Tag Archives: Cycling

A few last minute concerns

It’s less than seven days until we head to Inverness for the start of Ride the North.  Fort me, this is the culmination of a year of cycling; it started with a tentative 17 mile flat outing (one eye on the road and one eye on the Heart Rate monitor) and will end with a challenging 2 day, 170 mile cycle through the rolling Aberdeenshire countryside.

Overall, I’m surprisingly relaxed about the trip.  I’m relatively confident that I’ve done enough preparation so the miles don’t really worry me.  I’ve done a lot of solo miles recently so I’m very much looking forward to cycling in a group, and I’m excited about taking on the challenge with friends.

That said, with a week to go I have three main concerns:

Concern 1: The first hill

I’ve become increasingly comfortable on hills over the past few weeks. Given that I consciously avoided them until March I feel like I’ve come a long way. I could do with more power in my legs but I’ve learned some tricks to help me along the way:

  • Glasses off (to increase air flow and reduce the chances of sweat in the eyes)
  • Open cycling jersey / top a little (to aid cooling)
  • Sit up (take pressure off my chest)
  • Select a low gear early (don’t start by trying to fight it as there will only be one winner!)
  • Tap out a comfortable rhythm (I’ve found “Twisting by the pool” by Dire Straits works for me, I’ve no idea why because it annoys me, but it works. I have to save it until I hit the hills because if it gets into my mind for more than 10 mins it could drive me insane!)

So, I’m generally OK with the hills, in fact I look forward to them, but the first one out of Inverness is a concern for me.

First Hill

The profile of Ride the North Day 1… and “that” hill!

If you’ve been to Inverness you’ll know there are lots of hills around.  Loch Ness was carved by glaciers, and they didn’t stop with the loch.  As a result, after about 5 miles we have to take on a hill.  It’s difficult to really tell on a route profile, but it looks significant, not the most challenging hill of the event, but it’s so close to the start it’ll be right on us.  It doesn’t really give us much time to warm up… it’ll be interesting.

I guess the good thing with being concerned about the first hill is that I’ll get it out of the way quickly.  If I was concerned about the last hill I’d have the best part of 2 days to worry about it.

Concern 2: The weather

We’ll spend more than 12 hours in the saddle over the course of the event. That’s a fair amount of time in the best of circumstances. Given we’re in the North East of Scotland, it would be naïve to assume we’ll experience the best of circumstances.

Inverness Weather

This weeks weather in Inverness

Irrespective of how much you enjoy cycling, or who you’re cycling with, cycling in torrential rain when the wind is blowing a hoolie is not very much fun.

Having studied a number of different sources, I’ll predict that the weather will be “mixed”. It will inevitably have a major impact on the enjoyment factor of the overall event, so we’ll all have to keep our fingers crossed!

Mixed Weather

The BBC Weather Centre is also predicting mixed weather! (Genuinely!)

Concern 3: Sleeping in a tent

Looking for further adventure (and an easy, late accommodation option) we’ve “opted” to camp overnight while en route (just 1 night fortunately). Unfortunately glamping options were booked early so we’re in good old fashioned, on the ground, “at one with nature”, tents.

As far as I can remember this will be my second experience sleeping under “canvass”.  My previous camping trip was while I was at school, in Snowdonia. On that occasion the weather was glorious and we spent the week outside.  My abiding memories are of beautiful weather, swimming in rivers and lakes and a famous (if you were there) “hands on the A-Poles” wind-up by the teacher in charge.

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What’s the worst thing that can happen?

I’m concerned that for this trip the tent may be one step too far.  It’s a bit of a “double-down” on concern #2: the camping experience will be heavily influenced by the weather.

I suspect sleeping won’t be an issue as we’ll be tired from our day’s exertions, but the recovery from Day 1 and preparation for Day 2 could be challenging!

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All in all, it’s going to be an short, exciting week for me and the other 600+ people participating in the ride… wish us all luck!

Life is an endurance sport

Endurance events look easy when you watch them on from the comfort of your Living Room.  We get used to watching professional athletes performing amazing feats, it becomes the norm.  We tend to overlook the hours of training that go into the preparation and the effort of the event itself.  They make it all look too easy.

Last weekend I watched my first “real” triathlon.  It was a bit different to watching the Brownlee brothers!  It looked much more like the kind of activity I might be able to participate in!

Historically there were lots of reasons why doing a triathlon was a crazy idea, not least the fact that I was a physical wreck.  Having got myself into some sort of shape it seems a lot less crazy now, and given my exercise regime includes both swimming and cycling, I’m almost there as far as the training is concerned.  My most compelling arguments for not doing one would largely come down to my ignorance, so I decided to educate myself.

It all looks a bit brutal to me!

It all looks a bit brutal to me!

