Category Archives: Cycling

Search and Rescue

Despite snow still laying in the ground, I went to bed last night hopeful that today would see my first on-road cycle of the year.  I awoke from my slumber to see a clear sky, a light breeze and no signs of rain or frost.  Things we’re looking promising!

The weatherman promised temperatures of between 2 – 4 degrees C.  It was going to be chilly!  Six layers on my upper half (two wind proof), would hopefully do the trick.  Add thick gloves, a hat and a snood, two pairs of leggings and shoe covers.  I was confident I would survive!

So, I headed out.  Solo.  Keen to test my fitness after hundreds of miles on the Turbo Trainer.

I immediately realised my judgement of the wind was over optimistic.  Rather than “light breeze” I re-assessed this to be a “fresh breeze”, potentially even a “strong breeze” (Isn’t the Beaufort Scale awfully polite!  I would describe the weather as being “bloody windy”. If there were a Cyclist’s Wind Scale it would have recorded something along the lines of “Liable to significantly disrupt forward motion, sideways diversions also possible.”)

However, I was out and moving (albeit slowly!).  The fact that the first 20 miles of so were going to be into the teeth of the wind didn’t dampen my spirit.  I was looking forward to fighting through and then flying home.

It was tough going!

Time to consider some alternative bike designs?

There were a number of options on my route.  I could easily add or lose 10 miles if I wanted to.  My battle against the wind resulted in me stopping to rest before the first major decision point.  By the time I reached it I had decided to get the miles in and not to worry about the speed, so rather than heading home, I headed out into the country.

The road was in poor shape.  Single track.  Rutted and covered in debris left by run-off from recent storms.  At my furthest point from home, the inevitable happened…  I picked up a rear puncture.  D’oh!

My options were limited.  Obviously I wasn’t carrying supplies.  Why would I do that?  I’d never need them.  Even if I had a new inner tube with me, time was against me.  The conditions were far from ideal, but more pressingly we had a lunch appointment with the in-laws that couldn’t be missed!

I felt helpless and frustrated.  (In reality I guess it was more along the lines of being hopeless and frustrating!)

Perhaps it’s time to get a dog?

Having quickly assessed the situation, I did what anyone would have done in my situation… I called home for assistance.  I was getting close to desperation by the time that the phone was answered on my third attempt.  I had got Louise (my wife) out of the shower. (I think the girls will need some more training before manning the phones in an emergency response unit.  It could have taken hours before they got off the sofa to answer the phone!).

Louise:  …
Me:  “Yes it is an emergency.”
Louise:  …
Me:  “No, not that sort of emergency.”
Louise:  …
Me:  “I have a puncture.”
Louise:  …
Me:  “I’m in the middle of nowhere.”
Louise:  …
Me:  “Can you please come and get me?”

Fortunately the promise of a Sunday lunch with the family had put her in a good mood, and with little persuasion Louise kindly agreed to come to my rescue.

I felt better immediately, but I was conscious that I would get cold quickly.  I wasn’t yet out of danger!  Putting my survival skills into action I found a nice bench to sit on, in the sun but out of the wind.  Perfect!

After what seemed like an eternity, Louise found me.  Still conscious.  In good spirits.  Safe.  My hero!

***

So what will I do differently in the future?

Well, firstly I guess I’ll have to practice repairing a rear puncture again.

And I guess it’s about time I started taking the repair kit and tools I received for Christmas with me when I head out.  I really don’t fancy having to test my workmanship out on the road, but at least it’ll make me a (little) bit more self-sufficient (little being the operative word!).

Of course, avoiding getting punctures would be a good move too!

Surf’s up!

There was a window earlier today… I was sitting in the office, looking out of the window at a perfect February morning, sun shining, a clear blue sky, not a breath of window and bone dry roads.  After the miserable weather of the past few weeks, it was ideal conditions to get out on the bike.

