From Russia with Love


My last blog told of my coaching experiences with triple cancer survivor Patrick MacIntosh who is attempting to ride from London to Japan in time for the Rugby World Cup in aid of two charities the World Cancer Research Fund and St Catherine’s Hospice. We left him cycling across Russia but the story doesn’t end there so thought I’d pen an update.

Regular contact has been key with Patrick out on the road what follows is short synopsis of some issues encountered along the way!

One of the main problems from a coaching perspective has been a complete lack of performance data due to technical problems. Uploading his Garmin GPS via the phone app simply hasn't worked. It did in the UK, but in the middle of Russia……! In detailed discussions before he left we spoke about pacing and keeping heart rate within zones 1 and 2 so that he can maintain his effort not only day after day, but month after month. Taking this to heart [sic] he has taken to sending me videos scrolling through his Garmin GPS screen to show daily stats – not ideal, but at least I can see he’s still in great shape and riding well within himself, while still exceeding daily mileage.

Working at low intensity means Patrick uses his body fat almost exclusively as muscle fuel, reserving glycogen, the body's natural energy source,  for any climbing efforts. Generally, when working at threshold [upper Z4] heart rates you have around an hour of glycogen to use. With a good diet you’ll generally restore this overnight. After almost 3 months on the road, Patrick has become naturally thinner. I highlighted this to him and asked if he could monitor his weight. Slow weight loss is not a problem, if food intake is balanced this will stabilize. We all carry huge reserves of body fat but there is a danger that if body fat becomes too depleted you will start to metabolize muscle literally ‘eating yourself’. This manifests itself in further weight loss. People often push on through sickness when diet is depleted so it’s important to know when to stop and rest!

Patrick follows a vegan diet but despite reservations this has not been an issue even in Russia, in fact he's reported quite the opposite! To supplement energy reserves I advised him to carry an energy drink on the bike at all times. There are many commercial brands but I advised him to simply buy pure maltodextrin powder widely available in 1 to 5kg bags you simply add a 50g scoop to a 500ml bottle add a pinch of salt, flavouring of choice, top up with water and shake to mix.

Just before Patrick left on his epic ride in May we discussed lower gearing for climbs. As his road bike couldn’t easily be reconfigured it was decided ‘ditch’ the spare hybrid bike he intended to take for poor road surfaces and buy a specific bike that would fulfil both functions. Step up Rob Chappell from 'On Your Bike' who recommended and sourced a TREK 920 subtitled in the brochure ‘If you want to ride around the World’, it sounded perfect and came with a build that looked like it could take on anything. Unfortunately it was stolen off the back of Patrick’s support truck during one night in the middle of Siberia, despite two locks and Patrick sleeping in the same truck just metres away. With serious flooding in the local area police resources were more than a little stretched and chances of getting it back were virtually nil. Patrick's attitude of ‘local people have lost more than me in floods’ sums the man up and was humbling for all of us to hear. As luck would have it he was quite near a large town with a good cycle shop who recommended a Jamis Renegade Elite, a more than worthy replacement, light with a rugged carbon fibre frame and 1:1 gearing for climbs. Reading the specification, I was able to highlight a few things like different hydraulic fluid when servicing the brakes and the fact it had tubeless tyres. All in all, a fantastic choice born out by Patrick’s first ride on it taking in over 1000m of climbing.

Finally, nearly three months of cycling does stress the body and mind. You only have to see the logo above to see Patrick’s mindset of staying positive throughout. He’s had to cope with route and GPS issues, crashes, dangerous busy roads and poor weather. His team and I are well aware of the toll this is taking. Things like numb arms and hands are difficult to diagnose with possible causes such as bike position, repetitive strain and daily road vibration a factor. I can only suggest things to try - the joys of distance coaching!

The adventure continues through Russia to Vladivostok and onward to Japan for the final leg of this epic journey.  No doubt giving a jaunty wave to  Kim Jong-un in North Korea on the way past!

Please continue to follow and sponsor him:

Go Patrick!


Patrick McIntosh's Life Cycle


As a cycling coach I have a great and varied client base but none more interesting than Patrick McIntosh who is attempting a ride from London to Tokyo for charity. A chance meeting while supporting a ride organised by local bike shop 'On Your Bike' we struck up a conversation regarding performance zones and a more structured approach to training. Patrick came to Merlin Cycle Coaching HQ for testing the very next week on our Wattbike Pro. Quickly replicating his normal road bike  position, swapping his pedals and after a short warm up we conducted a Sub Maximal Test. This is designed to give a benchmark fitness level from which improvements can be monitored. The test is terminated when the rider indicates they have reached a level of exertion  which is best described as a ‘no-talk’ level!

The readings at that point are deemed to be 85% of maximum heart rate and 60 watts is added to the power to estimate maximum aerobic power so that heart rate and power training zones can be calculated. From this and other data captured we were able to write Patrick a full test report including training zones, aerobic thresholds, power to weight ratio and an estimated V02 max. It was clear that Patrick's endurance was quite good but his performance required some attention for 'top end' and recovery which he'd require on any long climbs encountered along his route.

In accepting my proposal to coach him he requested we work more on a ‘one to one’ basis over a series of early morning rides. This always works well when there is a short time frame as techniques can be taught quicker out on the road. From local knowledge I knew that just adjacent to Patrick's base is an excellent road training circuit 5 miles in length used by many local clubs for evening time trials and Road Racing, it's undulating, with a small hill for repeatable efforts, perfect terrain for zonal riding.