The swim held the biggest fear for me (and still does to be honest).  I have never been much of a swimmer.  When I’m in the pool, much of my effort is invested in the avoidance of drowning; little energy is left over for propulsion.  The thought of having to battle with hundreds of other participants for space was a scary one (although this was perhaps naïve, and based on watching too many open water events on TV).

As it turned out, it all seemed rather civilised, down to the staggered start, the coloured hats (to tell the athletes apart), and the polite overtaking (requested by a tap on the foot and offered willingly). I found the range of swimming strokes, techniques and speeds reassuring too. You don’t have to be an ex-Olympian to participate (although I’m sure it would help if you were!).

I was particularly heartened by the over-exuberance of some of the participants that resulted in them going out a bit too quickly on the swim. Some were even kind enough to give us a running commentary on their level of fatigue at the end of each length as they struggled to catch their breath and summon the energy for the next 25 metres. I’m sure some people were caught out by false confidence gained from watching too much TV!

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Having selected a triathlon as the target “goal” for this winter’s training, I plan to balance armchair reconnaissance with some solid physical effort, building on the base I’ve built over the past year or so.

With just 10 days to go until the final big event of the summer, Ride the North, it’s exciting to look to the future again and identify some challenging goals. However, first things first…

Ride Like A Pro… in my dreams!

Today I had an opportunity to “Ride like a Pro”, a cycling event sponsored by Jaguar UK and Team Sky. I was one of about 40 fellow MAMILs that assembled at our local Jaguar Garage. To be honest it was an intimidating group. As everyone casually milled around waiting for the “Grand Depart” you could tell they were sizing each other up and assessing each other’s equipment. It was all very light-hearted as we finally set off, formed a peloton and headed into the countryside.

Ride like a Pro (Bike) 1

Initially we all stayed together. It was great to cycle as part of a large group; it’s something I don’t get the chance to do very often. I managed to stay in the pack for the first 18 miles or so. I had to work hard to keep up as we were occasionally strung out, negotiating roundabouts and other traffic furniture, but I stayed in the group.

However, it all changed rather quickly when we hit the start of the first climb of the day…

Although I hadn’t cycled it before I was very familiar with the road we were on; it forms part of one of my regular routes but I have always ridden it in the opposite direction. As a result, I knew the hill was the first of several climbs that would come in quick succession. From the other direction it’s a fantastic descent (in fact, it’s the one that featured in my Foul Mouthed Cyclist post) but I knew that any attempts to keep up would be short-lived, and could potentially wipe me out for the rest of the day.

It appeared that many of the other members of the peloton had been cycling well within themselves. They were being polite, cycling in formation, biding their time. The first stiff hill was what they’d been waiting for! I drifted back through the pack very quickly; officially dropped!

I wasn’t the only one. Four or five of us negotiated the hills independently; oblivious to what was occurring ahead or behind. It was a bit of a reality check for me.

Rest Stop 1

A drinks stop provided a bit of respite and allowed us to momentarily re-form a group (technically “re-join” as I think most people had managed to stay together). It was a brief moment. The gloves were off. At the first opportunity, the group took off again. I had managed to keep up for a few miles. Many hadn’t.

I found myself on the road alone. There were people up ahead and people behind, but I didn’t see another cyclist for over 10 miles. To be honest, I thought I’d taken the wrong route but I was on a familiar road with a fair wind behind me so I just kept plugging away.

An impromptu stop about 10 miles from home saw the whole thing repeat itself. However, it did confirm (1) that I was on the right route and (2) that I would pass my house to complete the ride before turning around and heading home again (while cycling along on my own, thinking I had taken a wrong turn the thought of heading directly home had briefly entered my mind).

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We didn’t see much of the Team Sky support car during the ride. It led us out of the garage and for the first mile or so, but having let us pass so it could bring up the rear it must have dropped a long way behind to deal with some stragglers or mechanical issues.

Apparently it then had to set off in search of a couple of riders that had taken a wrong turning, last seen heading in the wrong direction, into deepest, darkest Aberdeenshire. I would have loved to have been able to raise my hand and be “attended to” but I guess it’ll have to wait for another time.

Overall, the ride was a different level of intensity than I’ve been used to. I was very tired when I got home, but I’m sure it’ll do me a lot of good.  It was the type of experience that I wouldn’t want to repeat tomorrow, but next week would be just fine.

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Despite today’s reality check, I’m keen to keep building on the foundation I’ve established. I have to remind myself that it was just under a year ago that I did my first post-Heart Attack ride: On 18th August 2013 I managed to cycle 20km in 50 minutes along the railway line from Duthie Park to Milltimber and back.  Perhaps in a couple of years I’ll be able to put the pressure on when we hit a hill!

Ride like a Pro

It sounds counter-intuitive, but having a Heart Attack has given me confidence.

