Novice to VTTA National Age-Record Holder in 12 Years by Jen Clegg.
I did my first 10TT in 2011 when a friend kindly rode me around a disused airport course used by my local cycling club, & gave me an idea what to do. He kept repeating ‘get a time then beat it: the first result is always disappointing’. Like most novitiates, I hoped to be under 30mins but finished in 32 something. It was a fine place to learn about pacing, the impact of wind, & cornering faster. The club was there for 5 weeks in a row, which allowed me to start learning how to pace a time trial. Going off too fast; starting steady but finishing with too much left in the tank; then getting an inkling of what threshold pace might mean. Graduating to an A road course with slightly better tarmac the following year, a90 second improvement hooked me for good.
There were technical step-changes. Stick-on tri bars seemed to be a cheap answer but my rudimentary mechanics meant they shifted whenever I hit a lump, making them more alarming than helpful. So I bought a useless hybrid road & TT bike that did neither job well, and a helmet in the sale that looked like a golf ball & made folk laugh. Eventually I went to Speedhub in Lutterworth & bought a decent TT bike with power meter pedals, a conventional helmet, & had the first of many bike fits. That was great until I started going faster: at more than 30mph downhill it became alarmingly twitchy. In 2021 that led me to invest in an Argon 18 with fantastic Enve wheels that remain stable at over 40mph.
Kit helps – but so do people. At the start there was only 1 other woman in the club doing TTs and she had been racing since she was 15. Always finishing many minutes behind her, she was nevertheless welcoming & encouraging. A well-structured club championship series drew me beyond 10s to 20s & 25s, and an experienced rider taught me a great deal about bike riding. His most memorable lessons were held on safe 6% descents in the Pyrenees, where I learned how to create a containing torque across the bike between hands & feet so I could take on corners not only faster but safely, rather than just drifting around them.
When the covid lockdown happened I was a retired widow living alone who needed a new challenge, so I sought out a bike coach. Matt Bottrill had been coming to my gym for rehab after being knocked off his bike, so I approached him without knowing exactly how good or internationally famous he was. Many of his TT records from 2014 remain unbeaten, not least a staggering 18’35 for the Dunchurch 10 which ain’t flat. The coaching is mostly via sets downloaded to the Training Peaks calendar. Unlike the spinning classes at my gym which just slaughter people, as I came to realise quite pointlessly, much of Matt’s training stays well within my capacity. Some sets vary cadence: friends would probably say increased leg speed is the most obvious impact of Matt’s training. For me the biggest impact is on invisible pedal strokes, which turn out to be much more subtle than I had realised in a decade of riding. I am only now starting to be fully in touch with the pedal throughout every revolution, working around the whole stroke rather than just from quarter to half past. Of course, there are also some demanding sessions that push the envelope. The ones I like best are repeated short high watt intervals – they make me feel powerful while never lasting long enough to really hurt!
We meet 2-3 times a year to negotiate season goals, tweak the bike set up & adjust an evolving TT position; & exchange brief messages most days. Matt’s coaching has got me much, much further than I ever imagined possible: these national age records are from the Veterans Time Trial Association website.
What’s next? 2023 saw me attempt 50s for the first time – not helped by doing two of them in June’s ridiculous heat waves. Cramp from 25 miles featured more or less in all of them. I am currently working with Matt’s experts on fuelling and neuromuscular research to see if I can get round just one 50 next year without cramping. Hopefully that’ll make me a lot faster. Whatever happens, I am never ever going to attempt the 100!
Cycling culture is remarkable for its amiability & helpfulness. Heartfelt thanks to club members for early advice, encouragement, and companionship. To all the selfless volunteers at club and national level who make TTs happen safely. And to Matt Bottrill for creatively varied, expert coaching that makes training fun.