Inside the hurt locker!

Over the Bank Holiday weekend, I was a fortunate participant in my cycling club’s annual Humber Bridge Audax. Every year Huddersfield Star Wheelers meet up at Huddersfield train station and set off on an epic flat ride (flat for us anyway) out to the Humber Bridge and back in a day. In the previous years, I’ve not been available to join the ride as it has always been on the late May bank holiday weekend, but this year we had nothing planned and I was given the proverbial “day pass”. This year was also different too, it was now an official open Audax and therefore open to all clubs so a total of 90 riders were expected to join in the fun.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it either! My training, in the build-up to the event, had been marred by illnesses and a severe lack of time in the saddle, raising my concerns of even completing it, nevermind being able to keep up with my usual riding partners. As the day grew ever closer, a watchful eye on the weather for the event turned up the paranoia one notch further. We were forecast an outbound tailwind, but a fairly brisk headwind on the return leg and every cyclist I know knows what that means when you’ve already got 120km in your legs before the turn. So throughout the week preceding Sunday’s epic adventure, my inner voice was formulating all kinds of excuses as to why I could fail and why it might not be a good idea to even embark upon such a journey.

It was Thursday, however, when I set my mind somewhat at ease. I completed my last “hard” short training session and smashed an arbitrary goal I’d been seeking for years, on my VLC (virtual lunchtime commute). I felt good that evening and at least the weather forecast hadn’t gotten any worse since the beginning of the week so I settled the argument with the voice and told him I was doing it.

Friday I coached, Saturday I coached, Sunday I woke early and had a VERY large portion of porridge. The day had finally arrived and I set off on a cool and drizzly Sunday morning for the 8am station meeting point. I set off in good time so I took it fairly steady, as it was going to be a long day out. When I got there, I met up with a whole bunch of familiar faces telling tales of the suffering of years gone by and I was all on, to tame the “told you so” voice in my head. I also heard that the “Steady Eddies” were already long gone, as they had taken it upon themselves to leave at 6.30 so as not to be returning way after dark, so my get out of jail free card of riding at a more sedate pace had already been used up, unless of course, we could catch them up.

We set off and the large group was very quickly split with a pacier bunch making a break due to traffic signals riding through town. By the time we reached the roundabout at Grange Moor, there were a number of very distinct groups and I found myself at the front of the second one of these groups. As the undulating terrain through Flockton began, it became clear that a couple of the riders our group were new to this form of riding and this caused for some early concertina-ing, which can be quite energy sapping. After the second rise, when the front two riders rapidly scrubbed off speed as opposed to just digging in a little, I let my momentum carry me through and then put in a few strong pedal strokes to carry me to the top of the hill. This quickly formed a gap of around 200m, after continuing at that pace on the flat for a while, and as I came round the corner I caught sight of the leading group, about 250m ahead. I was between a rock and hard place. I decided to just keep on pedalling and hoped that I would either be able to tag onto the back of the leading group or get swallowed up by the trailing second group as my energy drained. Fortunately, my good friend Steve had registered what had happened and picked up the pace of the trailing pack and they caught me about 100m out from the leading group. We made up ground towards them fairly swiftly and before we reached West Bretton Roundabout the leading group was now around 24 or more strong.

Using the tailwind to our advantage we made great progress out to the first checkpoint and took a wise decision not to hang about more than to get our cards stamped and fill up our water bottles. By this time the sun had also come out and what started out as a grey drizzly morning turned into a wonderful sunny day.

The halfway point of Humber Bridge was the next stop and, having lost a couple to the lure of a longer rest and ride out at a more sedate pace, we set off again around 22 strong. The pace was, once again, pretty stiff but even with an unbalanced load sharing on the front it still made it attainable for everyone involved and we arrived at the Bridge ahead of the Steddie Eddies. They did clock us though! And sneakily snuck into the cafe ahead of us whilst we took a photo opportunity 🙂



Refuelled and ready to go, although my food arrived delayed and I was forced to leave 1/2 a coffee cake and 1/4 of a baked potato as a result, we started our return journey.

