2017 round up

It’s the time for New Year’s Resolutions, goals, all that sort of stuff. But who actually looks at what they got up to last year? Surely planning goals is pointless if you don’t then think about if you achieved them…?

Winter climbing

My winter climbing objectives were modest in the extreme. They were something along the line of ‘do some nice routes and have some great days out’. How could I fail? The weather and one of the worst winter Scottish seasons in recent memory put paid to hopes of Styrofoam ice and blue skies, but I managed a couple of decent days out. The highlight was a day out with the Hiking Club taking a couple of guys out doing some easier winter climbs and generally doing a lot of miles on semi-technical terrain. We had fantastic weather the first day and good snow in the Nevis gullies. Other great days were had out on Kinder Scout – it was freezing, it might as well have been the moon for all the similarities to the normal ‘tame’ Peak District – the Aonach Eagach under blue skies, Munro bagging from a (very) remote Air B&B, and a fun day out in the Norries too. So, ‘tick’ on the fun Scottish winter season, despite the very mild winter.


Blasting up and down Number 3 and Number 4 gully on the Ben.


Kinder Scout on a seriously cold day.


Classic gully action in the Cairngorms.


I had a lot of cycling objectives for this year, a lot of which were pretty ambitious. I’d improved more as a cyclist in 2016 than I thought possible, and there was still tonnes of room for getting better.

The terrible winter cycling season was a big blessing for cycling as there were only a couple of nights where I couldn’t ride due to ice. It also meant the normal weight gain borne of winter climbing didn’t really materialise.

My big objectives were:

  • Find this year’s spring training camp a bit easier than last year. Don’t just get absolutely smashed every day.
  • Complete the Fred Whitton for Paul’s stag do and ride every single bit of it (no pushing).
  • Complete the Etape du Dales in under 7 hours (Gold).
  • Beat my PB on the local hilly TT course.
  • Compete in a local flat time trial.
  • Get a Strava KOM on a fairly decent local segment, not just some crap one.

From January onwards my cycling was getting better and better. I had an amazing reliability ride in Leeds where I felt like I could pull all day on the front and then when breaks went I kept reeling people back in. Only in the last five miles was I starting to tire. That was a good sign for the spring training camp.

The spring training camp was also great. Run by the absolute monster that is Pete Barusevicus at Arrivee Travel, I’d been on the camp last year in Spain and while it was hugely enjoyable and inspirational, it also mind-blowingly hard. Almost just too hard for me. This year I had more miles in the legs, more experience, a better bike, and better tactics. It was a brilliant week and I left it feeling super strong, as opposed to just completely wasted.

If you want to improve as a rider then I can think of no better way to progress, as well as getting a whole heap of inspiration.


Not your typical bunch of overweight cyclists.

The Fred Whitton was a funny objective as until it was mentioned as a stag do idea I had no desire to ride it. However, on the day it was mega. I rode it with good mates and within myself.


Paul at the top of Hardknott on a training recce.

Regarding gearing for the Fred, I’ve heard all sorts of weird things mentioned by various people…


Firstly, Hardknott is really hard. It’s an exceptionally difficult climb at the best of times, and with 100 miles in your legs it really is very tough.

It’s a totally difficult league to anything I’ve ridden in the Peak or even the Dales. On the day itself I rode it on 30×25, which is a gear I’ve never had trouble getting up anything with. However, that day was hard and I had to dig deep. However, it’s absolutely possible to ride Hardknott on a way bigger gear. On a training recce I rode it on 36×28 with 50 miles in the legs, and someone strong could ride it on 36×25 no problem. Some could ride it on 39×25 but that just sounds savage. So, for people who tell you 34×28 is minimum it’s just not true as long as you’re willing to suffer a bit and have the legs to back it up. I was pretty tired after the Fred but had 7 days to recover before the real deal…


Going up Honister on the Fred. It had been cold first thing – overshoes – but by this point was getting pretty warm. Ideal conditions basically.

The Etape du Dales was my biggest objective of the year. It was, above all else, the thing I’d been training for. However, I almost totally screwed up on the day by getting my tactics wrong. As with many tough sportives, strong riders often set off late and then try to see how many parties they can catch on the way round the course. I got there a bit late and decided I’d just join the strong guys. Meeting Andy Cunningham (7th in national hill climbing champs, multiple hill climb records, all round animal) who I knew well from the Spring training camps was an ominous sign for what was about to go down. I set off a few minutes ahead of Andy and the Harrogate Nova guys who currently hold the course record, just to make sure I wasn’t racing hard out of the gate. About 20 minutes later I was caught by the Nova train and then immediately we were on to Fleet Moss, the first big climb of the day. I climbed alongside Andy, cresting the hill just behind him.

The big difference between us was that he was cruising, but I was absolutely dying behind my sunglasses.


Trying to hold on to the flying Andy.

We screamed down the hill and while some guys stopped at the first checkpoint I kept rolling to try and recover from the onslaught a bit. I rode steadily up Buttertubs and down Swaledale but then the train was back and we were screaming out of Swaledale on one of the ‘unknown’ viscous climbs of the day.