My “episode” was the culmination of about 20 years of un-healthiness; relatively little physical activity, an overly relaxed diet, too many cigarettes and too much alcohol.  I have never generally lacked confidence, but having become a lapsed athlete it has been more focused on the office than the sports field.

The warning signs were there…

Having been physically “broken”, I’ve had to re-build my strength and fitness almost from scratch.  At the same time, I’ve had to re-build my confidence to do every day things that I used to take in my stride.  After being at such a low level, the only way was up, and increased awareness has meant every step forward has been a conscious one.

Along the way I’ve given myself many challenges.  Some of the challenges may appear more significant than others, but they’ve all been important.

Whether it was getting on a bike for the first time or heading out for a solo ride, cycling back up to my house or cycling from London to Brussels (via Amsterdam), they’ve all mattered.  They have each required a level of confidence to take them on (often combined with a healthy dose of nervousness), and each has been rewarded with a major sense of satisfaction and a confidence boost.

Tomorrow I’m heading out with a group to “Ride like a Pro”, a promotional event organised by Jaguar.  On the ride we’ll be accompanied (“supported”) by a “Jaguar XF Sportbrake in full Team Sky livery”.  It’s another step into the unknown, but I’m excited about it.  At 50 miles it’s within my range, but whenever you go out with a new group it introduces a number of unknowns.

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In my mind, we’ll be in a large peloton, eating up the roads as we roar through the Aberdeenshire countryside…

I really hope that I don’t lose contact with the group so badly that they call the support car through; having set out to “ride like a pro” I may well end up being “just a guy taking a ride”. Either way, it should be fun… and it’ll definitely be another step in the right direction!

Warning: Hills ahead

The summer has brought a change of routine for me. My established routine was rudely interrupted by a couple of weeks rest and relaxation. Since I’ve been back I have fallen into a new, arguably more balanced routine.

Fortunately I’ve been exercising more regularly than I’ve been updating my blog. Although I’ve not been training at the same level of intensity as I was earlier in the year, I have managed to maintain my level of general fitness and my weight.

Perspective and positive thinking!
My exercise regime has become more rounded again. I have returned to the pool and I‘m combining regular swims with cycling. Unfortunately I’m still a sinker rather than a floater; my break from the pool has not magically resulted in a step change in my buoyancy. I can’t swim any further but I do feel more comfortable; the minor drowning panics have become more occasional. I’m really enjoying the variety and I think it’s better for my body.

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Work has become more demanding, but in a good way. I am travelling more frequently, but not excessively and I’ve been testing the leisure facilities at a variety of hotels.  The days of Club Sandwiches and Fries washed down by a beer seem like a lifetime ago!

Generally I guess I’m just more aware of the various different aspects of my life, and work hard to make sure the “good” ones significantly outweigh the “bad” ones. It’s taken over a year to get to this point, but I feel more relaxed and in control of things.

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Ride the North

I’m really glad that I’ve signed up to the “Ride the North”. The two-day, 170 mile cycle from Inverness to Aberdeen is only three weeks away now. It’s been a target for me since I finished the Euro City Cycle back in May. It’s removed any slight temptation to kick back and take things easy.

Day 1 of the event is 88 miles (further than I’ve ever cycled in a day) and it starts with a challenging climb out of Inverness. I’m a little anxious about the climb. I’d like to take the whole ride in my stride, and I know the only chance of doing that is to keep fit and keep up the miles.

The Suie 1

It’s going to be another exciting few weeks. It’s not quite the Commonwealth games, but Inverness here I come!

My London to Brighton experience

After all the preparation we almost missed it.  We had decided to take advantage of the option to “ride later than our allocated start time” to make the morning a little less frantic, to avoid the crowds at the start of the event and to ensure careful coordination of our arrival with lunch in Brighton.  Our plans were flawed on several fronts!

Our London to Brighton experience started smoothly.  We left the house at 09.06, just 6 minutes behind schedule.  Not bad!  We had even had time to capture the moment for prosperity…

Brothers - Before & After

Brothers – Before & After

 A “thumbs up” from “@LDNtoBrighton” (The official Twitter account for the event) reinforced our level of comfort as we set off for Clapham.  How were they to know where we were?  After all, there was a lot going on!

We abandoned the car (Thanks Michelle!) at the first sight of cyclists, just south of Tooting (09:46).  Crossing the torrent of participants to make our way to the start line on Clapham Common spirits were high.  The bubble was almost burst when we arrived at a rather deserted start area.

A few Marshalls were rounding up the stragglers, encouraging them to “Start ASAP!”  It turns out the final start time was 09:30.  A minor detail that had passed us by.  A schoolboy error!

Fortunately it didn’t take us long to catch up with the first tail-backs, perhaps not coincidentally in Tooting.

L2B Tooting

30,000 cyclists + London traffic + major junctions = Frustration!

