Sally Bigham

Sally Bigham approached TORQ in 2008, inquisitive that she may have the potential to be a much better Mountain Biker if she understood some training and nutritional fundamentals. She’d had a torrid time up to that point, but now in retrospect it transpires that not only was she underperforming, but she was actually ‘severely’ underperforming. Since Sally approached us, she has gone from strength to strength and has taken huge leaps forwards in performance. Almost four years later and after her first season as a Pro, I think to announce that after the 2011 season she is ranked UCI World No.1 pretty much says it all. Oh and she also won the Cape Epic in 2011, the biggest, most prestigious Mountain Bike race in the world.

If this is your first visit to the TORQ website, this article may have started to come across as a tad self-celebratory, but if you’re a regular visitor and understand TORQ’s philosophies, hopefully you’ll see this for what it is – a Great British success story. The fact that I’ve been coaching Sally for 3 years and this is actually her first mention on these pages hopefully gives credence to this. We work with many athletes confidentially and most of the time we’re so busy building athletes that we simply don’t have time to brag about it!  Let me also make this clear – yes TORQ have been involved with Sally’s performance, but we can only work with what we have and what you have in Sally Bigham is an incredibly dedicated athlete whose only possible regret could feasibly be that she hadn’t discovered her true potential and love of Mountain Biking sooner (my words, not hers).

Here’s a brief summary of Sally’s last few years from the girl herself and please take note of her excellent nutritional advice. This is textbook stuff and shows that she has a thorough understanding of performance nutrition:

“My name is Sally Bigham and I’ve just finished my first year as a full-time pro-rider racing for Topeak-Ergon Racing Team. I’m not your ‘normal’ pro-rider though; only discovering mountain biking 5 years ago, I’ve faced a steep learning curve and many challenges. It’s all been worth it though: during 2011 I had victories in eight different countries, including winning the Cape Epic 8 day stage race (South Africa), a silver medal in the UEC European Championships, and I’m currently ranked number one in the World UCI marathon rankings.

It all started in 2006 with the aim of conquering a 24-hour solo mountain bike race. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts in 2007, including one occasion when I collapsed from dehydration after leading the race for 17 hours, I finally approached Matt Hart from TORQ. I tried TORQ energy products and, unlike others on the market, I found the drinks really light and refreshing (and not too sweet) and the bars tasted like real food rather than sweets. I also liked the fact that the ingredients were natural and didn’t contain sweeteners. Matt gave me invaluable advice on training and race nutrition and after more than 24 hours of riding, many litres of TORQ energy drink and countless TORQ energy bars, I finally did it in 2008: I won Mountain Mayhem, the biggest 24-hour race in the UK.

There were some unexpected events during my preparation for Mountain Mayhem: winning my first National Marathon Title and qualifying for the World Marathon Championships. This marked a turning point in my cycling career: I wanted to race marathons. And I wanted to be the best marathon rider that I could. In 2009 I joined Topeak Ergon Racing Team and I had to raise my level. Fast. This was when I decided that I needed regular coaching; I didn’t have time to learn through trial and error.

Matt has coached me for the last 3 years, my performance has steadily improved each year, and I’ve learnt about what makes me fast and strong. One invaluable thing that he’s taught me is to know when to rest and understand that resting is key to making gains in performance. It seems obvious, but it’s very hard to be objective about my own training and Matt is able to help me make rational decisions.

As well as fitness training, I’ve learnt so much about how important it is to get my nutrition right in training and racing. I didn’t realise that eating the correct amount of carbohydrates on a training ride would not only benefit me that day, but that it would also mean that I could get the most out of my training the next day. I now have specific routines in terms of what I eat and drink on and off the bike in order to benefit the most from training and racing.

During training rides I calculate my carbohydrate intake based on the principle of 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per hour, and I achieve this by using energy drinks, bars and gels. After training I always drink a TORQ recovery drink and I eat a meal about 45 minutes later. During interval training and races I often cannot eat solid foods so I get all of my carbohydrates from drinks and gels.   

On race day I eat breakfast 3 hours before the start – this can often mean that I’m awake at 5am. Five minutes before the race starts I eat a gel. Throughout the race I drink TORQ energy mixed at 6% (3 scoops per 750ml bottle; 2 per 500ml bottle) and I eat gels. If it’s a hot race then I drink more and eat fewer gels; if it’s a cold race then I drink less and eat more gels, but I always make sure that I get the correct amount of carbohydrates per hour (up to 1.5grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per hour during a race). In the last 30 minutes of the race I take a TORQ caffeine gel with guarana to give me an extra psychological boost. This nutrition strategy works really well for me; sometimes I’ve made mistakes – not finishing a bottle or missing a gel – and it’s directly impacted upon my race performance.

I wouldn’t have learnt all of this on my own, and even if I had it would have taken a lot longer and many more mistakes before I got it right. Matt’s input and advice has been central to my development as a cyclist and I cannot thank him enough!
The 2011 season is now over, I’ve just had a month off structured training, and I’m about to start my winter training. I’m looking forward to warm weather training in the canaries and I’m excited about some new racing adventures in 2012, including the Leadville 100 in the USA. More than anything though, I’m excited about riding my bike.”

Sally will be blogging regularly on the TORQ website in 2012, so keep an eye out for monthly updates.