Thursday 17 November 2016

Revived : Cox's 80 #coxs80

After I retired from competition 3 years ago I embarked on marking my 81st and final race victory with 80 (+1) tips in the form of tweets that I tweeted every day for 80 days. 

These were tweeted in the run up to Christmas and with that in mind I thought it would be a great time to impart them again now.

Within them I share what to me are some of the elements that turned me from a quite average young athlete to British number one as well as some critical dos and don'ts that I still need to remind myself of from time to time.

I now manage a 6 sport academy as well as two Great Britain teams and many of these nuggets and insights are applicable across sports so I hope you find them useful.


Cox’s 80

1/80: The minute you really hurt in a race, remember that moment, where you were and how it felt and try to recreate it in training as closely as possible.
2/80: Most people start the final run way too fast. Forget the crowd and start at 60% and you'll nearly always be quicker overall
3/80: Use elastic laces in both race and training shoes because they allow a much more natural foot action.
4/80: In your kit bag keep spare bar end plugs, a chain link, inflation canister, gaffer tape and get out of jail free #maxifuel gels ;-)
5/80: Race more. Most Triathletes are stifled by not racing enough. Go to and get planning!
6/80: ITU and BTF rules actually allow drafting in cross du and tris but organisers rarely say so. Make the most of it!
7/80: One recovery month a year, one recovery week a month, one recovery day a week. (Ish.. make your months 5 weeks ;-))
8/80: Don’t listen to people talking before a race about 'the hill', 'that corner' 'that descent'. They're rarely ever that bad.
9/80: In a race, as in life, never look back or think too far forward. In all aspects of sport and life: Be Here Now.
10/80: Don't mess around with shoes. Find the ones that work for you and stick with them. Forget fashion & go with function over form!
11/80: I never race without taking two Imodium Plus tablet an hour before the start. Don't take my advice on this but if you're friends with the bushes you might find them miraculous. I do...
12/80: For multisport, always leave a 'get out of jail free' Isotonic gel such as a Viper Active gel next to your run shoes in T2
13/80: Higher peaks come after deeper troughs. It’s all about the balance. Only want to be the same? Just do the same.
14/80: Remember to pick up your wheel QRs from the pavement before driving 1/2 way round the M25 to suddenly remember leaving them there. (Doh.)
15/80: Can’t remember last time you just went for a ride or run for the fun of it? Wind back a bit and stop to smell the flowers (man)
16/80: Look after your chain and clean it regularly. It’s one of those things that can gradually slow you down without you noticing
17/80: Gentlemen, shave your legs. Ladies, for goodness sake shave your legs!
18/80: Ride MTB XC? Forget fashion and fit bar ends. They were there at the start in the 90s for a reason - they work
19/80: Try to have a very hilly run route and a pan flat one. Specific extremes are the way to go. Avoid no-man’s-land!
20/80: Wide bars=better stability, lower position, better air through-flow, leverage, stability and control. Don't argue! Just try it! ;-)
21/80: Easy on the caffeine. It’s great for pre-training but when racing, in reality what most people need is to be calm.
22/80: It’s cheating, I know, but I've got 57 to go! “It always seems impossible until it's done.” - Nelson Mandela
23/80: Your compression socks should be a nightmare 2 get on and off if they are tight enough to be effective. The very best are CEP
24/80: Too dark to train? Look up 'cree bike light' on ebay to find an incredible £27 bargain of a light with a green rim lens.
25/80: Twice a week this winter spend 15 mins riding just left leg, then both, then right, then both in a nice light spinny gear.
26/80: Training at altitude works! As I found in the Himalayas '06 you just have to accept going much slower when you're there though
27/80: Don’t buy the 'train on Christmas Day because no one else will' myth. Too many people do! Bliss out man......#pigsinblankets
28/80: Forget Lanzarote for training. Gran Canaria is where it’s at. Mountainous, more varied and 50min climbs...
29/80: Stage races and long rides. Vaseline.
30/80: Sitting straight? If not, nothing beats the new Bontrager RXL Hi-Lo Saddle for complete groove adjustment precision #trekbikes
31/80: A pair of ripped track mitts will mean you can still ride tomorrow. (who wants hand tan anyway, Tom Rowan ..?)
32/80: Every now and again spray the top surface of your road pedals with GT-85 and notice the difference in smooth float
33/80: Carefully experiment with pure L-Glutamine powder to help speed up recovery. An idea that worked for me, your choice though...
34/80: Never ever start a race without knowing why you are there and what you aim to do. Then have a plan B.
35/80: With racing (as with life) just accept that some days you're the statue and some days you're the pigeon.
36/80: Learning from 2013: Start with subjective lessons, then objectify them, extract the learning outcome and apply it. List them!