It didn’t take us long to see the first of what turned out to be several accidents either… within a mile of the start, a chap (who, it turns out, wasn’t even participating in the London to Brighton event) managed to cycle into a stationary car at speed.  The result of the collision was a cut chin and, I suspect, concussion, as well as badly damaged wing mirror (on the car).  It was relief that we discovered that the carbon frame of his bike had also been broken as he was insisting that he was OK to ride on.  He clearly wasn’t!  We left him in the capable hands of a Marshall with Medics on the way.

Travelling through South London was a stop / start affair.  The Police were doing a fantastic job of clearing the roads of cyclists by sweeping up the rear to stop traffic, maintaining momentum one junction at a time.  It wasn’t until we hit the first hill however that our expectations for the rest of the day were properly set:

With so many cyclists even the smallest bottleneck can impact the flow.  Bottlenecks included narrowing roads, hills, accidents, traffic controls and confusion caused by refreshment stops (“Should we or shouldn’t we?”).  A combination of a narrowing road and a “steep” slope was enough to bring everything to a grinding halt.  It was annoying the first time, but became less so as we relaxed into the day.

Reigate Selfie

As we headed south, out of the hustle of London and into the countryside, the atmosphere changed.  Communities turned out in force to “make a day of it”.  Quiet villages took on a carnival atmosphere as brass bands played us on our way.

Refreshment stops were frequent and well stocked.  Even private dwellings offered “a free sit down”, sweets and showers from Water Pistols,  People generously came out of their houses to cheer us on our way; each cheer being greeted with a “Ping” on Philip’s bell.

It felt like we were part of something meaningful and positive.  A feel-good factor was capped by the way people ascended the final climb of the day;

Ditchling Beacon had been billed as the big challenge.  The most significant hill on the ride.  It was all downhill to Brighton from the top, but getting to the top would take some effort.  If it went the same way as the other substantial hills we’d encountered there would be no way of us cycling up it because of people walking.

Fortunately people seemed to decide to walk at an early stage of the Ditchling Beacon ascent, and then considerately moved to the left-hand side of the road.  As a result, despite arriving at what was probably the busiest time of the day, we were still able to cycle all the way up.

It wasn’t without it’s hairy moments, but we both managed to stay on our bikes.  For a few minutes, the other participants became vocal onlookers, like an over-enthusiastic Mountain-Top crowd in the Tour de France.  It was a special feeling to get to the top!

The thousands of people at the finish on the front in Brighton were the cherry on the  cake!

L2B Finish 3

So, a HUGE thank you to all the people involved in organising and supporting the event, the Marshalls, the Medical Staff, the Caterers, the Mechanics, the Supporters, etc. etc.  Thank you all for making it such a fantastic event!

A great way of celebrating life!

 

Father’s Day (Approx. 00:30)

What a difference a year makes… exactly fifty-two weeks ago I was having a Heart Attack.

Tonight I’m enjoying the early stages of England’s World Cup adventure*. In a few hours I’ll be setting off to cycle from London to Brighton as part of the British Heart Foundation’s annual flagship event.

It seems an awfully long time ago that I was whisked into hospital to undergo an emergency angioplasty. It was surreal at the time, and doesn’t seem any less bizarre an experience now.

Symptoms

The intervening twelve months have introduced many changes in my life; some were sudden and immediate, the aftermath of the event itself, others have occurred a little more gradually, new habits and behaviours that have fallen into place over time.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like many people who experience Heart Attacks, or are given stents as preventative treatment, do not make much of an effort to change their lifestyle. They abdicate all responsibility for their long term health to their Doctors. This is one of the main arguments against extending the use of statins. This definitely hasn’t been the case for me!

One of the things with Coronary Heart Disease is that it doesn’t get better; it stays the same or deteriorates. Modern medication is fantastic in reducing the risks of living with it by lightening the load on the Heart and thinning the blood, however they don’t treat the underlying condition. Stents also treat the symptoms, not the disease.

Despite increased awareness and medical advancements, Coronary Heart Disease is still the UK’s biggest killer.  (www.bhf.org.uk)

Personally, changes to my diet and regular exercise have resulted in dramatic changes. I am fit and, although I wouldn’t describe myself as healthy, my life expectancy has increased significantly (to be fair, it wasn’t looking that hot a year ago!).

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For me the London to Brighton Bike Ride will be a celebration and, hopefully, a fun day out. For others who have been touched by Heart Disease, it may involve an act of remembrance or gratitude.  Good luck to each and every one of them!

Hopefully it will also serve as a reminder or a prompt for others… just think about the thousands of people that will be impacted by Heart Disease before the next Father’s Day,  Each and every one of us can make a difference!

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*Actually I’m sleeping as I was too tired to stay awake any longer, big day tomorrow, etc.  Burning the candle at both ends is a thing of the past!  🙂