour record it took years off his life. It was that bad for the world’s best ever cyclist!

For the rest of us, time triallists in particular, you can use a 25 mile TT as a marker because most riders are around the hour mark and/or want to break the hour. And in a race, you are focussed and dialled in. But then I would argue on the Borg scale it’s actually a 6 because most time triallists drive or cycle home after the race and not spend the rest of day recovering like Jack Borbridge had to do when he failed in his attempt at taking the hour record in between Brandle and Dennis. And he had someone to catch him at the end of his hour of hell so he could give it full beans.

Anyway, I digress. Point Six. Yes, so to determine how hard your workout was you simply divide the metric you are using against the value you generate for your own maximal hour. It’s a way of normalizing things and TrainingPeaks refers to it as an Intensity Factor or IF. Strava just labels it as Intensity. A newish software product I’m evaluating as a coaching alternative to TrainingPeaks, Xert calls it Target Power. Whatever you want to call it, Point Six is 60% of your hour maximal hour effort, however you choose to measure it.

However, for my money the Borg scale is too vague and subjective (how you feel on the day very rarely translates to how you can actually perform) and therefore not very accurate, but better than nothing. Average Heart Rate (HR) is a much better form of measurement, but again HR just measures the input (how fast your heart is beating), not the output and can sometimes be inaccurate due to caffeine intake, illness, fatigue, excitement, anxiety. A better measurement of effort is of course power. Energy expended per second. Your energy that is used to turn the cranks and propel the bike (hopefully) forwards. It’s not perfect and I’m not as evangelical as I use to be about power, but it’s pretty damn good in most circumstances, particularly time trials (but not CX races – I’ve got a future blog already lined up to discuss some very interesting findings).

For all of my winter rides I just used my Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) and decided I was just going to ride my bike for fun. With the Puffer off the racing calendar I had no short-term goals and so I decided to totally mix it up and ride my CX bike to an early grave, which I succeeded and then put my CX wheels on my hardtail and rode that too to the point of destruction. I had a blast. What a laugh. The mild and dry winter no doubt helped, but at least we made the most of it.

And as the 2017 season is about to start, the result? I’m fitter, stronger, faster and generating much more power than last year without consciously trying. I’m well ahead of schedule, perhaps I shouldn’t bother with a schedule too? Whether it comes to anything racing wise is an another issue and I'm not bothered anyway as I'm only interested in being fitter, stronger, faster and there are plenty out there who are already that.

Just ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike. Well it worked for Coppi and Point Six seems to be the sweet spot and in my opinion should never be underestimated. Point Six means you can (literally as well as metaphorically) have your cake (yes Ny) and eat it. Isn’t that what’s it all about?

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The Big Pedal

cyclePosted by Jon Entwistle Mon, March 20, 2017 13:25:02

As the rain battered the bedroom window forcing me to wake earlier than usual this morning, for the first time this winter I felt a sense of dread. Not another ride like yesterday’s…rain, cold, mild hyperthermia!

My Sunday ride was pretty grim. I was down south, but up north, north of England and as Bolton’s Peter Kay once joked, the rain was that fine type that soaks you through. I’d forgotten about the rain in Northwest England. I had plans to visit my youngest sister, Aunty Val/Uncle Joe and even a quick blether with Budge from Team JMC, but as I put on the waterproof, curiously stopping outside the tiny village of, yes, Entwistle, I had one thing in my mind…survival, which meant home and ASAP as I was shivering uncontrollably.

I don’t remember anything after that apart from a couple of landmarks, Bolton town hall and a church in Walkden where my youngest sister and Aunty Veronica used to live that brought back childhood memories. Somehow I got home. I’ve no idea how. I must have spent about half an hour in the shower, which is rare for me (I’m a 30 second guy not 30 minutes), followed by some of Mum’s tasty fare – spicy Thai curry. Though I was still shivering after the curry! Though strange as it may seem I needed that ride. It’s character building and we’ve been let off the hook this winter with some incredibly good weather and I concerned I was starting to get soft.

But back to today. Thankfully the intense rain band passed though quickly and with the sun already beating me out of bed, the roads were dry by the time I met my eldest daughter, Katie, at the red phone box outside Torphins as agreed. She seemed quite pleased with herself. “7:43am Dad; two minutes early!”.

And off we went, to school, via the back roads and the Deeside Way to Aboyne. I was totally made up. Re-united again after her Strathpuffer efforts, just Dad and daughter spinning the cranks. We don’t say much, there’s no need. She’s generally quite quiet and only speaks when she has something to say. But for me, it was back to bonding again, like on her first day when the surgeons stuck Katie up my theatre gown and she just lay on my chest totally chilled out, making the occasional squeak. She’s a happy little egg, quietly confident with a sunny disposition. And with the sun now higher in the sky, freewheeling downhill towards Lochnagar plastered with snow in the distance and my eldest doing non-handed, I hit a wave of euphoria. It was spiritual. Does cycling really get any better than this?

Best ride of the year so far and there’s been many already. So why am I cycling to school with my daughter? Well it’s a school’s initiative called The Big Pedal. Read all about it, join in if you can, contribute in any way necessary. If not this year then there’s always next year.

As for me, well, my week’s already mapped out with the highlight, being 7:45am this Thursday as I’ll be waiting for Katie at the red telephone box outside Torphins again. Another Dad-daughter-date on bikes.

It’s addictive this cycling thing!

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