Monthly Archives: March 2014

The arrival of Spring?

Having spent many an hour inside on the Turbo Trainer during the Winter, I am now back in the routine of getting outside on my bike.

On Saturday however the elements were against me.  I stayed dry, which was a saving grace, but the wind was brutal.  I got buffeted and battered.  The strong wind even made descending hard work; tough to control my direction and difficult to maintain forward momentum.  It was “fresh” too; cold enough to make one side of my face feel numb, anaesthetised.  Stringing a sentence together was a challenge, the movement of my jaw was restricted, frozen.

As I fought my way around, I started to dream of warmth.  Some sun on my back.  A gentle breeze.  Cycling in shorts.  Ski gloves discarded.  Bare arms.  Summer.

Summer in Scotland. What could possibly go wrong?!

At the time it seemed like a distant dream.  Almost too much to hope for.  However we didn’t have to wait for long…

This afternoon the weather was perfect; clear skies, sun, calmness and warmth.  Not a breath of wind.  Prepared as ever, I was in the office watching the weather enviously.  Having braved the early morning chill for a swim I was in no position to go out on my bike.

A disappointment today, but the dream gets closer all the time.  I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to the Summer this much.  I just hope the Summer decides to visit us in the North of Scotland again this year!  Fingers crossed!

An Introduction to Climbing

Until now, I have tried to make my cycling trips as flat as possible.  I have focused on trying to get some miles into my legs without making the miles too hard.  Although this is easier said than done in the North of Scotland, the distances I’ve been covering have made it possible.

This has been a good strategy in building my general strength and fitness, as well as developing my bike handling skills, but it’s only going to take me so far.  In particular, I’m going to need to get used to some more challenging hills before I am ready to take on the “Ride the North” (RtN)challenge in late August.

Today was the first of my introduction to hills.  To provide the education, I rode with two friends who will be joining me on the RtN.  They are experienced cyclists and more than happy to share their knowledge (if only it was so easy to share strength and stamina!).

The plan was to head into the hills and attempt the most challenging climb we’d face during the RtN (The infamous Suie).  Recognising that it’s not to be taken lightly, we took the hill on the “easy” way.  This meant it would be less steep, but longer.  A stiff and chilly wind, bordering on “brutal” at times, made the whole outing a bit more “fun”.

The top of The Suie… blowing a gale today!

The first two lessons of the day had surprisingly little to do with hills:

  1. Be precise on your meeting instructions
    It turns out that even relatively small towns can have more than one shop of the same brand.  Our plan to “Meet outside the Co-Op at 07.45” was slightly flawed.  Less than 100 metres apart, the two shops were not in line of sight from each other.  Inevitably, therefore I waited outside one, while Mr P & Mr W waited around the corner, thinking I’d slept in.
  2. Check your bike after it’s been to the shop
    It wasn’t until we’d set off that Mr W discovered his seat had been adjusted while it had been in the (bike) shop.  This resulted in an abortive start to our outing.  Fortunately it was a simple fix, and we had the necessary tools.  Today it was an amusing irritation, but t could easily have been something more material which would have ruined the ride.
  3. Start slow, build momentum
    I struggled on the first two significant climbs of the day.  My heart rate shot up quickly, rocketing above my maximum level.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the gears to allow me to change down and catch a breath.  Instead, I had to experience the humiliation of completing some of the climbs on foot.
    By the third climb I had a better strategy:  Rather than pushing hard, I eased right off at the start of the climb, changing down into an “easy” gear.  It’s much easier to avoid hitting the wall, than it is to re-cover from it (while still on the bike at least!).
    Even with this approach, I may still invest in some new chainrings before the RtN to give me a little extra scope on the steeper hills.
  4. Don’t expect to do it all in one go
    When I did athletics, we’d describe a sudden and catastrophic loss of strength / energy as “dying”.  This phrase has taken on different connotations for me over the past 9 months.
    I now recognise that it’s important to stay within safe limits and not push myself too hard.  There is absolutely no reason to risk hurting myself.
    If this means getting off and walking from time to time, so be it.  There’s always next time.,,  next time I will be better prepared, and more able.
stelvio-pass

Maybe next year…

So, I’ve had my initial introduction.  The big hills still make me nervous.  We’ve confirmed that I have a long way to go before I’m ready to take them on, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.  After all, I can only prepare one turn of the pedals at a time!