I felt like screaming “Surf’s up!” and heading home.  Screw the four o’clock Friday, it’s stopped raining and the sun’s out!  A spontaneously extended weekend…

But I didn’t… and the window was a short one.

A momentary glimpse of spring in Scotland!

Having spent part of the afternoon planning my weekend cycling route, I met the girls for a Valentine’s Day trip to see a film.  After a couple of hours in the dark, we emerged into a torrential storm!  To make matters worse, by the time we arrived home the precipitation had turned to snow.  Marvellous!

Momentum is starting to build to the Euro City Cycle now.  Having got the “all clear” from the cardiologist, I’m keen to break free of the shackles of the Turbo Trainer, get some wind in my hair and some real miles in my legs.

Recently I compared my performance today against what I was capable of in October – I’m so much stronger now.  I’m able to do more than 40% more distance in the same time now as I was then (following the exact same video workout).  I’m really keen to see how this translates onto the road, but unfortunately it looks like I’ll have to wait.

The view from our front door… and the snow keeps falling!

As the snow falls outside, I feel I need an injection of something to keep my spirits up.  My “Nordic Noire” Christmas Box-set didn’t really seem to fit the bill so I’ve cracked open my BBC “London Olympics 2012” extended highlights DVDs.  That should do the trick!

C’mon Chris (Froome)! C’mon Bradley (Wiggins)! C’mon Mark (Cavendish)!  I know it didn’t come off last time, but maybe there’s an alternative ending on the DVD version!!!

Back in the saddle

I’ve been out of action for three days since my toe trauma*. I’ve been fighting through the pain, hobbling from place to place, putting on a brave face.  Sympathy has been hard to come by.  It seems that comedy toe injuries demand laughter rather than sympathy, sniggers rather than tears, giggles rather than concern.  So be it!

Time to “Man Up!”.

Man-Up-Nancy

I’ve been getting lots of sympathy from the ladies in my life!

After three days of enforced rest, today was the day to get back in the saddle…

Over the past week I’ve “connected” with people doing both the Euro City Cycle and “Ride the North” events.  It’s all feeling a lot more real now.  There’s less than 3 months to the start of the Euro City Cycle.  Time to start getting focussed!

It’s clear from early interactions that people are at different stages of readiness and very different levels of experience.  I guess that’s always going to be the case.  Everyone will be starting from a different base level of fitness and stamina,  Everyone’s preparation will be different.  So I’m expecting a real mix of fitness levels for the event.

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Personally I’m keen not to hold anyone back on any of my rides over the summer.  I also want to make sure I’m fit enough to enjoy them.  This will obviously require me to be able to complete the events without pushing myself too hard, or putting myself in any physical danger.

I’ll be seeing my Cardiologist on Monday.  It will be our first meeting since I was discharged from hospital in June (technically it’s my 3-6 month check-up).  I’m looking at this to trigger a change in focus for me from “laying the foundations” to “getting ready to ride”.  I realise I need to spend more time on my bike, and get outside.

My preparation approach is:

  1. Start now.  Don’t delay any longer.
  2. Build up slowly; there is no need to go nuts. It’d probably do more harm than good. 
  3. Don’t panic!
  4. Make a preparation plan. Set targets.  Do your best to meet them.
  5. Re-plan if necessary.  There’s still time.
  6. Enjoy it!

Personally, I’m really looking forward to the switch in focus.  Bring it on!

***

I could show you, but you may find it too distressing!

Making connections

I’ve found Sunday mornings are much more enjoyable with a warm glow of satisfaction from some early morning exercise inside me.  This morning, having managed to drag myself out of my warm bed I spent a productive hour in the pool.

I may be deluded, but the pool seemed quieter and more business-like than it has done in recent weeks – perhaps the impact of New Year Resolutions is already being diluted.  We can only hope!  The fact that it was almost light at 8am also made a positive difference… roll on spring!