The headwind very quickly made itself known and we had to arrange the group on the fly to balance the load sharing much more evenly. To a large extent this worked well and our average speed, although taking a hit, didn’t diminish too much. It did, however, take its toll and there were a few who could no longer take their turn at the front. On one occasion this was me too, as two of the stronger riders in front of me pushed up the pace so much that I was struggling to hold on whilst directly behind them and so when it came to me doing my bit I lasted no more than a minute or two before having to own up and calling for some assistance from behind. We reached the final checkpoint at the same time as this same group in the previous year had only just left the Bridge, and Dick wasn’t going to allow us much time to breathe before rallying us all back together to continue. With one energy spent casualty having to stay behind at the stop, we received a rousing and very clear instructional speech from Jonny asking those who could do their bit to do it, but to, this time, keep the pace more reasonable as we all needed to get back together. At this point, I held my hand up to announce that I would struggle to do my bit but I’d give it a go as did two or three others, honesty was needed at this point.

It was in this final leg of the journey which found me sat inside the hurt locker. I’d done 2 turns on the front, despite announcing I probably wouldn’t be able to, but with 30 miles (50km) left to go, I was hurting badly. The next 15 miles (25km) I was in a pretty dark place, every slight elevation caused me pain but I managed to work through it and by the end of it I still managed to enjoy the final 15 back to the starting point and didn’t hold up the group all too much either.

After 7h44m34s in the saddle, I’d managed to complete 237km at an Avg of 30.6kmh making this the longest ride I’ve done to date. It is a credit to the group that I rode with, as much as anything else, as to why I accomplished this in the way that I did and I’d like to thank each and every one of them for their encouragement, support and laughter when it mattered most. You are a credit to your clubs and yourselves and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the day. And yes, even when I was sat in the hurt locker!



Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS)

Over the weekend I was privileged to be able to offer some of my time to helping others in a sport I adore. As some of you will be aware I am a qualified British Cycling level 2 coach and throughout the year I have the joy of sharing my passion with all kinds of people from all walks of life and in all age groups. I regularly feel like this is pure selfish indulgence as I can pretty much guarantee that I get just as much out of it as those do who I am honoured to coach. Nonetheless it is purely a voluntary position and therefore it does have to fit in around my other commitments and getting that balance right can sometimes be a challenge.

When Sunday morning arrived I wasn’t entirely rested as the night was a little shorter than usual due to a late night with my lovely wife and then an early wake-up call from my energetic little 3 year old son resulted in some very tired eyes. After a quick breakfast I embarked upon the trip over the Pennines to the the National Cycling Centre in Manchester to be greeted by a very friendly face and a VERY welcomed cup of coffee.

After a short introduction we were split up into 2 main groups and logically all the coaches were together in one group whilst the volunteers were in another. We, the coaches, were then taught the latest in coaching techniques to facilitate the further development of FMS.

So what is FMS? – For those of you who remember the youthful days of climbing hills and trees, jumping in and out of back gardens and kicking a ball around an empty field; you’ll be subconsciously more than familiar with FMS. It is, as the name suggests,  “Fundamental Movement Skills”. What is very sad about having to be taught how to teach these is the fact that we now have a second generation growing up in the western world who do not have them. As for the first generation it is already too late for them to ever reach their full sporting potential in a large majority of cases, but it ISN’T too late to reverse a significant portion of the damage already inflicted; if we all take ownership of what it is we’re failing to do right now.

FMS then! The ability to perform simple tasks such as jumping, skipping, kicking, hopping turning, twisting, balancing, catching, rolling…. the list goes on. It is brutally alarming that we’ve already got one generation arriving into their adult life who are missing these basic skills and a second generation already in the making with the same deficit. Why?? well the simple answer is us! We are to blame really. We’ve allowed our children to not become bored, we’ve wrapped them up in cotton wool and we’ve created a society where protectionism prevails over common sense. We give them electronic entertainment devices to feed their need for everything to happen right here and now and they rarely go outside, especially if its raining, to enjoy simple playtime with their peers.

It has therefore become my job, and coaches like me, to help children find their FMS so that when their raw talent does shine through, and they are picked to progress into the elite training environments of our sport, that they do have a chance to attain their full potential because they’re no longer lacking the Fundamentals.

