A chat with Pete Harrison: The pursuit of power, the power of porridge

Pete Harrison has watts. Lots of watts. More watts than I can even comprehend. And whether these watts need pumping out in a twenty minute frenzied surge of adrenaline and caffeine (more of which later) in a local 10 mile TT, or whether they need carefully managing over the controlled burn of an ironman leg, Pete keeps dem watts a-comin’ as if they grow on trees.

Pete has an alarming ability to scoop the trophies at basically all the events he chooses to enter – for example, in 2016, he achieved 1st in the Newbury 12 hour TT, 3rd at the ECCA 100 mile TT (all en route to taking 2nd at Best British All Rounder), and a cheeky Age Group win at Ironman Wales…. but to name a few.

He inspires trepidation when at the front of the bunch in GS Henley (the local club he’s part of) Saturday rides, and causes competitors to abandon their entries in dismay when they hear he’s taking part in that event for fear of  humiliation.

Pete and I both share a love of porridge, peanut butter, and coffee. Pete consumes enough of all of them to fell a bear, and, evidently, to make a bike move very quickly. This mutual love is what initially drew us together, and I think is the only reason we like each other.

However, I am quite intrigued as to the man behind the relentless barrage of watts, to discover more about his porridge intake, and to hear a bit more about the Athlete Service Test Team that he’s recently helped form and become a part of. 

So I sent him some deep and meaningful questions to allow us to really get into his deeper motivations and psyche…. 

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  • Right, let’s deal with the important stuff first. When did you realise that porridge is the true love of your life? Have you grown up with it or was there a moment of epiphany?

For most of my early life, my porridge consumption was relatively low; I led an unhealthy lifestyle in my teens and twenties and was overweight. However an appreciation of the nutritional and economic benefits of the oat was always there, and it would be my go-to ‘healthy’ breakfast when a fry-up, curry or breakfast pie and pint wasn’t an option.

When I hit my thirties my life changed. I was newly single and wanted to get into shape. I started running and cycling a lot more and knew that the bacon buttie, whilst delicious, was a less than optimal fuel source. This marked the start of the downward descent into what I now refer to as ‘the porridge years’. I was on a kilo a week during this time. I cleared the kitchen cupboards of anything that didn’t contain sources of oat. I would always make sure my pocket had a flapjack or similar portable oat based snack that I could devour in an emergency. My body seemed to thrive off it…

Over the last year my porridge consumption has stabilised. I would now consider myself to be a functioning addict. I still eat large quantities of porridge, but try and keep it immediately before or after training, or as a delicious meal substitute when mixed with my favourite protein powder. I have learnt not to let the fear of when and how my next bowl is coming from dictate my life. I still have relapses; just the other day I managed to squeeze in 9 bowls of porridge in a day, but mainly it is kept under control.

  • Do you have key / go to training sessions for both ‘base’ training and for peaking / the weeks prior to a big event?

I try and do over 15hrs a week, mainly low intensity endurance tapping, probably increasing to 20hrs during the summer months.

Recently, I have been trying to do more structured interval sessions, using my TT bike which I have permanently mounted on a turbo trainer. I find it more time efficient, as you can get straight down to business without worrying about traffic dodging or poor weather. My favourite sessions are sweetspot over-unders. They look like they will be impossible to complete before I start, but usually I just about manage them which is pretty satisfying.

Mainly though, I just try and have fun. This may sound corny, but riding my bike is just a hobby which I love, and so I don’t want to let structured sessions get in the way of that. I believe the moment you stop having fun, you will start to lose enthusiasm and that’s not going to lead to good results.

  • What is the best piece of kit / accessory that you couldn’t survive without?

I have a favourite porridge bowl that works really well in the microwave. Porridge never spills over and the bowl itself always stays cool to touch.

My best cycling bit of kit is my Infocrank power meter. It’s nice to know I can trust the numbers I am seeing.

  • What is the ultimate recipe and toppings for porridge?

Most of the time I don’t care what tastes the best. When you are consuming kilos of the stuff the emphasis is on minimising the packet-to-mouth time so you can get on with eating the next bowl. Sometimes, during my darkest moments, I have been known to sit in my pants and eat dry raw oats straight from the bag with a ladle.

However, when I want more of a treat, I find the best preparation method is to microwave the oats + water to the point where the oats start to ‘split’ and change consistency (this is 2mins 40sec in my microwave). I will then stir the oats, and leave for a minimum of 5min, during which time the volume will decrease and the oats become thicker and creamier. I will then add milk to loosen the mixture, a spoonful of peanut butter, then microwave again until warm. I will finish the dish by stirring in some cornflakes and some chia seeds.