This morning my fire has also been stoked by increased levels of Social Media activity, which is always exciting…

The arrival of February saw the start of “Heart Health Month”.  The Press & Journal, North of Scotland’s local quality newspaper, kindly marked the event with a feature on my Heart Health story looking forward to the Euro City Cycle in May.

P&J

(Unfortunately at time of writing the Press & Journal online “Lifestyle” section is “down”, as is the British Heart Foundation Healthy Heart Month web page.  I’ll update the links when they’re up and running.)

The Press & Journal article was picked up by the “Ride the North” team and publicised on their Facebook page (which is up and running!) and has resulted in some fantastic publicity, and some sponsorship for which I’m really grateful!

Ride the North

“Ride the North is a two day, 170 mile cycle challenge through the beautiful scenery of the Grampian Highlands in the North of Scotland.”  It’s a fantastic and highly sociable way to see the area.  Given it’s held in Scotland in August, perfect weather is almost guaranteed!

The event started in 2011 with a group of 38 cyclists.  Since then it’s really caught the imagination of the North East Cycling community – this year there will be over 600 cyclists taking part.  The event works closely with its Charity Partners and Sponsors to raise some serious amounts of money!  It’s amazing what a few good people with a common goal can achieve, and I’ve a suspicion this is only the start!

Spaces for this year’s event are sold out however there may be some Charity places available if you’re interested.  If it’s the same as this year, entry for next year’s event will go on sale in November.

For me, “Ride the North” will be the third, final, and, I suspect most physically challenging cycle of the summer.  I’m hoping by that stage I’ll be over the feelings of “can I do it” and be able to focus on “doing it”!  Can’t wait!

Norway Cycle Warning

I spent a few weeks working in Norway last year.  Every day on my way to work I passed this road sign.

I came across it on my phone today.  It makes me smile each time I see it… the things we cyclists have to put up with!

Apparently today is the most depressing day of the year.  If this doesn’t help get rid of the blues I’d suggest a few miles on a bike, but mind your head!

Rites of Passage

I am still very much a novice cyclist.  Each time I get on a bike there’s a significant chance that something will happen that I haven’t experienced before.  Obviously I try to be as prepared for any eventuality as possible, but inevitably surprises will occur!

Last week I took a big step forward on a couple of fronts…

Firstly, I decided to take a Fitness test.  I know I have made huge improvements in my strength and fitness since I started cycling in July last year (See “Try something new“).  I did start from a ridiculously low level though… I’d just had a Heart Attack after all!

Until now I’ve had no basis for measuring my improvement.  In fact, other than judging by how I feel I haven’t had any way of measuring how I have performed in any of my training sessions.  So, the Fitness test… The Sufferfest’s “Rubber Glove“.

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I have learned that in cycling a key measure is one’s Functional Threshold Power (FTP).  This is a measure of how much power you can generate over a period of time – how hard you can pedal for 20 minutes in this case.

Having built myself up to doing the test, I was side-swiped by learning experience number two…

At some point during the warm-up I developed a puncture.  It took me a few minutes to work out what had happened.  The first indication was that my back wheel slipped on the Turbo Trainer when I tried to put the power down.  Having cleaned and adjusted the Turbo Trainer (in vain), I touched the wheel… the tyre was flat as a pancake.  Fitness test failed!  Game over!

I’m not sure about the professionals, but in the amateur scene, real cyclists also seem to be mechanics.  They all appear to have bike workshops and are never happier than when tinkering… an adjustment here, a tweak there.  I am not one of those people!

Since I bought my bikes my maintenance regime has involved the occasional application of oil to the chain.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” 

Unfortunately it was now broke!

With some trepidation, I set to work,..  In less than two hours I managed to replace the tyre and the inner tube, locating the puncture in the process.  The procedure was stressful, messy and more than a little chaotic, but I got it done (eventually)!

FTP

My high-tech FTP data recording system

The following evening (after a good night’s sleep) I completed the fitness test.  I now have an official FTP.  It’s strange, but I feel somehow closer to my bike too.

