I have just come back from a weekend organised by Hannah and it surpassed all my expectations. I have recently dusted off my mountain bike and was looking forward to building up my confidence and discovering some local trails I could try and to meet like-minded people and this was great. Hannah spent the first day focusing on mountain bike skills followed by a Pilates class and the next we explored some amazing trails in Surrey Hills. The food was amazing too. Wouldn’t change anything. Anyone wanting to improve their mountain bike skills should come on one of these courses.
I have been doing Pilates for over 10 years now after getting a kite surfing injury to my lower back, Pilates was my way back to being able to lead a ‘normal’ life. I now use Pilates as an additional workout which strengthens my whole body and supplements the physically demands of my cycling training. On the flip side I work in an office 9 to 5, working at a desk all day this constant leaning over position can cause all sorts of problems including lower back pain. As I am aware that my lower back has been under stress in the past I work hard to maintain good posture, core activation and thought a blog post with some tips may be useful to others.
- Eye line – avoid looking down at the ground or your phone when walking. Try and look to the horizon (where possible), chin pointing down and tucked in slightly to keep the neck/upper spine in neutral. This will reduce neck pain – remember, we are carrying our heads which weight about 10 pounds.
- Shoulders and shoulder blades –If you draw back and down your scapulae slightly this will ‘lift’ the chest, which is a good position to be in. This will also assist in tightening the stretched muscles. Many people suffer from a rounded kyphotic position so stretch the tight muscles such as the pectorals and anterior deltoids
- Back straight – think about standing tall, lengthen the spine and lift up. Imagine you are being pulled to the ceiling like a puppet. Try and avoid sticking your bum out, keep the hip bones level to keep the pelvis in neutral, and tail bone pointing to the floor
- Tummy muscles – imagine you have a put a belt on and have done it up one hole tighter than normal. Pulling in the belly button to your spine will exercise the rectus abdominis as well as activate the TVA muscles which will take the pressure off the back. This will seem strange to some people but eventually the abdominals will become stronger and it will become automatic. If you work in an office try sitting on a ball instead of a chair.
- Foot strike – lead with the heel and roll through the foot onto the ball of the foot and push off using the toes. Placing the toes/ball of the foot down first can put additional stress on the knees and ankle joints. Walking barefoot is great but not always possible so check that appropriate and fitted shoes are worn so that the feet can move inside the shoe/trainer
- Breathing – During Pilates we talk about wide thoracic breathing which helps us focus on the movement and encourages concentration. This also will help relax tense muscles and you will take in more oxygen with longer deeper breathing so have a go whilst your walking around the supermarket or sitting at your desk.
- Bag carrying – try and use a rucksack on long walks as this will distribute the weight evenly across the back as opposed to a shoulder bag, if you use a shoulder bag swap shoulders and don’t carry the kitchen sink!
- Baby carrying – for younger children you could use a carrier or sling on the front or back this, like the bag allows the weight to be distributed evenly. If you tend to carry baby or toddler on a hip then try and swap regularly.
I hope these tips will help you improve your posture and reduce and niggles. The best way to improve your core is to get to your local Pilates class! Take a look at my Pilates page for Pilates classes in West Sussex and Hampshire.
Sunday was the last day of this amazing adventure, the Carpathian MTB Epic, it has been a mental and physical roller coaster from day one.
Lining up at the start line on Sunday I felt a twinge of sadness that this incredible experience was nearly over but also a little relieved that this would be the last day of pain! The final day saw competitors in the 1-day-epic join us at the start line for a shorter 40km loop, this was an appealing idea, just 40km instead of 60km…
For the first time in the race we headed out of the arena and into new territory battling a grassy off camber field with ruts and diverts the size of my front wheel it was tricky to navigate after this exhausting affair we were greeted with a hike-a-bike section, I won’t miss these, at the top I had a decision to make 40km or 60km. It wasn’t hard really it had to be 60km!
The trail continued down on a fast descent, but line choice was important as huge gullies had opened up leaving a thin ‘safe zone’ on which to ride.
I felt really fresh and continued to make good progress. The course was amazing with so much packed into 60km riding through lush green forests, over tiny bridges and vast ravines with the sound of the water echoing.
Once we climbed out of the ravine the descent down was really tricky almost like riding in a river bed of boulders, it was a case of eyes up bum back try to stay straight, my arms were getting a serious workout as I rumbled through the rocks.
At the bottom was every riders nightmare, the air ambulance, I’m not sure what had happened but I do hope whoever the rider was he is okay.
After this I rode slightly more carefully these rugged mountains we were playing in meant business and the consequences for choosing the wrong line could be nasty. The course continued to climb until reaching the steepest downhill I’ve ever come across, channelling my inner Rachel Atherton I rode the first 20m before grabbing a tree in order to stop. Walking my bike was as hard as riding, to keep it going slow enough for me to slide my feet forwards the breaks had to be locked out which made the bike skid sideways.
After battling gravity through the wood the bottom was in sight and the course started to climb, again.
My nutrition strategy was working every 40 minutes EAT. This worked well and I pushed myself hard until the end was in sight. The last 5km were tough following the same course as stage two it felt a really long way, but finally the white arch was in view and I just had one more climb to make and then it would be the home straight.
Rolling over the finish line was an awesome feeling the Carpathian MTB Epic stage race had held nothing back, a massive adventure which pushed my mountain bike skills to the max and challenged what I thought my body was capable of. Turns out it was more capable than I thought!
Coming into the race I was not prepared, training had been mediocre at best and a mixture of family and friend events had not exactly made me ‘super healthy’ either. What I learnt was that your body is incredibly adaptable and you just learn to suck it up, smile and keep pushing those pedals and eventually that climb will finish.