Applying this same logic to the world of business I wonder how long it will be before we realise that we’ve also got a “fundamental management skills” deficit and that this selfsame protectionism (or as I like to call it the “passing the book” attitude) has resulted in a wave of talent coming through who no longer know how to take ownership. They’ve never been allowed to fail as somebody has always found an excuse for them, “Oh the resources weren’t available sorry they couldn’t deliver on time” or “Ah yes the power went down so they didn’t have access to the internet” or “Actually they did deliver 2 out of 4 so I think that’s good enough don’t you?” Consequently they have now been attuned into finding the blame elsewhere rather than looking at themselves first, and all this from a very early age.

I really don’t want this to be viewed as a “When I were a lad” post, because it isn’t. I’m actually taking ownership of this outcome. I want everyone who reads this to think about their own situation, as a parent, as a business owner or as an employee and ask yourself a simple question. How does what I do make a difference?, and more importantly, what is the difference that it makes? Once you’ve rekindled yourself with this then apply a few basic foundation building skills of your own so that our younger generation can grow up and gain a full and extensive experience of real life, with all it’s beauty and hardship that comes with it. Encourage them to take ownership of their own outcomes and give them the confidence that they can tell you when they’ve messed up without the fear of you blowing your top and then covering up for them. Together we can help realign the next generation of talent with reality, because the world they are going to be living in will be far more demanding than the one we’re all living in right now. It is our duty to ensure that they have the Fundamental Skills of Life to prosper in it.

Feel free to let me know how and what you’ve done.


Life is a journey on two wheels

In November 2015 I signed up to become a British Cycling level 2 coach.  Easy, I thought, I know a lot about cycling, I’m a CTC ride leader, Club Road Ride secretary, Club kit Secretary and I used to be an active Level 2 windsurfing instructor; therefore the transfer of skills should make this a breeze to complete.

My application was reviewed by British Cycling and a short while afterwards I received confirmation that I had been selected and approved to partake in the training and that a welcome pack explaining the requirements would be forthcoming.

It arrived!!

Oh dear, what had I done? The breeze had suddenly developed into a force 9 gale! The sheer volume of administration, learning, practical assessments and mentoring was quite something.  I’ve never been one for giving up before trying, but the thought did cross my mind as I knew this would have a significant impact on other areas of my life.  Family time, cycling, weekends, evening, building projects… everything was now going to have to take a back seat and the sooner I could complete the course the better.  I was later informed that I had a full 12 months to complete the administration and practical delivery of my assignments but at the time I was under the impression that I had just 3 months after the first assessment weekend.  And that was another thing! What did they mean, assessment weekend?  I thought I’d been accepted!

Now with a certain level of trepidation I awaited the weekend of the 6th of February, where I was going to spend the whole weekend being assessed on my ability to cycle, coach and be coached.

In between time there was a small matter of a First Aid refresher course.

The weekend came and I grabbed Ludwig out of the garage and stuffed his panniers full of books, warm clothing, food and drink for the cycle over the hills to Elland for my first assessment day. I was the first one there- an Army thing!  You’re late if you’re not there 10 minutes before you should be and I was certainly not going to be late for my first day so with a full half hour of contingency thrown in I arrived 45 minutes before the official start time despite having to ride through sleet and snow on the hills.

One by one my fellow course attendees trundled in until 15 of us stood outside a classroom whilst 3 BC mentors/ coaches were setting up the training schedule, it felt like a throwback to the corporate training days of the 90s with a good mix of 80s secondary school education thrown in.

The dreaded “death by PowerPoint” presentation was ready to roll and our assessors / mentors opened up the show.  As “rain stopped play” for the morning session PowerPoint did certainly do its best to live up to its reputation, but we survived and it was the content that kept us alive, it was actually very informative.  Mid to late morning the clouds lifted a little and we were ushered outdoors to do some practical assessments.  The day continued in very much the same vein and by the close of the day we’d managed to complete all the pre-requisite elements despite the weather, and the dreaded PowerPoint.

The ride home was a beast. Extra books, but less food and drink meant that I had just as much weight to ride back home with as I’d rode there with and the beastly West Yorkshire hills combined with the, now very familiar, wind and rain certainly made it a tough one.  An evening of studying and session plan writing ensued before an exhausted wannabe coach collapsed into his bed.

