Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

Last post of 2010...

The snow is finally starting to thaw so the inches of ice on the highways and byways are starting to trickle away.  Was looking forward to a ride this week so see out the year on a positive note but I've had a stinking cold-probably because of playing with my nephew and niece at Christmas-so trying to heal up as much as possible before attempting a 100km run on Sunday, so will have to settle for that.

Between Christmas visiting obligations and being sick I've not been on the turbo for 5 days now which is really bothering me, but nothing to be done until I can breathe better at least!  I've got so much to do in readiness for moving to London that I should be focusing on that anyway-the logistics in themselves are a pain as I don't have a car so will be micro-packing to go by train, probably posting bulky things like my bikes and maybe by turbo which is perhaps too decrepit to merit the effort.  I have managed to keep the weight loss stable if not continued it-I'm just reassured that my metabolism still retains the fire to shift the mass as quickly and on demand as it's been a fairly stagnant 2 years with cubicle fever, bad diet and general malaise undoing what used to be a pretty athletic constitution.   I have no doubt that saying goodbye to Glasgow will also banish that bad influence though, and by the time I skinny down to my optimum 63kg I'll have saved up enough dosh to splurge out on a new carbon steed to carry me up the Alpe!

I'm taking my Flying Scot fixed gear for getting around town and also my Mercian Professional-built in 1984 and bar a few small dings, going strong and replete with 1st Gen Chorus groupset (and some 8spd Sti's for the sake of modernity) so that in itself is a lot of cargo, but then there's the tools and spares that I'll be carting down too... aahhh.   Getting excited but nervous...  hope I find some nice runs down there that will be quiet enough to actually enjoy training on-I look at the map and just see endless cris-crossing A-roads and built up areas.  The irony of having lusted to get away from Glasgow and Scotland and its endless green spaces for the last year and upon the brink of departure suddenly regretting it for the sake of the Etape!  Still, London won't be forever and the possibility of doing an intern in Montpellier for 3 months remains an attractive one.  Vivant la vie francaise...

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Means To An End

Just off the turbo... for the 5th time this week...  Mein Gott.

Totally drenched but fired up-been watching classic TdF stages from the 80's and can't help be struck by the difference in feeling between them and the contemporary race;  Hinault and LeMond's relationship certainly makes Contador's friendship with Schleck and the YouTube PR stunts look totally plastic in comparison...  What's made the difference? Money?  Science?  Society AT LARGE as it were?  Answers on a postcard...

The snow continues to fall.  Almost 4 weeks since I signed up for the Etape and I've not been out on my bike once.  Not once.  Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu..........................................................................................
Still, the move to London happens on the 4th and at least there it will be marginally milder and the roads better maintained (in theory) than up here-I've seen a gritter once this week and it only did a desultory sweep down the main road before disappearing.

Got my cadence sensor in the post this week so that's added yet another dimension to my sessions that has helped distract me as I get to grips with it.... more to follow on that but I'll try to avoid boring anyone with the details.

Right.  Taking myself off for a fish-finger sandwich and homemade soup...  and a shower.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Ease Down The Road

Temperatures still skipping along near zero and the snow has been transformed into solid ice by successive thaws and re-freezes... am I ever going to get out for a ride?!

My Turbo-Reformation continues though and I am feeling all the better for it-blood surging through the system where previously it was more a syrupy treacle.  Combined with my dietary discipline I can feel the weight trickling off of me, the turbo sessions serving to boost my metabolism and caridiovascular systems which has boosted my appetite also.  Holding firm though and was even surprisingly well behaved over the weekend consuming a moderate intake of 1 (large...) glass of wine and a couple of whiskies.Only snacking on the odd bit of fruit between meals has probably made the biggest amount of difference as my junk-food intake over the last year had been slowly worsening as I grew more an more despondent about my work situation and other wider life-factors.  Even just a few weeks into my signing up for the Etape things seem to be improving in all areas of my life... I feel much more positive and the training regime adds a bit of structure to my day as well as encouraging me to be healthier and make better choices with regards to diet.  Next year's calendar now has one major focus that has such emphasis that it has helped distract my attention from the chaos around finding a job and wasting a lot of time and energy fretting over things that I really don't have much power to change, and this has helped improve my mood and my sleep as a result.
I may have moments of shitting myself at the prospect of screaming down the Galibier at upwards of 50kmh but I also feel very excited and get a tingle of adrenaline just imagining the sensation of crossing the finish line.  There's also a feeling of having opened a door to doing other events all round Europe once I've reached that level of fitness, and I'm really looking forwards to riding the Skye Mor and Etape Caledonia for Macmillan in memory of a friend who passed away last year.