The Red Eye

I have spent much of my working life on assignments away from home.  On a couple of occasions this has resulted in me (or us) “moving house”, but more typically it has meant weekly commutes to a variety of exotic and, more often, not so exotic locations.

Each weekend would end with the dread of the “red eye” flight.  This concern would inevitably result in a broken night’s sleep before the early Monday morning alarm… always too early!  The flight itself would provide a little respite, an hour to steal some extra shut-eye before either completing my commute by heading to the office, or catching another flight.

imagesZUOCICGL

Once in the office, I’d fight through the day as productively as possible, caffeine and nicotine my best friends, distracting me from the ever-present fatigue.

My week would often be made up of long days in the office.  I had little better to do with my time other than work.  For ease I’d select the closest hotel, irrespective of the facilities, convenience over function.

I became a global expert on Club Sandwiches, the standard by which hotel culinary standards can always be measured, accompanied by fries and a cold beer or three, my diet was not conducive to a long healthy life.

Where did you experience your best Club Sandwich?

 

I never understood the people who would travel further each day to stay in a different hotel, one with better food, a superior gym or a swimming pool.  To me it all seemed to be a hassle, adding complexity to a lifestyle that already had enough complexities.

My link to home was via short daily telephone calls, a few minutes to catch up on the events of the day, to remind the girls of my existence.

Weekends were spent making the most of being home, in the house, taking it easy.  A few drinks, comfort food and relaxation, trying to forget the week just passed and ignore the week to come.

This was my routine.  My life.

***

This week it all came back to me as I prepared for a two-day business trip to Amsterdam; a 5 a.m. departure, a day in the office and a night in an unexceptional, sterile hotel.

Of course, the location wasn’t really Amsterdam but a business park on the outskirts with limited facilities for exercise or socialising.  Not that I had the energy for either really.  Instead I opted for an evening alone and an early night, a salad and a bag of carrots grabbed from a Train Station Convenience Store for dinner.

Home from home… marvellous!

What a relief it was just a one-night trip!

If I was ever to travel more regularly again I’d really need to reconsider my travel strategy.  I would likely become a “needy” traveller, taking time over hotels and surrounding facilities.

I can see that it would be so easy to fall back into old habits, to eat poorly and make excuses not to exercise.  I can also see how hard it is for people on the road to look after themselves properly.  With little control over the basics of life, it is tough.

There don’t seem to be any simple alternatives other than to travel as little as possible, and when required to do so, to make sure your priorities are absolutely clear.  For me at least, this means… health first!  Better late than never!

Unexpected excitement (& boredom)

On Monday some research was announced linking Anger to Heart Attacks.  Given I wrote about a similar topic not so long ago (Anger Management), it was interesting to see some real research supporting my ramblings.

Don’t make me angry!

The story became a bit of a regular feature on BBC Radio throughout the day.  I wasn’t following closely, but suspect it was a bit of light relief from ongoing developments in Ukraine and the Pistorius trial.

Out of the blue, I was contacted by a lady called Liz, a Researcher from the PM Programme on BBC Radio 4: “Would I be interested in being interviewed as a case study?”.

After I’d convinced myself (1) it wasn’t a complete wind-up and (2) I wouldn’t have to provide any Bank Account Details, I responded… Yes, I was interested in participating but unfortunately I was travelling, so finding a convenient time to talk might be difficult.

To be honest, I was also slightly concerned about a live interview.  The last thing I wanted to do was feature as a case study on a “People who have Heart Attacks live on the Radio” feature in months to come!

So, I found myself talking to Eddie Mair about my Heart Attack and my feelings of Anger that preceded the event.  About an hour later I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.  All quite surreal!

Eddie Mair

You can hear the interview here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03wpjg6
(I’m on at approx. 41 minutes into the programme)

Prepared as ever, I had notified close family members that I might be on Radio 4 at 6 pm.  Unfortunately I was travelling at the time and got my time zones confused.  Amusingly this resulted in Daughter #2 listening to Radio 4 News for 30 rather tedious minutes.  She had a bit of a sense of humour failure at my mistake but, learning from her father, she took a deep breath and didn’t let it get her angry.  She is however much better informed on current affairs than ever before!