Until next time…
Stage two of the Carpathian MTB Epic started with the same route out of Fundata as stage one this gruelling climb hadn’t become easier overnight which was a shame as my legs pushed hard, body weight over the bars just to keep traction on the front wheel.
The route climbed a similar path up to the first feed station but today instead of turning left we went right a short sharp climb led to what felt like the roof of the world towering above the mighty Carpathian mountain range, standing still to catch my breath my heart beat was the only sound. The vast wilderness stretched out in every direction un-touched by humans, rugged and wild.
Now for the descent! The start was a grassy meadow, with a twist as it was basically a vertical drop, I opted for two feet! This came with the nuisances of flies, which seemed to think I smelt great. I’m sure I didn’t!
Once past the rather daunting top section the climb entered the woods and became a whole world of fun, loose earth, roots and switch backs made for technical riding. I kept my eyes up and picked my lines carefully as I swept through the forest my Specialized 29’er making easy progress down the mountain side.
We were at the bottom far too quick, a long an arduous gravel road climb took you straight from glory and back to the pain cave for what seemed like an age, as I made my way out of the tree line the rumbles of thunder got louder.
Finally seeing the red tent of the all too familiar feed zone I had made it to 25km in 3 hours 21 mins and passed the cut off for continuing into the most technical section of the course. As I started to climb the weather growled, thunder and lightning seemed to be surrounding me and the rain was coming down like someone had turned the hose on! Reaching the woods I slipped off the path and hurt my ankle, it wasn’t that bad, but in that moment I
decided that my head had to rule and to turn round and back to safety. Reaching the red tent I was surprised how far I had actually climbed. Not stopping at the feed zone I continued on through the rain and wind feeling so cold I just kept pushing, not noticing the time tick by… By the time I realised my lack of eating and drinking it was too late to reverse the damage I had done, it was if someone had switch the power off in my legs and the only gear was slow and painful, I crawled back into the race village.
On unpacking my stuff and reflecting it became even more evident why I was I trouble my full camelback told the story, I was so dehydrated my body was just running on nothing. It’s safe to say stage two was a steep re-education in looking after myself. Usually I am so good at refuelling but the conditions got the better of me and then I paid the price hitting the wall 10km from the finish.
Stage three I promised myself would go better, and it did!
To see more photos head over to my instagram.
This first stage had a total distance of 60km with an elevation of 2,700m (although my Garmin said 2,995m)
Friday was the first stage of the Carpathian MTB Epic. The day started with a hearty breakfast and plenty of procrastination on my part.
After what seemed like an age waiting in the starting box the music fell silent and the loud heart beat timer started our count down, I could feel my heart racing and tried to control my breathing. The starter sounded and the sounds of clicking pedals and gear shifts filled the air as we set off out of the race village towards, what for me, was about to be an awesome day in the saddle.
The climbing and heat hit me straight away as the other riders pulled further up the road, I knew I needed to pace myself after all I was here for the enjoyment and adventure not to ‘race’ but as a ‘racer’ that can be quite difficult to get your head round.
The course took us through some spectacular scenery we climbed up on to a ridge line, where the first feed station sat, at just over 12km into the race. It had been a mixture of ‘hike a bike’ and gradual climbing to get here up fire roads with horses grazing in the woods and loggers hauling huge trees behind tractors.
I looked up at the climb to the top of the peak and ate another date, I was going to need all my energy for this one! Once up this short sharp climb the course stayed high and traversed the sky line, the view was incredible! The first proper ‘descent’ felt very steep and loose.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur the course continued to be gruelling and amazing at the same time. The clouds had once again pulled in and the thunder in the distance worried me, it was going to get wet, very wet! I stopped and put my rain jacket on and continued my descent towards Feed Zone 2, reaching this I was right to put my jacket on when I did as the heavens open and within seconds everything was washed out, the next section was a road climb which seemed to go on forever, the road had become a river and the rain was making it hard to see.
I was relieved to be off the road and back to the gravel; even though this was harder to climb I didn’t have to worry about the cars.
The route meandered through the valley with towering rock cliffs on one side and the open meadows on the other, farmers and their cattle watched on as I slowly made my way around the course following a stream which then became a river to cross before tracking the valley on the other side. I could see little dots behind me, which I thought were cyclists and it felt comforting to know I wasn’t the only one!
The climb continued and on reaching the top the huge rock face stood in the distance, you’re going over there said the marshal, wow it looked far away!
Continuing along and down I was surprised to reach the rock face quicker than I anticipated proving that all you have to do is keep pushing those pedals and you will eventually make it.
The next climb was exhausting and I really began to question the ‘fun factor’, it was a grassy climb and in the wet my shoes kept slipping and it seemed to take hours to reach the marshals who were lovely, they said one little bit of up then it’s all down! That sounded promising.
Of course that’s not quite how it went it was more like up, down, up, down, up then down.
It was a spectacular descent now on the other side of the rock face and open valley to my left the descent was rocky and challenging I kept my wits about me as I negotiated the rocks enjoying the challenge. The trail led into the woods where I felt really at home working my way through rooty sections, looking for the best line when the trail was off camber and holding on for dear life when it got rather steep in more than one place! Sometimes the descents would be gradual and then turn steep and committing 100% was the only way to make it down, the descents pushed my ability and belief in myself but time after time I made it to the bottom without coming off.
The final 10km was hard work the descent for 4km to the road was a rutted field with steep sections that came out of nowhere the last 5km up the road was a killer, pain seems to be a prerequisite of cycling so I sucked it up and pedalled on. Soon enough the white archway was in site and I crossed the finish line.
Stage one down, two to go!