Russell Downing: hard yards and poached eggs

Russell Downing is one of the stars of British road racing. He’s one of the most popular riders in this country, even with his rivals — although  he’s not always popular with his training partners, at least not when he’s on a mission. Downing probably is better left alone then,

He’s the creator of some legendary rides around the hills of South and West Yorkshire, and epitomises a work ethic of the ‘go hard or go home’ school. Downing is as uncompromising in a race as he is in training, which is why he’s a winner.

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What’s your favourite 
pre-ride meal and why?
RD: Porridge and poached eggs on toast. I never overdo it though. I won’t have a big meal even before a really long ride.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and who gave it you?
RD: It’s better to lose two days than two weeks, and it was given to me by the Milk Race winner Chris Walker. What he means is listen to your body and if you really don’t feel like riding, and especially if you feel sick or have a cold, then don’t ride.

The feeling won’t last forever. Rest a bit and you’ll soon be back. Ignore it, though, and you might get properly sick and miss two weeks.

When it comes to nutrition what do most amateurs get wrong?
RD: Not much. It’s a bit scary but most of them know more than I do. There’s so much access to what was once 
pro-only information now, from magazines like Cycling Weekly and from other sources. It’s all accessible to everyone.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when starting out?
RD: To be honest there’s not much I’d change, except my age. I wish I was younger because there are so many more opportunities now.

What’s your favourite naughty food?
RD: Caramel slices. Oh, and the odd pint of Guinness.

Can you tell us about a 
time when you got your nutrition wrong?
RD: Nothing stands out. I’ve blown up now and again; you know, in the first two or three weeks of training. But once you’ve blown you don’t do it again.

It’s like you can go harder and further for the same food after you blow. So in a way I welcome it; I know I will ride better once I recover.

Do you prefer real food or supplements when you are racing or training?
RD: A bit of both really. I’ll start with real food, things like panini with ham or rice balls, then later on I go on to energy bars and gels.

What’s the key to always improving performance?
RD: Overload and raising the bar. I always do a massive week that ends the week before a big objective. Take the one I did the week before I won the 2005 National Road Race. I did 27 hours, including one session of the full race distance of 230 kilometres, and I rode the East Yorkshire Classic, a Premier Calendar race without easing off before it.

I blew in the race after about four hours, but I took it easy the next week, recovering totally, and I was flying in the Nationals, really flying. You overload on training then rest and then your body overcompensates and your fitness jumps up. Keep raising the bar just means keep pushing harder, never be satisfied.

If you packed up riding right now, what are the three most important things you have learned?
RD: You learn about yourself in cycling. You are on your own a lot, training or in hotels, so you get comfortable in your own skin. You don’t always need people, and that makes you quite independent. Cycling also makes you quite strong in the head, so if you were doing another job and under the cosh from a boss you’d get on and do it. The third thing is you have to be organised to be a bike racer. You’ve got to maintain your own bike, have it ready for training, plan your training and be good at time-keeping.

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