I feel like I’m slowly growing up!

The biggest hurdle

Recently my training has revolved around four different Turbo Trainer sessions.  Each is quite different, and I rotate them, using a shorter one when time is limited, a two-hour “marathon” once a week to help build my stamina, but generally alternating the other two.

As a result of the limited repertoire and frequent repetition, I have become very familiar with the various courses, and comfortable with the work-outs.  I know what’s coming and I can effectively pace myself to get the most out of each session (factoring in how I’m feeling on any particular day)*.

That all sounds good, and probably is on some levels, but it’s not real life.  Wouldn’t it be great if we always knew what the future held in store for us, if we always knew what was waiting for us around the next corner.  Wouldn’t life would be easy!

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As we all know, life is full of surprises.  No matter how much we dislike them, we have to be able to deal with them.  We can get better through practice, but that requires work and sometimes more than a little bit of courage.

Today I selected a new work-out, something different.  I was surprisingly nervous given I wasn’t going to be moving from the same spot in my office.  For the first time in some time I was going to expose myself to something quite new.

As it happens, the new work-out didn’t work out, but that’s another story (equipment rather than health problems so nothing to worry about!).  So, for the time being I’m going to take some satisfaction from the fact that I tried… the biggest hurdle has been overcome.  I’m sure actually completing the session will be no trouble at all!

***

* Thinking back to winter training during my days as an athlete, I remember some of the Fartlek sessions we did as a group. 

I used to love them when I was calling, when I was the person who decided what came next.  Simply knowing what was coming made it easier in some way.  I’m sure everyone else used to hate it because I think I made the sessions much tougher.  

When I was in the group following someone else’s instructions, the glove was on the other hand, and I used to find it much more difficult.

Positive Feedback

I broke my personal best for 40km on the bike today.  Actually it’s the third or fourth time I’ve done it over the past month.  In reality I know it’s all relatively arbitrary as all my recent cycling has been done on the Turbo Trainer so, to a degree, I can control how easy or hard the miles are.

That said, I’m always eager to see how far I’ve managed to “get” when I finish each session… to see if my Garmin Bike Computer has any new records to report.

Competitiveness is a bit of a double edged sword for me.  I will only get stronger and fitter if I push myself, but I have to make sure I stay within safe limits… my maximum Heart Rate is still only 118, and I don’t think will ever change.  So, I find myself in a constant balancing act between my Heart, my Legs and my Head… which will be the weakest link on any given day is anyone’s guess!

For me, having a Heart Attack hasn’t dampened my competitive spirit.  In fact the exercise I have been doing as a result has probably made me more competitive, if only by the fact that I am now fit enough to compete again!

What I really need to do now is to focus my competitiveness on going long rather than deep… I need to build stamina rather than power, for distance rather than speed.  This is not what I’m naturally inclined towards but it’ll benefit my “engine” (Heart Healthiness) and lay the foundations for the challenges to come in 2014.

A funky seat will make all the difference!

For the time being, there’s plenty of scope for me to set many more personal bests… I’m still very much at the novice stage.  In time my rests will get shorter and the need to give my derrière a break will (hopefully!) abate.  As a result, I should improve without having to dig too deep.

So I will continue to watch the Garmin with interest, because despite the fact that we know it’s a little childish it’s always good to get a bit of positive feedback, even if it is from a Bike Computer!

(Not) Hitting the wall

I sometimes worry about the frame of my Turbo Trainer failing and me being catapulted into the wall of my office at 25-30 miles an hour…

… but I’ll take my chances.

I am definitely an indoor cyclist at the moment.  I’m clocking up the miles on my Turbo Trainer, without moving an inch (and long may it stay that way!).  Cycling standing still.

Not the most glamorous location, but it works!

I’m sure the cyclist purists wouldn’t approve, but it’s a convenient way for me to get regular exercise.  It will also help build the strength in my legs and my “engine”.  Given I had precisely zero miles under my belt in July, every little helps.