A brief mention of the Blog following the interview resulted in unprecedented “hits” for the following few hours.  It also resulted in many more Comments and Contacts than I’ve ever experienced before.  It was all very exciting!

Incidentally, a big thanks to everyone that has taken the time to get in touch!

It was a real, practical demonstration of the power of the media for me.  The exposure resulted in a daily traffic level over 5 times higher than I’ve had before.  It’s a level which is going to be tough to get close to again.  Tough, but I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve!

The Foul Mouthed Cyclist

Yesterday’s beautiful weather meant the countryside was a hive of activity.  As I headed home at the end of my ride I passed many cyclists going in the opposite direction.  Each time we passed, we repeated one of the accepted rituals of acknowledgement:  a nod, a subtle wave, the occasional word of greeting.

That was until I passed Mr X:

Me:  (Nodding head)  “Morning!”
Mr X:   (Waving fist in aggressive manner)  “You @#~%er!”
… and then he was gone.

It’s perhaps an understatement when I say our brief exchange took me by surprise.

Mr X

I understand that there’s tension between Car Drivers and Cyclists.  I am also led to believe that from time to time there’s no love lost between Mountain Bikers and Road Cyclists, however I was always under the impression that Road Cyclists were civil to each other… until now.

As I cycled on, I considered the potential reasons why Mr X might have behaved in this way.  To be honest, I couldn’t think of a huge number:

  1. I was flying at the time we passed each other.  I was on a long descent, averaging between 25-30 miles per hour.  I was on the final stretch of my ride and feeling pretty good about life.  Mr X, on the other hand, was at the start of a long, slow, tiring ascent.  Perhaps he was having a bad day and just couldn’t contain his frustration.   I have a small amount of sympathy if this was the case.
  2. Perhaps he had Tourette’s Syndrome and I was on the receiving end of a verbal tic.  The situation was completely irrelevant to his response.  If this was the case, I would not poke fun.  However I would encourage other cyclists to be ready for this eventuality so it doesn’t take them too much by surprise.
  3. The third option, of course, is that Mr X is an expert in body language and had watched me carefully as the distance closed between us.  Having performed a thorough assessment, he had a couple of seconds to deliver his considered opinion.  Perhaps he got it spot on!

Whatever the case, I would encourage you to be nice to each other, and if you can’t be nice, be honest!

A day of many firsts

1st March 2014.  The 1st day of Spring.

I beat the sun up (not physically!).  Not quite the crack of dawn, but early enough for a good morning ride.  Excited!

The clear, crisp morning promised an enjoyable outing on my bike.  The lack of wind was almost more than I could have hoped for!

I managed my longest ride to date; just under 40 miles.  I did more climbing than ever before, I even tackled what I would describe as a “proper” hill.  I also spent over 2.5 hours in the saddle for the first time.

The new route featured some beautiful countryside.  Spring was definitely in the air.  Scotland’s a fantastic place to be on days like today!

Today’s ride through the Aberdeenshire Countryside

Overall, I feel much better about the challenges I have in store for the Summer after today’s outing.  I even enjoyed the climbs.  I feel like I’m getting stronger all the time.  At no point did I feel like I was struggling or over-exerting myself.  Being able to get outside regularly should continue to make a huge difference.

There was one first from today that I don’t want to make a habit of though…

I was about 35km into my ride, in a world of my own, keeping up a nice cadence, not pushing too hard, when out of the blue, another cyclist appeared… from behind!  He just appeared.  No advance notice.  He was just there, and then he started to disappear down the road in front of me.  How rude!

He passed me with a friendly “Morning!”.  Once I had composed myself (I really was in a world of my own), I responded with a polite “Morning!” and followed up with “Of course, I would join you, but I recently had a Heart Attack.”  I may have spoken a little too quietly to bridge the (fast expanding) distance between us.  He continued on his merry way.  Humiliating.

To be honest, I was tempted to try and stick with him for a couple of seconds, but I managed to swallow my pride and let him go.  I suspect as I spend more time out and about it’s something I’m going to have to get used to, but don’t ever expect me to be happy about it!

OK, so there may be a few people that it’s acceptable to get overtaken by!