  • What is the vision and aim of the AS Test Team, and how did it come to be formed?

We are all former members of GS Henley (and still are members, as second claim). It is a great club, but what we found was that our needs (as competing timetrialists) weren’t particularly aligned with the majority of the club riders who don’t require specific skin suits and kit. We wanted to get better control over our kit choice, website content, group testing sessions etc and we also wanted to organise and host a successful open time trial during 2017, all of which we felt we could more easily achieve as a separate entity.

This led to the formation of AS Test Team – the “AS” standing for “Athlete Service” which is our (brilliant) local bike shop.

The team’s main aim for 2017 is to have some top bantz. But also;

  • Establish ourselves as a successful racing team taking regular podiums and team prizes at major Opens in 2017
  • Win the team competition in the National 50mile championships
  • Organise and deliver a memorable Open Time Trial event in the Henley area
  • Expand whilst remaining close knit
  • Support and develop one or two junior riders each season

The team have been working well together so far, and we just got our first team win at the FCC Xmas 10mile time trial (thanks to Peter Harrison, David Woodhouse & Paul Elcock).

Our in-house aero guru David Woodhouse has been helping make us more aerodynamic and early 2017 will see us doing a fair bit of aerodynamic field testing to fully hone our positions ready for the start of the season.

We have a website up and running at www.astestteam.com although it is still in its infancy. We hope to start a blog on there and regularly publish race reports and images.

  • Tell me the story behind your proudest moment

Assuming you mean cycling / triathlon moment, it would be when I finished Ironman Wales in 2014 and first qualified for Kona.

I had raced Ironman Lanzarote earlier that year (May 2014) and felt like I was in great shape. After high expectations, I had a nightmare of a race and ended up with a very mediocre finish. Friends / family are always nice and tell you how well you have done, but I knew I hadn’t done myself justice. So I entered IM Wales, immediately, while I was still in Lanzarote sitting by the pool.

By the time IM Wales came round, I didn’t care anymore about the outcome or qualifying for Kona. I was just really looking forward to racing and had loads of enthusiasm. Even during the event itself, I had loads of fun and enjoyed every minute of it. Running down the red carpet I couldn’t believe how well I had performed. It was such a surprise to me (I came 19th Overall, 4th in my age group and a guaranteed Kona slot) and an overwhelming cathartic experience followed.

  • If someone gave you Cervelo P5X for christmas, would you either love it forever, or sneak it to the back of the shed, cover it in a sheet, and pretend it never happened?

Depends if it was quick or not! I would ride a pink Raleigh shopper if it tested fast….

  • Congratulations on your forthcoming marriage. Will the bike be ‘accidentally’ getting shipped off on honeymoon with you? And does your wife realise that you are actually truly in love with porridge?

I will be doing an Ironman at the start of the honeymoon, so the bike will naturally have to stay with me for the duration. She is fully aware of this (once she reads this…).

My wife-to-be is the best thing since jumbo porridge oats and would never make me choose between her and porridge. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive anyway. Couples what porridge together stay together.

  • Looking at your blog (http://www.swimbikerunporridge.com), it is evident that your scientific background (Pete is a nuclear engineer by day) informs your approach to the bike with regards to nutrition and aero gains. Do you apply a particular scientific approach to your training?

Having a scientific background certainly helps. I am used to analysing data and reviewing / learning / improving which is one thing I enjoy about time trialling. However I can’t take a lot of credit for aero gains. It takes more than a good engine and sh1 loads of oats to be fast; I am lucky to have people willing to help me get the most out of my engine. Surrounding myself with people who know what they are doing to make me appear better is actually fairly similar to my workplace strategy….

  • Can you please outline your caffeine, peanut butter and porridge on a typical day of weekend training?

A typical Saturday would go something like (bliss!); (All porridge served with peanut butter)

  • 05:30. Coffee machine on (takes ~ 30mins to warm up). Porridge #1.
  • 06:00 Coffee #1. Porridge #2.
  • 06:30 Coffee #2. Toast & PB & jam.
  • 07:15 Leave house for ride.
  • 13:00 Return from ride. Coffee machine on. Porridge #3.
  • 13:30 Coffee #3. Coffee #4. Porridge #4.
  • 14:30 Lunch. Coffee #5.
  • 15:00 Coffee #6.
  • 18:00 Dinner.
  • 18:30 Porridge #5.
  • 22:00 Porridge #6.
  • 03:00 Porridge #7.

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I’d like to pass on my massive thanks to Pete for sparing me the time to contribute to this piece.

Pete, I’ll buy you a bag of oats to say thanks (just some cheap ones mind, no middle-class jumbo oat nonsense)

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