Preparing for a Long Haul Flight

International travel is a different experience than it used to be…

Back in the day, long-haul flight preparation would generally start with a visit to the Executive Lounge for a few stiff drinks – a quick start for an enjoyable flight.  I didn’t worry too much about what time of day it was, the impact of changing time-zones would just be accelerated by an early buzz.

My arrival on the plane was celebrated with a glass of Champagne and some pleasantly warmed salted cashew nuts.  A couple more pre-dinner drinks would help get me “in the zone”.  Then I’d have a glass or two of wine to accompany my meal as I enjoyed a film.

A well-executed plan would result in me being overcome by waves of exhaustion as the film reached its climax – leaving me ready to sleep through the rest of the flight.

How things have changed!

Firstly, long-haul flights are a much rarer occurrence for me. I still travel a fair amount with work, but the locations I visit are much less exotic nowadays.  As a result I no longer have a shiny Executive Club card; my pre-flight preparation therefore takes place with the masses.

Fortunately, not having access to the Executive Lounge is much less of an issue when you’re not looking to get “tanked up”. Since the Heart Attack I have severely reduced my alcohol intake.  I still enjoy a drink when I have one but I only drink very occasionally – my last was in October.

Houston Departure

As I write, I’m 37,000 ft. in the air above the North Atlantic on my way to Houston for a few days on business. I’ve just enjoyed the low fat meal option, I’m keeping myself well hydrated and I’ll stay active to keep the blood flowing.

The excitement of international travel has subsided somewhat for me, and the flights don’t pass in quite the same way as they used to, however, I’m sure I’ll arrive in much better shape and it’s clearly more sustainable this way.

When I arrive I’ve got a hard week’s work to look forward to… perhaps I’ll treat myself to a glass of wine on the flight home!

The Simple Pursuit of Cycling

On the face of it, cycling is a simple pursuit; man and machine in harmony.  Technology has enhanced the experience, providing us with feedback every inch of the way, but in doing so it’s introduced complexity.  Have we lost the connection by staying connected?

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”
John F Kennedy

Cycling outside…

When I ride I use a Garmin Cycling Computer to capture some basic information; GPS tracks my journey, recording undulations and forward motion.  It also records each turn of the wheel, and every turn of the pedals; a magnet on the rear wheel beats out a rhythm reflecting distance and speed, while a similar magnet on the pedal indicates cadence.  A monitor on the frame “listens” for movement, broadcasting every action.

I also wear a Heart Rate Monitor to make sure I exercise within reasonable limits.  This, too, broadcasts to the Garmin, allowing it to record my exertion.

Of course, when I’m on the road I take my smartphone with me, “just in case”, but it’s generally double-bagged to keep it dry and kept safely tucked away.

When I finish a ride I connect my Garmin to my laptop to upload details of the ride to Strava, where I record all my activity and share what I’ve been up to with the outside world.

You would think that riding in the garage, protected from the elements, without any physical movement would simplify things, but instead things have got a lot more complicated…

In the garage…

The Turbo Trainer introduces another set of gadgets.  It is controlled by a display unit that sits neatly on the handlebars.  It provides me with feedback on my ride, cadence, speed, heart rate, etc. but I only really use it to control resistance.

In order to give my rides some structure and make them a bit more interesting I have subscribed to Zwift.  It provides a virtual cycling environment, as well as lots of fellow cyclists to “ride” with.  As well as tracking my ride, it also provides me with feedback on my performance.  An Ant+ dongle connects the Garmin to my laptop, transferring all the details, so I can view speed, cadence, heart rate and estimated power on the screen.

Zwift uses an App to turn my smartphone into a control unit so I can control elements of my ride, choose when to turn and interact with other riders (not that I generally do either as I find it a huge distraction when I’m trying to focus on riding).

When I finish my rides Zwift automatically syncs with Strava, safely recording my efforts.

Cycling Connections

My Cycling Connections

Just in case I don’t have enough feedback, I was given a FitBit for Christmas.  This records all sorts of interesting information about me throughout the day; physical activity, sleep, heart rate, etc.  Handy!

So, this simple pursuit is now supported by a spaghetti of cables, 5 display units, and an array of recording devices.  A failed connection, or the briefest of power outages can result in chaos… and often does.

Perhaps it’s time to de-clutter and get back to basics?

T minus 100 days and counting…

This weekend I trained alone.

I decided to give my imaginary training partner, Major Tim Peake, the weekend off following the excitement of Friday.  For him, running on a treadmill must be a bit of a come-down having just returned from a walk in outer space, but I don’t imagine there’s much that could follow the experience without falling a bit flat.

As imaginary training partners go, Major Tim is in relatively good shape and doesn’t need a huge amount of rest, but I thought he might appreciate a weekend with his feet up.

Major Tim’s last outing… a short walk in outer space (Copyright NASA)

Tim’s attention can now return to the serious matter of preparing for the London Marathon.  It’s now less than 100 days until the big event, which also means it’s only 14 weeks until my first big challenge of the year, the Etape Loch Ness.