Although when you're confidence and energy is at a low ebb you'd think getting out on the bike would be most important, its also the hardest to rouse enthusiasm.  It's tough to describe but I can definitely identify the lowest point for me over summer when I'd been feeling really down and had struggled to force myself out for a ride... eventually after a couple of days I summoned the will to do it, trying to defy a heavy heart that was making my legs even heavier still.  Coming to the foot of a steep hill near me that more often than not I would grind up out of principle if not necessity, I half-heartedly began to climb the steepest section at the bottom, telling myself I wasn't a quitter despite every muscle in my body feeling dead and my brain listlessly conceding that it just wasn't happening.  As I turned to freewheel back down the few hundred metres I'd just climbed I knew I was in a bad state, made yet more painful by this ready capitulation to a small hill.    I was back in the house in 20 minutes and didn't touch my bike for about 3 weeks, unable to face that same feeling of failure but willing myself to give it a go in the knowledge that to do nothing was to give into the creeping malaise that was choking my head up and tainting even the simplest of pleasures.  Then when I did eventually force myself back out I couldn't believe the time wasted and opportunities gone by, making me feel ever more ridiculous for failing to overcome the bad feeling emanating from my own head.

With more and more sports people coming out to talk about depression there is less of a stigma about it than before perhaps, but its still there.  Reading Graham Obree's book 'The Flying Scotsman' there was much I could relate to and as much as his account of struggling with severe depression was harrowing and difficult to read, it was also incredibly helpful to hear such a giant of the sport be so candid about the very real and life threatening instances where he's had to overcome much more than just another opponent on the race track.  I've dealt with it since I can remember but its only in the last 4 years I've started to recognise that I had a problem and taken measures to help it, though even then the NHS isn't the place to find quick or comprehensive treatment beyond being fobbed off with Prozac, or even on one occasion, offered consultation with a Priest ''if that would help''.  I'm not deriding the many qualities of someone who has devoted a lot of their time and energies to contemplating the wider meaning of life, creation or our purpose here on this earth, but as a message to be sent by a GP it is akin to saying that depression is a purely existential condition, something to be tackled by philosophy as opposed to medical science...  and maybe it is, but surely this is where effective psychoanalysis and treatment should span the gap between the two.  For all my faults or problems I remain essentially a pro-active and determined person which is lucky for me, as this is where I've found the greatest strength; reading books from Jung to Kundera, and educating myself as to the causes and what can be done to help.  Although I still have a near constant battle to shrug it off that can lapse depending on circumstance or mood I genuinely feel like I have learned enough about what makes me tick to be able to protect myself from the worst and to persevere through the rough patches we all hit from time to time.

Finding an outlet in cycling has really been a huge help in seeing me through some of the worst and helping me get back to the best, and I am certainly much richer for having it in my life.  I don't expect riding the Etape to be life changing in itself or in any cliched sense of the phrase, but I am seeing already that the experience will be enormously beneficial to my life as a whole and day by day I'll be throwing myself into being in the best condition possible come the 11th of July, trying to stay as positive and healthy as I can, and taking the hard-learned lessons of the past few years and applying them to the task in hand.

I don't know why I wrote about that today... I feel good, in my life I am blessed with many precious people and things.  Perhaps its a moment of reflection on the distance we can travel mentally in the space of just a few days where focus becomes sharper and an area of our lives that was perhaps under capacity is filling up and enhancing our appreciation of the other parts that have been compensating for this lack through their over-abundance.  At any rate, to anyone else considering the endeavour I would wholeheartedly recommend it... but I may be speaking too soon, I've still a good many miles to cover before its over!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Cold as Ice (Willing to Sacrifice)

The Meter-Long Icicle Clock

What can be said for this week?  Temperatures have hit as low as minus 18 out here, the snow is going nowhere, motorways closed, politicians losing jobs, Assange getting jailed, Nobel prize protests, student fee discord... and I have spent hours resolutely poised on the turbo watching icicles slowly creep down into my field of vision, contemplating it all whilst plugged into BBC iPlayer which is my new best friend now that I've procured some good headphones.

I'm getting used to the turbo a bit more and building up the time slowly and introducing some higher intesity intervals, but don't want to get too complacent about just going through the motions... Hallucinating for sunny spring days? Absolutely. in the current conditions there's just no chance of getting out to get the miles in and this could last weeks longer.

To this end I've made quite a large purchase of a Garmin Edge GPS/Computer 2nd hand and resolved to put it to good use.  Even second hand it's quite a massive outlay for me but in doing my research it seems to stand above the rest in terms of its range of features and I like the idea of being able to record all of my training data to get a concrete idea of how I'm improving (or not).