I was hurting hard as we went through and off into a fearsome headwind, and soon I was missing my turns.

Miles of headwind followed and I was dropped from the group. This was where the problems started. My big issue was that no one who we’d caught could work for me, basically nobody was going quick enough for me to still finish in under 7 hours. So I worked like a dog into the wind, feeling sick and with no one coming through and a growing group of people following my wheel as I picked up riders ahead. At the next check point I was in trouble but I ate a lot, drank a lot, and didn’t rush. Then I was back on the road, still riding effectively solo. About an hour later though and I got a good partnership going with a strong rider, and we each worked hard to the final checkpoint, which I rode straight past. I had an hour for the last 20 miles, and by now I had a tailwind. It was still possible to make the time gap, but it would be balls out. I rode as hard as I could for the last hour, now completely on my own, and screamed into the finish knowing it’d be super close. I’d managed it with a minute to spare. I was delighted. It was the hardest ride I’d ever done given how I’d had to ride it: as hard as I could basically all day.­­

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The Etape du Dales. A hard day out.

Following the training camp I managed to get a KOM without too much difficulty. I found a great segment locally that favoured me – hilly but requiring multiple efforts with a bit of recovery between them – and which had no big hitters who’d yet ridden it hard. I rode at 180 bpm for 7 minutes and got the KOM. Another tick in the box!

I rode the flat TT – a pretty simple objective completed – but rode it badly so wasn’t particularly satisfied. As for the other TT, well that effectively marked the end of my cycling for the year. Overloaded and possibly with a bad bike setup I was in a bad way as I rode the TT and despite putting in a time on the way out which would have smashed my previous best my knee felt bad on the way back and so I abandoned. More on that below…


For running I had two objectives: beat my long-standing 5k PB, and to do that bit better in some local fell races. I managed both of these, but not through doing any training! My fitness from all the cycling translated well into fell running fitness and I placed 12th, 14th, and 14th in the three races I did. I was very pleased with that and it was a big improvement over the top 25 finishes I’d been getting in previous years. My 5k PB fell when I came back from the Alps: I thought two weeks of altitude would have done my running fitness no harm, and so I set off to try and break 19.08. On an unfamiliar but flat Parkrun course I furiously tried to stay with the strong woman ahead of me, but she eventually pulled away. However, nearing the final bend I looked at my watch and could barely believe the time: I was going to do it! 18.53 was the official result, 15 seconds off my previous best. That was a good Saturday morning.


Liz on a sunny training run round Langdale.

As an aside, back in Feburuary I managed to find a suitably niche event that I could do fairly well at. It was a duathlon which combined cross country running with a punchy bike course, and it was all over in just over an hour which is perfect for me. I was fourth in both running legs but third on the bike and so came second overall. The winner was super strong, being fastest on the bike (he was a Cat 2 rider) and second quickest runner too. That was my best ever position in a solo race, so I was psyched.


My climbing objectives were pretty poorly defined. However, I’ve had the best climbing year I can remember, so that turned out to be no bad thing. I’m never going to be a good climber, partly because – unlike with cycling and running – I’m not particularly driven by pure performance and am more into it for good times. The other reason is I don’t train properly and am a big wuss.

However, I’ve had a lot of fun climbing this year, which definitely counts for something.

I’ve climbed amazing routes all over the UK and some spectacular routes in the Alps too. A day bouldering with good mates at Burbage, climbing 400 metres of bolted granite in the Alps in under 3 hours, Northumberland rock, loads of gritstone, Pembroke… it’s been awesome. I’ve also done a lot more plastic pulling than in previous years, and for the first time ever have learnt to enjoy indoor leading. I’ve always enjoyed indoor bouldering, but indoor leading makes you a lot fitter, rather than just stronger. That’s definitely helped on longer routes.


The Cobbler. A fantastic mountain in a fantastic setting.


Climbing at Peel Crag and Crag Lough: totally fantastic and yet deserted!


Belay duty for Ross in the Alps.


Liz gets to work on a pretty steep Pembroke VS.


Dave Macleod: inspiration personified.


That moment when you’re trying really hard but your spotters don’t seem to care.


The end of a great day out.


The above list reads like a huge line of successes, and I suppose it has been. I’ve ticked every objective that I had for the year with one major exception. My first objective was ‘don’t get injured’. It’s always my first objective, it’s always impossible, but this year’s been worse than most. In January I had a back injury but that’s now cleared up thanks to some excellent physio, a lot of core exercises to turn off my previously inactive deep abdominals, a lot of hamstring stretching, and a bit of fiddling over the bike setup. However, the big one which I’ve now had since about May-time is in my right knee. Broadly speaking it’s patellofemoral pain, and it’s a pain in the arse. Knee. I’ve not ridden my bike apart from to work for over 6 months now, and haven’t run save for the odd jog for the same time. However, it doesn’t affect climbing or hill walking one bit, which is partly why they’ve prospered. A lot of physio, two professional bike fits, and literally hundreds of hours of stretching haven’t fixed it yet, but it is slowly, oh so slowly, getting better. I think a combination of factors including overload and bad bike setup caused it, but it’s been a massive downer for the second half of the year. Objective for 2018? Simple: fix my knee.