The weather really hasn’t been conducive to getting outside either, so this is what it has to be.  Having negotiated the winter solstice, the days will start to get longer again offering the promise of evening outside on the bike… in time.

Working out on the Turbo Trainer is different to cycling outside in many ways:

Firstly, you have to pedal continuously as you don’t get any benefit from free-wheeling.  This means continuous pressure and continuous effort.  A good, controlled work out is guaranteed!

Unexpected Turbo Trainer incidents to one side, it’s obviously safer.  It’s very hard to fall off a fixed bike, and there isn’t any traffic to negotiate.  Being seen isn’t an issue and there’s no need to navigate pot-holes, ice or any other obstacles that may present themselves.

A very high tech set-up… the picnic table and cardboard box work a treat!

When you’re standing still you obviously don’t get any wind resistance or experience any friction from the road.  This makes clocking up the miles a bit easier.  The difference when cycling outside amazing, particularly the impact of dodgy road surfaces.

It feels much hotter cycling inside.  That sounds a bit silly as it is much warmer, but without a cooling breeze to help moderate the temperature, the only outlet is sweat.  I sweat a lot.  A variety of towels have been commandeered to help fight back.  It’s really not a pretty sight!

One of the areas that concerns me a bit is that I’m not getting a chance to build my bike handling skills.  As a result, I’m less elegant and generally more of a liability when I get outside.  I just have to gain comfort from the fact that this will come in time.  The more time I can spend outside when I finally get there, the better.

Finally, and importantly for me, working out at home eliminates all concerns about me experiencing issues when I’m out and about cycling on my own.  Fortunately I haven’t experienced any problems yet, but the concern is always there (for others as well as myself).  Being within earshot gives everyone an increased level of comfort.

The Euro City Cycle in May has given me a real focus.  When I first decided to do it, it seemed like a HUGE challenge.  I’m feeling increasingly confident that I’m going to be physically capable of completing the 300 miles over 4 days.  The fact that I can continue to train despite the worst the winter weather can throw at me is a real bonus.

Happy cranking!

Going solo

This morning I was presented with a dilemma.  Due to a combination of (1) an unexpectedly  heavy night and (2) a communication break down, I found myself all ready to go for a ride but no-one to cycle with.

So far, whenever I’ve cycled on the road I have done so with a wing man to accompany me.  Initially this was as a safety precaution.  Cycling as a pair provided comfort that any unforeseen Heart issues could be attended to quickly, and also meant that I could rely on someone a bit more experienced to help with any more “run of the mill” cycling problems (flat tyres, minor accidents, getting lost, etc.).  It therefore helped build confidence; mine and everyone else’s.

The risks of cycling alone…

Up to this point I have not really considered cycling on the road by myself.  It’s just not been a factor.  This morning I was ready to ride, but alone.  Hence, my dilemma.

***

There were plenty of reasons not to head out… besides all the reasons I prefer to cycle with company… it was a bit cold and clouds were gathering (a hint of  snow perhaps?).  There were plenty of flimsy but credible excuses if I wanted one.

Having had one abortive trip already this winter due to cold weather, I now have all the kit necessary to keep me warm. So, the decision came down to whether I was up for it or not.  As it turned out, it really wasn’t that much of a decision.  It turns out that cycling is just something I do now.

So, I headed out.  I followed a route I know well.  I kept my cadence high, gears low.  I stayed well within my physical limits and I had a rest en route.  I returned safely after an uneventful ride, feeling good.  No biggie!

I felt good as I approached the end of my ride!

I feel like I’ve moved beyond the stage where I cycle as part of my Cardiac Rehabilitation.  Now I just cycle.  Of course it’s good for me.  Of course I constantly monitor my Heart Rate to keep in “in the range”.  However, I think I’ve graduated beyond being a Heart Attack Survivor that cycles a bit, to being a “Novice Cyclist”.  A small but significant milestone!