Like thousands of others, the challenges of the 24th April have kept me motivated through the dark winter months.  Many will be dreaming of running up The Mall to the adulation of an adoring crowd; I’m just thinking about hitting the bottom of the climb out of Fort Augustus, and fighting my way to the summit.

The end of the Etape Loch Ness was inspired by the end of the London Marathon

I’ve set myself the goal of completing the event in under 4 hours; beating last years’ time by about 30 minutes.

I’ve also got half an eye on beating Major Tim’s London Marathon time, but there are a couple of major variables to consider:  (1) How does 6 months in orbit, and being strapped to a treadmill on the International Space Station, affect your marathon performance? and, probably more importantly, (2) What will the weather be like in Inverness?  It’s the North of Scotland… after all!

So, it’s time to knuckle down and get on with the preparation. I hope Major Tim has enjoyed his weekend off, but it’s back to work tomorrow.

Learning to ride again… an introduction to rollers

When I re-discovered cycling in the summer of 2013 my journey started in the garage on a Turbo Trainer.  Given my low level of fitness and the number of years it’d been since I’d been on a bike, the Turbo Trainer seemed like a safe way to get back into the saddle.

(Here’s a link to the original post:  http://wp.me/p3EYll-6F)

It’s easy to forget, but another major reason I started on the Turbo Trainer was because we live at the top of a relatively steep hill – I just wasn’t able to safely make it home safely.  Even today the hill is a sting in the tail for every ride but it’s become part of the “fun”.

Having “put my feet up” after Ride the North 2014 and spent months trying to regain my fitness, I was keen to keep fit throughout the winter this year.  Recognising the Turbo Trainer offers a limited cycling experience I decided to mix things up a bit by introducing a set of Rollers into the regime…

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As soon as you’re able to ride a bike I guess you must forget the feelings of insecurity and fear that accompany learning to ride a bike.  As far as I can tell, getting on a bike on a set of Rollers for the first time opens a wormhole back to those long repressed feelings!  It really is like learning to ride again!  The guy in the following video looks how I felt… decidedly wobbly!

Fortunately it didn’t take too long to get rolling, but I’ve still got a long way to go.  To start with, changing hand positions was a big deal, and it’s taken me about a month to get “comfortable” removing a hand to take a drink.

Standing up is still beyond me.  My first attempt, which in retrospect was attempted way too soon, resulted in a “video moment” and a slightly tweaked hamstring.  It still seems to make the front wheel bounce wildly out of control, with disastrous consequences.

My inability to stand creates the biggest limitation of the Rollers as I’m unable to adopt a position that gives my “seat” a rest… I currently reach my discomfort threshold after about 60 minutes, resulting in enforced (literal) comfort breaks.

One of the reasons for introducing the Rollers into the routine was to make the indoor cycling experience a bit more realistic, and better preparation for returning to the great outdoors.  As well as working my legs, it gives my core a better work-out than on the Turbo Trainer.  In theory my form should also improve on the Rollers, but I’ve got no idea how I’d know whether it is or not!

Having had a look around, there is some evidence that spending some time on the Rollers can increase one’s repertoire of skills.  Take a look at this…

But it’ll be a little while before I try this…

Overall, I’d say the introduction of the Rollers has been positive move.  Sometimes it’s nice just to go for a spin and to feel like you’re moving.  They certainly offer some variety from the Turbo Trainer and, like cycling outside, there’s always an element of danger, particularly if you lose concentration. That said, there’s plenty of advice out there on how to minimise the risk.  Personally, I’d suggest you look at the following video to see how not to do it!

Happy Rolling!

Starfish on a beach

Although postings to the Blog might suggest otherwise, Ride the North 2014 didn’t finish me off.  It wasn’t even the end of a blossoming cycling career   However, in retrospect, it did mark the end of a phase of my life. 

The year after my Heart Attack was one of significant change.  Fortunately it concluded with everything in much better shape than when it started.  Although I tried to look forward and “fight”, I think there was a considerable amount of “flight” in the mix.

I think I proved something to myself by successfully concluding my first summer of cycling.  The fear slowly dissipated over time.

… and so I gave myself a break.

Despite taking things a little easier, I have continued to be active and keep fit   I have also managed to maintain some of the better habits I developed.  I’ve started 2016 in better shape than I was a year ago, and I’m excited about taking on some more physical challenges (some familiar and some new).

Occasionally I receive emails from people who have stumbled across the Blog, have recognised some similarities or warning signs, and decided to do something about it.  I’m really happy to be able to make a difference, even a small one.  As a result, I’ve decided to start posting a bit more regularly, even if it’s just to let people know that I’m still here.

Training with Major Tim

It isn’t only Britain’s schoolchildren that have been inspired by Major Tim Peake’s Space Mission (Principia). The publicity around his recent launch caught the imagination of thousands of older boys and girls around the world too… including me.

Unfortunately space travel is another activity that is on my “not going to happen for medical reasons” list (together with bungee jumping and scuba diving). There are a number of factors that would rule me out, but in particular a history of heart problems wouldn’t look good on the European Space Agency application form.