A bonus winter day: a great way to finish the year’s big days out was a day out on North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor. A long day, but a good one.


Make or Break book review

Dave MacLeod’s second book, Make or Break, has set out to do what few other books have done before: provide a comprehensive way to avoid, deal with, and manage climbing injuries. Dave MacLeod’s in an exceptional position to write the book, being one of the best climbers on the planet, an experienced climbing coach, and with academic qualifications in sports science and medicine. Every climber gets injured, and every climber spends hundreds of pounds on kit, but is it worth shelling out for a book just on injuries?

Upfront cost

I’ve seen a few people bemoaning the £29 price tag on this book. The book’s only got 216 pages, apart from the cover it’s all in black and white, and it’s on a very specific subject. However, what a lot of people don’t realise is that this is basically an academic book: it won’t sell many copies and the amount of work that has gone into it is absolutely vast. I’m finishing my PhD at the moment, and my four years of work (also the approximate time-span that Dave has put into the book) are, I think, worth more than £29 a pop. Specialist academic books often cost more than £100 (including the one I contributed to, which costs £153), so…

…I’m going to stick my neck out and say for the amount of research, writing, rewriting, and checking, that goes into this work, the book is a bargain.

One session with a private physio is £50+, so looking after your body can be expensive, but isn’t it also the whole point?

Ouch. A simple fall while running caused this, but mushed fingers are definitely not beneficial for climbing.

Ouch. A simple fall while running caused this, but mushed fingers are definitely not beneficial for climbing.


The book’s divided into two main parts: the first part is general advice on injuries and is relevant to almost anyone interested in keeping healthy, and the second part is much more climbing-specific and covers each part of the body in turn, from fingers to toes. Particular attention is given to areas that are susceptible to injury (shoulders, elbows, fingers, etc.). In each section, quotes from people as diverse as Gullich and Einstein are used to good effect, and very clear black-and-white diagrams and photographs describe many of the key points.

A fairly typical page in the book - plenty of text, and very clear black/white photos.

A fairly typical page in the book – plenty of text, and very clear black/white photos.


I’ve a keen interest in sports science, biomechanics, and injury prevention, and Dave’s book sits on my bookcase alongside books like Kelly Starrett’s ‘Supple Leopard’ (exceptional in places and beautifully presented but too much waffle) and Kendall’s ‘Muscles’ (that’s from the library as there’s no way I can afford a copy; it’s long, detailed, academic, and exceptionally clear, but not an ‘introductory text’). Like the other two books, it distils a lot of stuff you’ve thought yourself, but weren’t sure about, and then sticks it in one place: things like the differences in expectations between a patient and a GP, that your body’s injury has an underlying cause, and a very good section on dealing with the mental difficulties of being injured.

If you don’t know how to deal with your injury, there’s a good chance that this book will cover it. With, for example, more than ten pages on shoulder-specific climbing injuries, including how to diagnose them and how to fix them, this book has more detail than any website or online forum and is far more accessible than journal articles.

However, the biggest thing this book does is that it gives you a sense of empowerment – it gives you a toolkit on how to manage your body and how to get the best out of it.


Firstly, this book is not for everyone. It’s not a coffee table book, it’s not full of cool pictures, and it’s not steady bed-time reading. Dave is unapologetic that some of the book reads like a textbook as this in unavoidable. However, more break-out boxes with anecdotes from the author would be useful in dividing up some of the text. Dave includes a section on his own injury woes towards the end of the book and I found this fascinating – more stories like these would be great. The second downside of the book was the number of small grammatical errors I found (‘remodelling’ and ‘remodeling’ on the same page, for example). Not one of them was major, and they did not affect comprehension, but another read through before publishing would have been beneficial. It’s very easy to criticise spelling and grammar mistakes, and I know from my own blog posts and my thesis that they often sneak through, especially when pushing for a deadline and reading with tired eyes, but one more check always finds an error or two.

I was injured for this trip but despite a very frustrating knee problem managed to get a lot done. That was cool.

I was not 100 % on this trip but despite a very frustrating knee problem managed to get a lot done. That was cool.

In summary

If you’re a climber interested in the way the body works or have frustrating injuries or niggles then you should buy this book. If you’re a climbing coach then this is required reading, and academic libraries should get a copy too. I’d love climbing walls to get a copy or two as well to make way for the fifteen-year-old magazines, but I’m not sure that will happen. Parts of it are not a riveting read but it is full of very good, well-researched, and up-to-date advice from an author who clearly cares passionately about the subject. What seals the deal for me though, is knowing that, having read the book, I am now better-positioned to avoid, diagnose, and treat injuries. No one likes being injured, and the book is a comforting friend that might just stop the niggles in their tracks.