On Pushing Harder Before the Elastic Snaps

Mid-February – the time of year when we’re almost out of the depths of winter yet temperatures never fail to drop in a sudden cold snap that makes indoor training seem suddenly more inviting. Also, the time of year when we start to wonder if we’ve done enough over winter to ensure a good season.

I know, I’m on my own here -it’s cos I needed solo pictures for a bike review! Promise!

I read in an interview – somewhere – with a pro-cyclist – someone – that one of the worst things a rider can do is make a drastic change to their training routine. If that’s the case, then my summer is going to descend into failure with immediate effect. However, I’ve also heard the saying: “If you do what you’ve always done you’ll achieve the same results that you always did” or similar.

Last season was a strange sort of anti-climax – I’d intended to race triathlon, mainly because it was time to accept that I was bored of time trials, but the same injury that made me give it up a few years ago crept back and put pay to any sort of proper structured running and cycling for some fairly long periods. I still did some time trials but my heart wasn’t really in it, except for the SCCU100 which was an absolute wash-out (but an amazing experience I’m so glad I put myself through) and some decent results towards the end of the season with a hat-trick three wins (and PBs) in a row around September.  I absolutely wouldn’t write it off as a year – it was fabulous – I did some things I thought I couldn’t, rode with and interviewed some of my idols of cycling, and had a lot of fun on my bike with fellow industry folk and friends.

It was a big year at work – a breakthrough year – worming my way back into journalism and being promoted to Editor within a few short months. Needless to say, my mind was elsewhere and it was exactly where it needed to be as well. The success of a website I’ve loved since 2012 is a lot more important to me than winning a bottle of wine and a £20 cheque in a village hall somewhere, really.

The road to improving as a rider seemed clear – and so I took my Herne Hill Accreditation in November

However, with the so-so season’s dust settling in October I bit the bullet and took my first taster session at Herne Hill. The track has always appealed to me – but it always seemed like too much effort to travel back and forth, until my best riding buddy started taking it seriously and soon after dropped me at Ride London (oh the injustice!!). The road to improving as a rider seemed clear – and so I took my Herne Hill Accreditation in November, and then embarked upon Lee Valley accreditation, finally completing the four stage set of jump through hoops late December.


Since then, the track has been a constant obsession. I’ve bought dumbells so I can’t avoid squats because the gym is a trek, learned to ride the rollers so I don’t look like a noob between sets, and been on the track once a week *almost* without fail (a few 2 x a week but it is 2 hours driving for 1-2 hours riding..). The plan is to race the track league – Herne Hill and/or Full Gas at Lee Valley. The obstacle in my way is a fear of bunch racing. There would be no problem if I could just race the Pursuit and some 1km Time Trials, but that’s not how track league works – you need to partake in the Points Race, Scratch Race, Devil (as mean as it sounds).

I suppose I didn’t realise that I was so green in my cycling experience back in 2013, but it seems my confidence has progressed a lot since then.

I discovered I was petrified of bunches when I tried some crit races in 2013 – I started out filled with ambition but quickly retreated out the back of the bunch at every corner. The good news is the track is a constant corner, there’s nothing sharp and no one has any brakes to pull on in front of you. That, and I discovered when covering (and partaking in) a recent women’s road racing session for work, that I’m actually a lot less paralysed by the peloton than I used to be. I suppose I didn’t realise that I was so green in my cycling experience back in 2013, but it seems my confidence has progressed a lot since then (I hope).

Actually this is a paceline with the front rider 'taking a lap' - no pics of said end of session races!
Actually this is a paceline with the front rider ‘taking a lap’ – no pics of said end of session races!

Each SQT finishes with a short 30 lap race, and feel like I’m growing in confidence (read: bolshiness) every time, coming fourth or fifth in bunches of 12-16 blokes in the last few sessions (oh wouldn’t it be nice if I could train with women?!). The fear doesn’t seem too inhibiting, if anything I feel alive and confident being aggressive when someone needs shouting at or a gap needs plugging. However, I’m still too keen to let people into gaps I’d rather close for fear they’ll just ride right into me if I don’t, and I found the session where the group was doubled to 24 on the track I quickly let myself drift to the back. This said the pace would have been higher as the group wasn’t split into ‘fast/slow’ and racing track-league-standard men is a bit different to racing MAMIL (sorry!) men.

The Track League future ahead looks exciting, and the realisation that bunches weren’t so scary at the recent women’s training sessions has encouraged me to enter another which will allow me to race Surrey League events if I fancy later this summer.

However, I’m mindful that I’ve made grand plans before, and retreated to the safety of time trials – which still hold a place in my heart as the ultimate race of truth and evidence of improvement. It’s just that it’s no fun when you’re not seeing improvement – and 1.03 down to 1.02 in two years on the H25/8 just isn’t enough to keep me smiling all summer. On the understanding that I need a time trial base to fall back on if the track plans don’t succeed I’ve still kept up with the standard 2 x 20 time trial sessions at least every couple of weeks and the weekly(ish) hell that is Maison du Velo’s Wray Lane Loops (1 hour riding, 5 x ~5 min hill) – and I’m hoping the top end efforts and never-ending cadence of the track will show its benefits on the TT dragstrips, too.

If there’s one thing I feel I’ve learned through track training it’s that sometimes when you feel yourself giving up, you just need to push that wall a little bit harder. Like that time I refused to get dropped, and carried on pushing so hard I VERY nearly blurry-vision rode straight into the barrier when pulling off after my turn at Lee Valley. Though perhaps that wasn’t so smart, even if I did manage to right myself before the bang-crash.

I’ve wanted to crit race, and given up to retreat to time trials. Wanted to get back into triathlon, and given up to retreat to time trials. Wanted to time trial well, and given up as soon as my spring results haven’t been what I hoped. You only achieve your best when you push.

You feel the elastic snapping between you and the rider ahead. At that point – you have a choice: let go, or push harder. 

I do understand that with no history in sport, and no real genetic talent, there’s a pretty low glass ceiling in what I’ll ever achieve on a bike and I’m never going to set the world on fire. No matter how hard I push that wall, I’ll only ever get so far. However, limiting myself by giving up because I’m never going to be the best, or dropping out the back as soon as fear sets in and the going gets tough, turns training into a pretty pointless exercise of burning the excess calories in recovery drinks.

There’s that moment, when you’re pedalling as hard as you feel you can, and you can hardly breathe – and you feel the elastic snapping between you and the rider ahead. At that point – you have a choice: let go, or push harder. This season, if there’s one thing I want to see myself do, it is that I want to push harder. 

Published by michellearthursbrennan

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

2 thoughts on “On Pushing Harder Before the Elastic Snaps

  1. Good luck Michelle. Always fancied Herne Hill laps but I’m lazier than you – the hour + drive (or ride) has always put me off. I tried a taster the Velodrome and loved it but like you, I prefer solitary riding so will stick with the road. Don’t think about the glass ceiling, just think of progress and enjoyment. Anything you break down in life can seem futile, so don’t think, do!

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