Day two and lady luck shone down from the skies, actually it was something called sunshine but only for a few fleeting moments.  Panniers packed and eager to deliver my so called “ambitious” session plan I cycled off.  Whatever processed me to coach hill climbing on a flat tennis court I will never know, but that’s what I did.  Weather once again dictated the running order of the day but so did the alphabet and having a surname beginning with L I was going to end up doing one of two things. First in the second group or last in the first… I was last in the first.

Ambitious but it worked, well done! And I’m happy to say that you’ve passed your assessment weekend all that you have to do now is……..
Oh boy the list grew even bigger!

The ride home was a weird one I really wanted to get home and see the kids, but I didn’t want to have to reveal to the wife how much extra work I needed to do between now and the end of April.  Add in tradeshows, my mum’s investiture (MBE) a sales summit in Spain she was going to have her hands full with the kids and she was already at the point of overflowing without me throwing any more water into the cup.  I left it that night as she’d just had a massively tough weekend with the kids!  What I also did was leave it a little longer and tried as much as I could to complete the admin in the short moments I had at lunchtime or on a Thursday evening.  Did I mention my trips over to the shoulder specialist in Wrightington – Wigan ?? Oh well sorry they needed to be thrown in there too.

My wall planner appeared to have contracted measles, multi-coloured dots everywhere and barely a moment to breathe in-between any of them.  6 sessions minimum I was meant to deliver as part of my ongoing assessment and what I didn’t expect was the sheer joy I got from watching the ones I was given the honour to coach improve.  In fact it became that infectious that I took on extra sessions and began coaching the tiddlers too.  More by accident than anything else because my little angel Daisy wanted to learn how to ride a bike like daddy (why on earth she’d want to learn how to keep falling off at high speeds whilst off-road and downhill I have still yet to understand) but coach her I did and along with that came a second wave of coaching euphoria.  Within a very short space of time I was hooked!  I’d now got the right balance of coaching the adults track sessions on a Friday evening followed by the Sunday morning tiddler sessions where it is all about smiles, killing cones and Haribos.

Before I knew it, day 3 had arrived and it was the final assessed performance upon which my future as a coach was going to hang.  Of all the days preceding this, the DBS, the child welfare assessment, the first aid, the 2 day assessment … the list goes on and on, this was the one which I personally had the most anxiety towards.  In some ways it felt like it was my last shot “the gunfight at the OK Corral” and if I got it wrong everything else would have been all a waste of time.  My plan was a decent one, I’d even delivered it as part of one my 6 sessions, but nonetheless I was a little nervous.  No Ludwig this time, but the Carbon Trek made an appearance and was chauffeured to his stage in my trusty old Volvo.  Again my military timing ensured I was there in good time but not first on scene this time.  My confidence grew by the minute as I spoke with some of the others who talked of unexpected mishaps during their session deliver, none delivery of sessions, no session plan written for the day and the wry smile; akin to the that of starting a race on a damp rainy early summer morning after a winter of wet outdoor training rides, whilst others around you told tales of heated garages, turbo trainers and chocolate puddings, drifted onto my face.  Those without training plans were given a break and the opportunity to write them up before we went outside and in the meantime, I went out and carried out my risk assessment whilst visually setting up and going over my session plan.

Finally I was on! The others had all done really well and it was now my turn.  I delivered it to the best of my ability and was therefore happy no matter what the outcome, I couldn’t actually have done any more.  Fortunately it was enough, in fact my mentor even said that he was going to plagiarise part of it and include it in one of his own sessions later on in this season.

So I’d done it.  The only thing left to do was clean up the admin and submit the entire coursework to my mentor electronically.  I was given a verbal, “you’re good to go” and had to follow up with BC in a few weeks to see where things stood.

Finally today I’ve received my certificate, dated the 24th May 2016.  A roller-coaster of events and 6 months of hard work.  All this has kick-started my journey as a cycling coach, and I can’t thank those who helped me get here enough.  There is one person though who deserves the most thanks of all and that is my wife Karin. Without her tireless work with our two young, challenging, but beautiful children I would not have been able to even start the course, never mind complete it.  She has sacrificed more than I have on this journey and I can’t say that it hasn’t been without tears or a few choice words, but stood by me she has and I am eternally grateful to her for this.  The enrichment coaching has since brought to my life is overwhelming and if I could share just a fraction of this with her I’d be more than happy to do it all again.