Despite this, Major Tim and I have a number of things in common:

Firstly, we’re both British men in our forties who have jobs that require us to work away from home from time to time.

We’re also both working towards a physical challenge on 24th April 2016. I’ve selected the Loch Ness Etape (http://www.etapelochness.com/) as my first challenge of 2016 (a 66 mile cycle around Loch Ness), Major Tim will be participating in the London Marathon on the same day, and we’re both looking to complete our challenges in under 4 hours.

Despite Major Tim being in orbit our training conditions are more similar than you’d think… Our exterior environments are similarly inhospitable – the intimidating blackness of “space” is matched only by the monotonous greyness of a Scottish winter.  As a result we’ll both be spending a lot of time training inside on our own. Major Tim will be harnessed to his treadmill, I’ll be on my Turbo Trainer.

In order to succeed we’ll both need to battle gravity; Major Tim will be training to stay fit and healthy, overcoming the effects of microgravity on his body through physical exertion. I’ll be working hard to ensure I can overcome gravity too… Scotland isn’t flat!

So, I’ve decided to adopt Major Tim as my imaginary training partner.

I’ve found that space is a good place to let your mind drift to, to ward off the tedium of training.  Major Tim doesn’t have anywhere to go, so he’s generally a willing companion. Together we’ll work our way through the winter, spurring each other on to our goals.

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The view from Tim Peake’s window (Copyright Tim Peake)

flic.kr/p/BYXxSw

 

A message for Major Tim Peake:

Major Tim, if a little virtual companionship helps you on your way as you put in the hours of training on the International Space Station, I’ll be right alongside you… and I’m sure thousands of others will be too #TrainingwithMajorTim

 

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The view from my Turbo Trainer

Ride the North: Day 2

Fortunately it wasn’t raining when we got up. Having had torrential rain for most of the night it was a relief to be able to get up and pack up before it started again.

The night had provided a few hours’ sleep.  A combination of the strange bedding, makeshift pillow and sounds of nature had interrupted what should have been a great sleep.  On the positive side, the sound of the rain had masked the sound of snoring being generated by my fellow campers.

Breakfast Day 2 (1)

Breakfast day 2. The high spirits of Friday evening had been replaced by tiredness and nervous anticipation of what lies in store

As we made our way to breakfast, the exertions of the previous day were still fresh in our minds and our bodies.  It promised to be a slow start to the day.  The rain resumed as we prepared to leave.  It was an almost constant companion for the day.  Clothing was a tough selection; the weather was wet and warm.

Although on paper the route was easier than the previous day, it featured two challenging climbs; Cabrach and the Suie.  I was keen to operate well within myself during the morning session.  I wasn’t feeling particularly special, and I was keen to make sure I had some gas in the tank for the challenges of the afternoon.

Motivation 1

There were many forms of motivation along the way

The Cabrach however didn’t offer anywhere to hide. For me, it was a long, hard slog of almost an hour in total.  I just had to keep my head down and keep plodding away.  Fortunately motivation was high, partly generated by personal pride and partly by the presence of other participants.  Lunch was a welcome break!

Lunch Day 2

Lunch on day 2 was a slightly squelchy affair

The Suie was a different beast altogether.  There was a lot of hype about the climb; it is relatively short but the sharpest we would have to contend with.  I haven’t had to walk up a hill in a long time, but the thought certainly entered my mind as I trudged my way up.  The fatigue of the previous 140 miles certainly made itself known.

For me, one of the satisfying aspects of Ride the North is the fact that my heart health wasn’t really a factor.  Over the past year I’ve got myself fit enough that the cycling 170 miles over two days was well within my capability.  The only exception to this the ascent of the Suie; my heart rate monitor was certainly a factor during the climb.

During the ascent my heart rate got high enough for me to want to reduce it a little.  Walking was obviously an option, and one that my legs would have appreciated too, but it wasn’t what the ride was all about for me.  Instead I dropped in behind someone who seemed to be struggling more than I was, and kept tapping away on the pedals.  I was slowly able to bring my heart rate down. The climb was very slow, but I made it to the top.

The Suie 1

The Suie on a finer day… fortunately we did have the sun on our backs as we reached the summit

With the Suie behind us, the sun came out (very briefly) and we made our way home.

I thought one of the remarkable aspects of the event was the general level of preparedness of the participants.  Although the field was made up of men and women of a wide range of ages and physiques, everyone seemed to be fit and thoroughly prepared.  It was an absolute pleasure to be part of such a strong, good natured field!

Particular thanks must go to the two ladies that towed us the last few miles home.  Having flirted with an over-taking move, we quietly tucked in behind and took their lead to the line.  After 12 hours in the saddle it was a relief to be able to sit in behind two such strong riders.

We politely dropped off to allow them to take the adulation of the crowd at the finishing line as the heavens opened once again and we rolled over the finishing line… Ride the North, done!

Almost there 1

Before the final leg, and the final downpour… almost there!

***

The wet weather on day 2 meant my phone stayed safely in its waterproof bag for most of the day.  The good news is that it still works but unfortunately I hardly took any photos!