Monday, 22 February 2016

Product Review: Crotch Guard

Yes, I am indeed writing a blog about that point on your body that contacts the saddle!  But before you run off thinking I'm about to start talking about those rather private parts of human anatomy, bear with me . . . as this may completely revolutionise your comfort in the saddle!  It has done exactly that for me!

All cyclists know it.  We don't tend to talk about it.  But we know how important it is.  Comfort in the saddle is absolutely crucial to enjoying your time on the bike, especially when you spend many hours on a bike like I do.  Not only do I compete in longer duration endurance events, right up to 24 hours in one go, but I typically spend many hours in the saddle each week training.  Last week, it was 16 hours, including a 3 hour road ride and a 3.5 hour mountain bike ride.

Comfort comes down to a lot of factors - bike fit, body position, cleat position, clothing, and saddle choice.  Despite a great bike fit, excellent pads in my padded bib shorts and a saddle that fits really well, I, like many other cyclists, have still suffered from saddle sores.

You learn to just accept them.  You just accept that it comes with riding for many hours - your nether regions are going to hurt and you may have the odd saddle sore.  It's inevitable, isn't it?  With all that movement and chafing, surely no padded short, perfectly shaped saddle or chamois cream can stop you getting the occasional saddle sore?

Well, think again!

I've used "traditional" chamois creams for a few years, believing it was the only way to prevent saddle sores and stay comfortable in the saddle.  But I still got saddle sores.  These creams are unhygienic, can ruin the pad on your expensive cycling shorts, and often just rub off over time, leaving you with no protection and the eventual inevitable discomfort and even sores.

It takes a lot for me to call something "revolutionary" but I have discovered a product that genuinely is.  It's not the latest piece of shiny carbon bike kit; it's not the latest power meter; it's Crotch Guard!  An amazing alternative to traditional chamois creams.

I came across Crotch Guard on Twitter and they kindly send me a 1oz bottle to try.  It lived up to every claim on the Derma-Tect website:

  • It's hygienic to use - no gloopy mess all over you, your hands or your shorts.  Just spray it and that's you!
  • It naturally moisturises and they even recommend using it on days off the bike as it is a skin care product, not just a cycling product
  • It absorbs into the skin, rather than sitting "on" the skin like traditional creams that then just rub off and do nothing
  • It doesn't damage your padded shorts
  • It's anti-bacterial and hypo-allergenic
  • It doesn't contain chemical dies, fragrances or preservatives
I've been using it for two weeks now, including those two longer rides over the weekend there and have not had a single saddle sore or any discomfort at all.  I'm typically using it once or twice a day and the 1oz bottle is still about half-full so the estimate of that bottle lasting 3 to 4 weeks is spot-on.  For me, that would save me money compared to how long the traditional creams last.

I realise it's not the most exciting of topics but it's such an important part of cycling not just for comfort but for your health.  Not only can serious saddles sores need attention from your doctor, but they could lead to infection that then keeps you off your bike for weeks.

I'm so impressed with this product I've offered to continue promoting it in the UK.  I want to be completely transparent about this - I'm not raving about Crotch Guard because they sent me a free bottle of it . . . I want to promote it.  That's how impressed I am.  It really has revolutionised my comfort on the bike!

They're sending me a few more samples so if you see me at a race or out training, give me a shout and I'll give you a sample.  They are in the final stages of sorting out distribution in the UK, but in the meantime you can order it from the Derma-Tect website.  When this does hit the shelves in the UK, it's going to fly straight off them - just try it and I'm sure you'll be convinced!  If any UK distributors or bike stores are reading this, you should get in touch with Derma-Tect now, as this is going to be so popular once more people try it.  I've not heard a single negative review yet from any other users.

So, without a doubt, I score Crotch Guard 10/10.  Try it and you'll never use another traditional chamois cream again, and you'll be doing your comfort and health a massive favour in the process!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Building on your foundations

This is my 12th week of training for the 2016 season . . . well, actually my 17th week if you count the 5 weeks of "prep" I did.  The Preparation period is essentially training to train - getting your body ready for proper training after a post-season break, gradually increasing your cycling time, throwing in a bit of cross training like running, getting back to the gym and so on.

That sounds like I'm pretty far into the training plan but, in fact, it's still early days.  I follow quite a traditional periodisation approach to my training, although after reading a fantastic blog by Tom Bell on polarised training, I've started to vary it a bit more with that.  If you want to read more about building up a periodised training plan, I'd highly recommend Joe Friel's Mountain Biker's Training Bible.  There's also lots of material online, but to summarise very briefly:  periodisation involves cycles of training that become more specific to your event the closer you get.