37/80: Are you still reading this list?  Excellent, keep going.
38/80: Use this time of year to try other disciplines. Aim for ones you're really bad at as that’s where you'll learn most.
39/80: Don't copy others without knowing why. Only dead fish go with the flow.
40/80: Never be afraid to celebrate being HALF WAY BABY!  Pass me that barrel scraper.....
41/80: Get some 15mm spikes and make the most of running in this mud. It'll do you so much more for you than the road.
42/80: If you use off-road pedals trust me you cannot beat time ATACs. I have no ties to them but they're simply perfect.
43/80: If you go on a treadmill this time of year do the 1st and last 10 mins v light in bare feet and simply aim 2 have quiet feet
44/80: Never pretend that it's all real. Someday, soon this will all be someone else's dream.
45/80: One race will be your last. You may not get to chose which and you might have already done it. Don't put off being your best
46/80: Struggling for running inspiration? Get a copy of Chris McDougal's (sp?) 'Born to run'. It’s a great read.
47/80: I've won 81 races and come 2nd 50 times. In at least half those 50 races I 'resigned' to coming 2nd before the finish. Don’t.
48/80: Next time you corner hard, instead of sticking your inside knee out just try pressing it in against your top tube as you lean.
49/80: Appreciate what you have achieved and love what you are trying to achieve. Leave the rest to God.
50/80: Activate your glutes! They drive so much of what you do but we just sit on them way too much.
51/80: Marry a beautiful pro cyclist with the aim of living off her winnings.
52/80: Replace your elastic laces once a year or more. Mine snapped half way through the Mud and Mayhem at Thetford to teach me that.
53/80: Use downhill running reps at speed to open up your hip flexors and improve form. 15x 50 metres should do. Just lean in...
Okay, so I meant 15 x 50 metres....
55/80: Take it from me: within minutes of quitting a race you'll feel fine and wish you'd carried on. Be safe but be resilient more
56/80: Mediocrity is a disease. As a vaccine, try to spend time with people who are steadfastly excellence focussed.
57/80: Every now and again when out training just stop, listen and breathe. It's the lemon to your pancake. 
58/80: Imagine yourself trying to fire a rocket launcher from a canoe on a lake. That's why you need good core stability.
59/80: Further to my barefoot treadmill tip a few weeks ago, here's some barefoot skins to stop the blisters:
60/80: In the 80s Nike coined quite simply the most inspirational, important and relevant mantras of all time: just do it.
61/80: Doing the Iceman today? It's the perfect race for measuring your effort evenly. Try not to go too deep with spikes in effort.
62/80: Never ever half wheel people at the front of a group ride. For most people it's their chimp doing it. Have a word.
63/80: New road bike? Make sure you remove both dust caps and nuts from the valves. It’s how you move on from looking like a beginner.
64/80: If you're off the bike you should sit down. If you're sitting down you should lie down. If you lie down you should be asleep.
65/80: Doing big gear force training on the bike, always mix it up with high cadence low resistance stuff. It’s formulaic.
66/80: Graham Crow: "Attack, then attack again. If that doesn't work then attack harder. Thanks Graham!
67/80 2 good 2 pass by: Gordon McCauley: "Use your quick release lever when you're out of tyre levers out on the road." Top man GMC
68/80: If you're looking for the final touch to your TT bike the disc wheel is it. Windy? That's when you get the most out of it
69/80: Do a life audit and don't put off getting rid of the things that drag you down no matter how new they are.
70/80 (borrowed) Don't hurry, don't worry. You're only here for a short visit. So be sure to stop and smell the flowers.
71/80: Try great races: Human Race off-road, Hillingdon du series, Mumbles du, Go Beyond Clumber Classic, Powerman UK for a start
72/80: Everyone's potential had a ceiling. Find the loft hatch, open it and climb through. There’s always surprising things in an attic!
73/80: When riding behind the Derny you can go much closer than you think. (tip to self!)
74/80: If I could offer one cycling tip above all it would be relax. In all disciplines unnecessary tension is a big no no.
75/80: Your minute by minute experience of the world is really framed by your reaction to it so smile in order to re-frame it.
77/81: Get inspired by: Thomas Frischnecht, Maurizio Fondriest, Roy Chamberlain, Marianne Vos, John Tomac, Suzanne DeGoode, Danny Macaskill
78/81: As one of my GB AG 74+ team told me last year: you don't stop racing because you get old. You get old because you stop racing.
79/81: Think not how much time you have in your life. Think how much life you have in your time.
80/81: ODP, Talent team and GB squad are NOT the only way. Don’t let a panel decide your future. Get out there and do it.
81/81: Far greater it is to dare mighty things to win glorious triumphs even though chequered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much, nor suffer much, for they live in a grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

