“THERE HAVE BEEN TWO OCCASIONS in my cycling life that I’ve been really down”, confided outgoing LVRC chairman Don Parry to me while, enveloped by our respective wing-backed armchairs, we each sipped on a smooth Rwandan coffee by the hearth of a Northamptonshire town-house, as outside an autumnal dusk began extracting what remained of the day’s warmth.
“The first time was in 1990. I was 42 years old then, returning to competitive cycle sport after twenty-odd years away. At the time I stopped racing I’d been one of the country’s bright young things, in 1966 beating no lesser names than Ian Hallam  and Graham Moore  – in a sprint I executed perfectly, clicking through from a 76″ to an 81″ and finally an 86″ gear to win by a length – and so become National Junior Road-Race Champion before being sent to Germany to represent Great Britain in the 1967 Tour of the Youth , and in 1968 training in the evenings alongside Peter Buckley  and Kev Wood in the hills encircling Manchester. Fast forward though to the spring of 1990, to my competitive come-back, and week after week I was getting a right kicking at the veteran’s races around The Milton Keynes Bowl. I was so depressed at how uncompetitive I was that I was ready to give it up, to go back to playing squash for Dallington Fifth’s, the ‘drinking team’, as we were known”.
Beating future international riders Ian Hallam and Graham Moore into the minor podium positions, 18 year old Don Parry wins the 1966 National Junior Road Race Championship in Sherston, Wiltshire with what he describes as “a perfectly executed sprint”.
I’ve started, so I’ll finish
“And the second time, what depressed you the second time in your cycling world?”, I asked.
“Can I come back to that”, replied Don, “I’d like to finish off the first story?”
I inclined my head almost imperceptibly and added a superfluous wave of the hand, accepting without question that no cyclist likes to surrender momentum, even verbal momentum.
“I was depressed at being more than merely uncompetitive, I wasn’t able to finish the races – being completely cooked by their relentless intensity. Legs like jelly, and totally aerobically wasted. I came home after one event and said to Elaine that if I don’t hang on to the bunch in the next race, it would be my last and I’d pack it in. Except I did hang on in that race, and after three months – three long and painful months of getting a kicking every week – I managed to get race fit enough to able to finish. Later I came to realise that my physiology is made for The Bowl – in any of its configurations. I was able to win frequently”.
And indeed this must be true, for it has taken until 2016, that’s twenty-five years, for Don to finally not compete for the wins any more at The Bowl, with the massive caveat that this slide is only in age groups fifteen or so years his junior. Measure him against the F cats there – the 65-70 year old’s like himself – and it would take some unusual visitors to deny him the wins: “Alan Kemp  for example – he’s a fabulous rider and I’ve never beaten him fair and square,” admitted Don, “he’s the best veteran racer of my generation and I’m lucky he didn’t ride The Bowl”.
“So you raced out-of-category a lot in ‘training races’ in order to better compete for wins when it mattered more, do you think LVRC should do more to encourage that?” I asked, “both for the strongest riders to race with ‘youngsters’, as you’ve done, and for the weaker riders to race in older groups? A sort of back-door way of streaming races by ability, but without the administrative burden that ability-streaming requires?”
Don was inclined to agree, but with provisos, “You’d have to ensure that points and prizes didn’t accrue to out-of-category riders. And, you’d have to be able to send successful youngsters back to their own age group, so I wonder about the difference it would end up making. It couldn’t be a short-cut to glory, an alternative to the hard workouts that is often the real reason people leave this branch of cycle sport – the somewhat shocking realization of the high-intensity types of training needed, and an unwillingness to keep on doing it. Although having said all that, if it would help give people honest competition it could be worth discussing.”
At this point I could easily have headed off into an exploration of training protocols and tools, of periodization, peaking and recovery, but restrained myself. There was still the matter of the second cycling depression. I topped up the coffee and risked floating this topic again. I needn’t have worried.
“Oh my second downer was much more recent, early 2016 in fact. I’d been LVRC Chairman for a decade and could see what needed to be done in the near future – applying technology more widely, and encouraging veteran women to race with us for example – and realised that the fresh people needed to achieve this just weren’t coming forward.”
Outgoing LVRC Chairman after a decade at the helm and now aged 67: that’ll be Don Parry
“The NEC was ageing and I was saddened at the very real prospect of LVRC withering away at the age of thirty-something. Fortunately, come the spring of this year came the volunteers, new young applicants at national and regional level, women too, which is fantastic. So as 2016 comes to a close LVRC is now in a much stronger place than it was at the year’s beginning.”
Parry on Peaking
“And what about modern-day cycling?”, I ask, as one does of riders of a certain age. “Aside from the obvious quality and efficiency of modern components, is there anything else that contrasts strongly for you when comparing your first cycling life to your second?”
“Well before answering that I’ll tell you some things that haven’t changed”, offers Don. “You still need to join a club or a group of like-minded riders, people whose ambitions match yours and with whom you’ve more in common than just riding a bike. At my age though I try to avoid youngsters; they are just too strong and their agendas are too far removed from mine.
“Also, you still need to build a good fitness base, adding speed-work only on top of that. So after a break, a transition from the sheer physical pain of race-intensity training and racing itself, you must put the winter hours in. 10-12 a week perhaps, although not necessarily all of it outdoors. The training needn’t all be slow and steady in my opinion; I’d advise maintaining some threshold ability throughout winter with sweetspot training such as 2 x 20mins @ around 10% below threshold. And, of course, you still have to manage your rest – for vets it’s crucial. Get all that right and come the season it’s possible to be in peak form a few times. This year I peaked for the National Road Race Championships where I got gold, the National Criterium Championship, where I got gold, and the UCI Gran Fondo World Series in Poznan, Poland where I came second to a chap who collapsed and was taken to hospital while I was on the podium receiving my silver medal!
Parry on Power
“Returning to your question, the big contrast in training now compared with a generation or two ago is really measuring power. For me, training ‘with power’ is a must, and easily justifies the associated costs, as you can quantify not only the workload but that vital follow-on to it: rest and recovery. One of the most important benefits of training with power is knowing when and how ‘hard’ to rest, although to do so you really do need to record (or at least manually fill in an estimate for) every single ride you do, or you’ll never know your true physiological stress level.
“Having stuff recorded isn’t the whole story though, as you have to use, and really understand, the software so that you can find the meaning in the data, see the patterns that reveal how to use power to its best advantage. It helps if you are a ‘detail’ person, or can work with someone who is, otherwise you’ll do as I did at first and be ‘fiddling around’ missing opportunities to use the data to its best advantage. I use Training Peaks software, which takes a while to understand, but once you know how to drive it you can create ‘what if’ scenarios quite easily. For example if I train in ‘this’ way for three days, where will that put me at ‘this’ point – maybe race day? That is hugely beneficial. And, I love to see in graphs and numbers how extreme physical exercise actually looks on paper or on screen, and how my body is reacting to training stimuli.
Don, I’d say it’s reacting pretty well. You, and your sponsor Phil Corley Cycles of Milton Keynes, must be pretty pleased with just how well.
 Ian Hallam: track medallist at Commonwealth & Olympic Games, and rode professionally for KP Crisps
 Graham Moore: turned professional in 1972 for Ron Kitchin, then rode for Raleigh and later Bantel
 Team mates then: Phil Edwards (later a key domestique to world champion Moser in the Sanson team), Bob Jones (professional rider with the Holdsworth-Campagnolo team of 1974) and Colin Clews (UCI International Commissaire and organiser of The Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic)
 Peter Buckley: road-race gold medallist, Commonwealth Games
 Alan Kemp: rode for GB in both the Milk Race and the Peace Race