I had lots of plans for some epic Christmas rides which were all scuppered by illness. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of getting through winter without some kind of cough or cold but is there anything I can do to minimise my chances of picking something up? Also, when should you start riding again after an illness? Sitting inside tapping my fingers isn’t doing anything for my sanity, neither is it improving relations with my nearest and dearest!
S. Jones, email

Picking up a winter virus may seem almost inevitable but there are a few things you can do to help avoid it. Number one has to be washing your hands, as viruses can survive on surfaces for a surprisingly long time. All you need to do is get the virus on your hands from a door handle and wipe your eyes or pick your nose and you’ve given it a free ride into a warm environment to breed and multiply.
Second is obviously, don’t wipe your eyes, pick your nose or otherwise invite it into your body. To keep your immune system — your body’s defence barrier — in top condition make sure you are getting plenty of fresh fruit and veg in your diet. Glutamine has also been shown to help prevent illness, particularly in those doing strenuous exercise. Five grams a day is recommended. If you use recovery drinks after your ride then Science in Sport (SiS) and Maximuscle drinks already include this ingredient, otherwise you can take it as a supplement.
If you have an illness the simple rule is don’t exercise if symptoms are below the neck. If they are above the neck, bunged up nose and headaches, start doing light exercise and assess how you feel after 20 minutes and if you feel worse head home. Hard exercising when you have a virus can have serious repercussions on your health and will do little to improve your fitness. Wait it out and start back gradually.


I regularly commute to work — a distance of about 12 miles. I do this two or three times a week. This is done on a strange bike with skinny tyres and curly handlebars. This has been great for my fitness, but I don’t seem to be getting any fitter! The commute takes roughly the same amount of time (40 mins) as it always has done and I still feel knackered at the end of the week. When I’m out on the proper bike I do feel strong and can tackle all-day rides.
I would like to improve my fitness and strength and tackle some enduro events this year. I’m also wondering if I need to supplement my diet with these fancy shakes and potions. Strength and fitness gains are the most important, but I thought with all this commuting, I would develop calves and thighs of steel. This, as yet, has not happened. I am approaching 30 and still look like a 14-year-old boy in saggy lycra.
John Moore, email

You are allowed to say ‘road bike’ around here. Even the world’s best downhill riders are known to dabble with skinny tyres and are pretty handy on them. Horses for courses and all that — if you commute on the road why not ride the best bike for the job?
Right, down to answering your question. The reason you have reached a plateau is because you aren’t doing anything new in your riding to progress your fitness. The keys words in training are challenge, adapt and change. Challenge your body with something new, adapt to the additional stress, be it increased distance or a faster session, and you get fitter. But to keep progressing you have to change what you are doing again to add new stress to your body.
Instead of riding the same route to and from work try and do a longer ride on either the way in or the way home. Forty minutes isn’t really that long in cycling terms for someone planning on doing enduros, and commuting in traffic can be very stop-start. If twice a week you could increase your commute to an hour that would help build your endurance. As the days get longer increase it even further. As well as changing the distance try altering the pace of your rides, most people commute at one speed. On one ride a week make an effort to go really hard for 20 minutes of your ride and easy the rest of it. Make sure you take a day or two off the bike each week and have an easier week every four to six weeks. Keep a note of what riding you’ve done and how you are feeling. If you are feeling tired several days in a row take two to three days off your commutes until you feel fresh again.
As far as getting big calves and thighs goes, it sounds like you have the physique of many cross-country and hill-climbing whippets. This should be in your favour when it comes to performance in enduros. However, if you genuinely want to bulk up then gym work off the bike and more specific power work in a high gear for sprinting and climbing will help, but when it comes to physique you get what you are given genetically. You can make small changes, but better to work with what you’ve got and enjoy the advantages your light physique will give you over bigger riders.


I’m thinking about entering the TransWales mountain bike stage event but I’m concerned that my fitness levels aren’t up to scratch and I’ll struggle to complete it.
I’ve done two 100km Meridas, both last summer, and finished them but I took nearly seven hours to get round and was not in great shape by the end.
Will the TransWales be out of my league and what will I need to do to get into shape for it?
A Simons, email

Completing a 100km event is no mean feat and shows that you already have some degree of mountain bike fitness, regardless of your finishing time.
To complete, and more importantly enjoy, TransWales I’d suggest you need to work on improving your efficiency on the bike so that you can ride faster but also use less energy to maintain a given speed. This is what will ensure you have something in the tank day after day. Not all of TransWales is a race, the linking stages are longer than the special stages so to do well in the race sections you need to be able to complete the link stages in a reasonable time without riding so hard you are knackered for the races.
Between then and now, instead of just focusing on covering distance, aim to do some shorter, harder sessions, maybe in the week when time is short. A good staple session is to include one or two blocks of 20 minutes of really hard consistent effort during your ride. You will also have to get used to riding day after day. If you are entering Meridas earlier in the year as preparation, consider riding for two to three hours the day before or even entering the Gore Bike Wear Road Sportive the day before.
There’s no need to do the full 100 miles, the 50 will still leave you with something for Sunday provided you ride steady and pay attention to your nutrition before, during and after.
That’s the other most important thing with stage events — making sure you are fuelling up properly each day for the following day’s ride. This means particularly looking after yourself once the day’s riding is done.