Thanks for listening, thanks for questioning and thanks for making me laugh. I've enjoyed it and actually learnt a fair bit about you lot along the way.

Monday 8 February 2016

How to train for cross duathlon

What’s 'cross duathlon'? Well, it’s not angry. But you might be when you find out what you’ve been missing out on! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist...)

It’s basically off-road duathlon (run-bike-run).
Because of the testing, technical and often muddy nature of this predominantly winter sport the race distances tend to be shorter, with most averaging out at around 7k-20k-4k. The biggest and best-known series is the Human Race Series in the South and South East. These tend to be longer and take in large forested courses and steep climbs with lots of technical features. As you travel further North, cross duathlons are more spread-out but the courses are just as exciting and technically demanding with well-respected races being hosted by Mud and Mayhem at Thetford and the Bolesworth Centre in Chester. Even further North there are great off road kicks to be had at the Bowhill Duathlon on the Scottish Borders. There are plenty to experience and the joy of off-road racing means that no two races are the same. One thing you will never hear cross duathletes discussing is race splits. It’s never about time and always about the terrain, or surface, or mud, or roots, or rocks, or water crossings or some other feature that by the finish line all competitors have been unified by though conquering. It’s an adventure within a race. It’s about so much more than time.
Okay, so enough with the hard sell. You’ll have grasped that I am a fully converted off-roader myself having spent years racing road-based duathlons. The rapid expansion of the whole off-road multisport scene has meant that along with me there is an ever growing crew of dedicated mud lovers who no longer have to touch the tarmac in a race at all. With that new found specialism have come new elements to focus on in training and here are a series of key areas to address if you are contemplating a cross duathlon or two this winter:

Hit the road on your off-roader

Courtesy Human RaceLet’s face it, having to clean mud off your bike and kit after every ride is a drain so when going for a road ride, simply take your mountain bike. As long as you don’t hold people up, heading out for a long steady ride on the road with a group who are all on road bikes means that you will have a work out which is not only specific to your mountain biking position on the bike but also that you will have a session out with all of your ride buddies. By all means expect them to try to ‘drop you’ in the hope that they can say “told you not to come on your mountain bike” and therein lies your session’s goal: Don’t get dropped!
It means that you will need to ride conservatively and shelter from the wind more but by hanging in there and riding your MTB when all others are on their thin tyred race machines it will you who’s laughing when you see how much stronger you become. Make sure you put extra air in your tyres so they roll faster and, where possible, lock out any suspension.