Leaving nothing to chance I also wrote a series of weekly training schedules as a framework for Patrick's week on the bike.

During the one to one sessions we were quickly able to fine tune Patrick's zones and educated him on how to ride at a steadier pace that can be maintained over the weeks and months of his ride to Tokyo and beyond. We addressed nutrition, technique and gearing all of which has lead to a partial re-think in equipment.

When taking on a challenge of this magnitude  attention to detail is a key factor the old saying 'Fail to Prepare - Prepare to Fail' rings true but in Patrick's case I'm sure he will succeed.   

At the time of posting this Patrick is cycling across Russia - follow his progress on his epic ride on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @KMGfoundation


Supporting links and information mentioned in Turbo Training Podcast

Useful turbo training sessions are here:

As I mentioned 220 – age doesn’t cut it anymore to calculate maximum Heart Rate.

Everyone is different but if you don’t have any underlying medical issues the best way to find your HR and Power Zones is with a Ramp test under controlled conditions using the British Cycling protocol.

For fitter riders you can do a Threshold test, we use the protocol described by Dr Andrew Coggan found in his book ‘Training and Racing with a Power Meter’

But a rough calculation can be done thus:

Max HR = 210 – (0.5 x age) – (0.05 x weight in kg) + (4 if male, 0 if female)

For example for a male rider age 62 and weighing 85 kg

210 – 31 = 179 – 4.25 = 174.75 + 4 = 178.75

At his last max ramp test the riders max HR was 179bpm!

Enjoy the Podcast!

Amat Victoria Curam

Don’t know about you but when I qualified as a coach Latin wasn’t on the curriculum!

‘Amat Victoria Curam’ means ‘Victory Loves Preparation’ and its equally true in all forms of cycle sport from Charity Rides to Le Tour de France and everything in between. If you don’t train specifically your performance will be poor or in coaching terms all the ‘P’s – Poor Preparation equals Poor Performance

What can you do?

Motivation is key but it’s too easy to say:

I’m tired

There’s something on the TV

My Auntie is sick

…  we’ve heard and used them all!

Joe Friel a well published cycling coach puts it thus:

‘Hire a Coach. Without a doubt, nothing can take your performance on the bike to the next level like working with a good professional coach’.

I of course agree, but there are always a few questions to answer;

“It’s too expensive.”

There’s a wide range in cost of coaching available. Firstly, your coach must hold a recognised qualification, I’m qualified to ABCC level 3. Our ecoaching is currently just £55 per month – a similar cost of a mid-range racing tyre. We can also write a one off 6-week training block for you. Costing just £50 and called ‘Six Pack’ it’s still personalised coaching but without weekly feedback. You could try this before committing long term, for a special event or motivation during Winter months.

Ask yourself how much you are spending on the latest components and gizmos for your bike(s) are they making you a better rider or just to impress your mates?  

“I’m not a serious enough athlete - coaching is just for pros and elite racers.”.

We specialize in recreational and amateur athletes as well as top racers. We work with your background, ability, and your goals for the future.

“I can self-coach.”

You might think you can reach your goals through self-coaching or following a ‘one size fits all’ training plan. There are many on the internet and you are a highly motivated individual but how do you know you’re not under or overdoing it? Wouldn’t it be great to have someone work and adjust your training schedule just for you with the equipment and time you have available?

Our riders don’t waste time guessing rest days, training days or whether they’re working to the right intensities based on personal zones. They get total peace of mind to get on with just riding confident in the knowledge they are maximising their potential.

Contact us today for further information on how we can take your cycling performance to the next level

Time Trial Pacing

Some of you are still looking for that elusive personal best this season, in my experience, these can come late in the year – some of us have left it as late as 1st week of October!

If you have trained hard and have the form there may be a reason why you can’t quite crack that ride you did last season or a few years ago on the same course. There are a lot of variables but one you have control over is pacing.

Many people simply start way too fast and can’t maintain the effort, far better to start conservatively and build to your cruising heart rate over the first few minutes – this will be your functional threshold heart rate [FTHR] that you can maintain for 1 hour in a 25-mile TT and just a few beats higher for a 10-mile TT.

Heart rate, should rise gradually over the first 2 minutes to FTHR, after the initial acceleration from the start the rider used his power meter to manage his effort at FTP. If you’re fortunate enough to own a power meter this is a handy tool to use but with experience and little practice you can manage effort at the start by feel. The illustration then shows a gradual increase in effort over the last third of the ride to go virtually flat out for the last mile.

What are the effects of starting to fast?

Ironically you will in most cases record a slower time. A graph will show your HR rising almost vertically and overrunning FTHR, you will go anaerobic - recover - repeat the whole ride. In most cases you will finish feeling totally spent and wondering why you went so slow rather than tired but exhilarated knowing you paced the effort correctly and left nothing ‘on the road’.

Want to know more about how to train and pace a successful time trial and beat your personal best including how to find your Functional Thresholds

Contact us at Merlin Cycle Coaching

Merlin Cycle Coaching signs sponsorship deal

It is with great pleasure we announce sponsorship of East Grinstead Cycling Club.
EGCC is one of the oldest established cycling clubs in Sussex with some of the best club riders in the area including past national champions.

The Club will shortly update all affiliations to reflect its new name EGCC/Merlin Cycle Coaching

Over the next 4 years its members will benefit from coaching, event support and testing facilities at Merlin as well as financial assistance when purchasing new Club clothing.
A slightly revised version of current clothing design will be manufactured with Merlin