A snapshot of my annual training plan, showing I'm about to move into the Build period.  It's also worth noting the shading on the historic bars.  Training doesn't always go to plan.  Most of the time, I hit my planned weekly hours (or thereabouts) but there are a couple of weeks where I was nowhere near.  Life sometimes has to get in the way and you need to accept that, re-plan and move on!  The A, B and C "trophies" are the priorities of each race.

So, for the past 12 weeks, I've gone through Base 1, Base 2 and Base 3 periods.  These have been focused on building my aerobic endurance, plus some higher intensity efforts based on the polarisation mentioned above and the fact that modern views on training are that you need to keep some high intensity in the winter.  I've also spent a fair bit of time in the gym working on strength, doing core work at my weekly Pilates class and cross training with skiing, both downhill and uphill!  Read more about my thoughts on skiing and cross training here.  I've also spent a fair bit of time on my turbo trainer - if you're just getting started on a turbo trainer, you can find my tips in my last blog.

So, now it's time to build on those foundations.  I'm on a rest and recovery week at the moment - my periodisation includes one every four weeks to let my body recover from three hard weeks of training.  It's also nicely timed as I was skiing for six days in Andorra last week and my legs could do with the rest!  A complete aside, but a nice coincidence was that Commencal's headquarters were opposite our hotel.  My first mountain bike was a Commencal Meta - their headquarters were really cool and they even had a pump track outside the building!

Commencal's headquarters in Andorra, complete with pump track!  You may be wondering where the snow is for the ski holiday I've just been on but there was plenty up the mountain - just not lower down in the town!

So, next week, with only six weeks to go to my first race of the season, it's onto my Build 1 period of training.  It's actually 14 weeks until my first "A" priority race of the season - the Tweedlove Glentress Seven.  The periods in my training plan all work backwards from that date so it's just a coincidence that my first race is six weeks away.  However, six weeks of Build period training before that first race (Round 1 of the Scottish XC Series at Laggan) will have me not necessarily in peak form for that race, but far sharper than I am right now.

You see, that's the point of periodisation making your training more specific to the event.  Here's what the Build Period will involve for me:

  1. My work in the gym (at Origins Fitness of course!) will reduce as my training becomes more bike specific.  I'll be doing a few more weeks of focusing on explosive power in the gym then it's onto muscular endurance work at the gym.  With my priority events this year being longer endurance races, that's key for me.  I will keep gym work with weights/etc going all year, as at my ripe old age, that really does help.
  2. I'll be introducing more VO2 Max intervals, as well Anaerobic intervals that will really push the high end intensity in my training, helping with fast starts, explosive hills, chasing down other racers, going with the pack in a road race, and so on.  All more race-specific.
  3. I'll be doing hill intervals that are more specific to my races.  Most XC races tend to have climbs of between 1 and 3 minutes, whereas endurance races can be significantly longer.  Matching your hill interval training to the duration of a typical hill in your main races will really help
  4. In the Build Period, I would typically cut down the overall weekly volume in my training from what I've been doing in the Base Period, but since my key events this year are endurance races, I'll still be ensuring there is one long endurance ride per week on my plan - road or mountain bike
  5. I'll still be doing a skills-focused mountain bike session every week, but will weave it in with hill intervals, race simulation, starts practice and so on, all to make it more race specific
  6. I'll continue to join a fast group road ride every 2 or 3 weeks, as it tends to make me work up near race intensity and is a great way to push yourself compared to riding on your own
These are just some of the things I'll now be doing as I move into the Build period, so hopefully they give you some ideas if you're working on your own training plan and starting to move towards your target races.

Although the season starts for me in just over six weeks' time, it's important not to burn out too early, so all of the above has to be built up gradually and it's vital to keep those rest and recovery weeks in there too.  I'll do another blog soon on rest and recovery, as well as nutrition.  I'll include some general nutrition tips as well as covering what I use in a race (XC and Endurance).  Also look out for a blog about bike-specific gym exercises that I've been shown by my amazing Personal Trainer, Pamela, over at my new sponsor, Origins Fitness gym.

My new Origins Fitness kit has just arrived for the season ahead and I think it looks rather cool if I do say so myself!  I can't wait to get racing in it and it feels great to now be able to promote this great local gym when I'm out training.  Do say hello if you spot me in this kit out on the road or the trails!  (although it's unlikely to be the short sleeve versions in this photo given the current weather!)