Up your training when it snows

As soon as it snows, pack in plenty of MTB rides and cross country runs in the deepest snow you can find. Try to get off the beaten track to where the snow has not been compacted as that’s where it is safer. It will provide you with a uniquely hard strength training session and riding in the snow immediately accelerates your bike handling skills with a soft landing waiting for you when you get it wrong.
Running in the white stuff will also encourage optimal off-road run form with a high knee lift and a classic forefoot style which is necessary in order to get some purchase in the snow. The great thing is, you don’t actually need to think about any of this. Just get out there and keep moving. The snow will create the training session for you. Stay away from ice and compacted snow and make sure you are confident about what is beneath the snow. Also, don’t expect to go far. Find an open area that you are confident with and just keep moving. Suddenly, those ‘snow days’ where you just happen to be stuck at home (oh dear...) become a unique and massively beneficial training session.

Learn to run down hill (fast)

Finding a steep off-road hill to practice running down as fast as your legs will carry you has benefits for all areas of your training. Firstly, it’s a skill thing: by doing it you will be able to make up more time in the bumpy downhill sections where you’ll find many backing off but it’s more than that. The action of ‘letting go’ and allowing your legs to ‘roll through’ underneath you while you keep your upper body leaning in (but always at 90 degrees to the ground) gives you a really effective dynamic stretch of your hip flexors and this will, over time, convert into a free-er feeling running action. The angle of your foot strike and the subsequent toe-off when doing this will also pay dividends for your flat running. 10 to 15 reps running down the hill is more than enough and the hidden bonus is that in that time you will have also done 15 uphill reps without even thinking about it. Learn to relax, let go and drop like a stone and you’ll be amazed how many places you can make up in races once the trail tilts down.

Mud is your friend

Courtesy Human RaceEven with all the road based MTB’ing I’ve been suggesting and rosy-cheeked snow runs (followed by hot mince pies), invariably, come race day, with the number of other competitors out there, you’re going to hit the mud in races and trust me, the mud will hit back.
So, rather than running and riding off-road all the time and trying to avoid the mud you’re better off doing more training on the road for practical reasons and then actively seeking out the muddiest routes when you do head off-road. In terms of the training benefits, the resistance generated by going straight through the brown stuff is not quite as effective (or pleasant) as snow but it doesn’t half speed up your improvements in bike handling as you learn to stay seated and ‘steer with your bum’. Added to that, the seemingly annoying clumping of mud around your running shoes is actually the mud fairies clinging on to give you a helping hand by making you stronger and more supple as your running style adapts to cope with the gloopy conditions. (Just to be clear, it’s not really them but go with me on this okay?)
You will soon learn new ways of seeking out ‘bonus grip’ on both the bike and the run in the muddiest sections but it will require you to commit to it and resolve to dissect those puddles and mud patches while your friends gingerly poottle round them. Aside from feeling like a big kid again you’ll be relying on the same skills and mud-plugging ability that will see you leaving your road loving friends behind when they do eventually give in to the lure of cross duathlon. What’s more, come Spring it will convert into extra road speed and efficiency.

The beauty is of course that training and racing off-road does most of this for you. It’s not a complex set of carefully timed intervals or number-crunched coach-devised controlled pain exertion. It is instead the terrain and conditions setting the session for you. Eventually you will find that a muddy trail lit by a head torch on an evening run or a pristine snow covered field on a crisp weekend morning says, “come on then, let’s see what you’ve got..” far more powerfully that your grim-faced turbo trainer sat waiting in the corner of the room or that same old pavement route that you’ve run for years.
On paper, hitting the trails is play but play enough and eventually that play will pay.

Jez Cox