I've only had it a couple of days so I'm still getting to grips with the functionality so I'll reserve absolute judgement for the moment, but initial impressions are good and it seems straightforward enough with the help of Frank Kinlan's blog guide which is very helpful for the new initiate and seems to cover just about everything you can imagine.  For the turbo it will be very useful in determining my maximum and optimum heartrates which will in turn help make these turbo sessions more effective.  I'm also awaiting delivery of a cadence sensor, which with this weather might take a while, but will add another dimension to the turbo sessions in giving me my rpms/speed and make the data more accurate than just going on my heartrate.

So, that's today's job and I'm looking forward to it.  On other fronts, my diet has been much improved and alcohol since Sunday is zero.  Even with last week's slip-ups on the booze scale and being largely confined to the house I've lost a few pounds which is reassuring, the sugar cravings which are starting to come are being dealt with by consuming crunchy red apples (the fruit-world's equivalent of methadone imhop), or kiwi-yoghurt with chopped hazelnuts mixed in which keep me feeling full.  If they are really bad I've had a slice of brown toast with honey but I've only done that a couple of times.  With Christmas en-route there's a bit of trepidation as to how long this discipline will last though...

Saturday, 4 December 2010


Metaphorical potholes that is, it's still too icy to go out in a 4x4 let alone put my trust in skinny tyres and skinnier legs!

The latter half of the week has been a bit of derailment in training terms-potential work generating social engagements which I would have preferred to avoid for the sake of discipline took over, and although I have been remarkably dedicated in terms of food (I haven't eaten chocolate, cake, crisps, any junk since I put my name down for the Etape!) my alcohol intake has been lamentably high (read atrociously debauched).

Now, there is a sliver lining here as I have secured gainful employment as a result, starting January, which somewhat justifies the excess wine, whiskey macs and sambuca (not one Guiness!) of the last three days, and also provides me with the means to fund the cyclo-tourism (the last few days suggest it's cyclo-boorism I'm training for...) later in the year.    BUT.

The job is in London's famous London.  No hills.  Loads more traffic to contend with.  Lots of lifestyle changes to deal with in general not to mention starting a new job.  This adds a different dimension to training that I had been expecting but I'll have to be more committed than ever I suppose, with lots of weekenders to find suitably high altitude places to train my legs.  To this end I have agreed to ride in the Skye Mor challenge on the 28th May-a 90 miler up on the glorious but challenging Isle of Skye, as well as riding the Etape Caledonia for Macmillan Cancer Support on the 15th of May so the agenda is getting more fulsome with impetus/fear giving targets to make sure I'm getting the miles and the practice in before the Etape.

Another positive event of late is that the lovely people at have asked me to write a weekly blog entry for them describing the journey into the world of sportive riding with all that this entails for a relative newcomer.  This being my first ever attempt at blogging/writing it is a scary prospect in itself but I'm sure it will also be very valuable in focusing the mind, providing motivation to keep my training on track and will hopefully also mean I'll be getting lots of tips, advice and encouragement from some of the more experienced riders on the forum!

So, everything is taking off, happening at once, and if I were to believe in omens I could say its all the good karma thats come from chucking myself at the Etape!  Lets hope it continues anyway!

#slinks off to turbo trainer#

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)


Things are getting more serious now.  None of that bright eyed enthusiasm, the naive candour.

And I'll tell you why in one stinking, fun-crushing word:

         T              U             R            B            O

Yep.  My successful handle-botching skills have resulted in a fully functioning turbo, something which given the extra 2 feet of snow that fell last night, I'm going to be getting regrettably well acquainted with.   For all the older roadies and seasoned cyclists who are probably sitting smirking already, bear with me as I want to fully elaborate on this for my own selfish indulgence, as already the associations with this word forming in my mind are better suited to Traffic Wardens, Council Tax, stubbed toes and sour milk.

First, I've never used a turbo as for the couple of winters I've been a 'cyclist' in the less committed sense of the word; I've never really seen the need.  I bought mine for a tenner during summer from EvilBay on a whim only to find the handle was cracked, and its sat ignored in the garage ever since.  Now, with several feet of snow to contend with and a real need to start getting down to business in building up me legs, it's going to be a core part of my training routine just through necessity.  Now, mother always said I was a quick learner, and 45 minutes of less than turbo based action was enough to school me in the harsh realities of winter training that I'm sure a great many others know only too well already...

Primary observations being:

-It's boring.  Very boring. And staring out the window looking at beautiful, pure white hills only served to make me regret each and every time I've had the opportunity to go for a ride over them during summer but declined because it was 'too windy' or 'it looks like its going to piss down'.  Hills, humid summer rain, wind, potholes, and intemperate Scottish van drivers, I am sorry and I will never take you for granted again.  You light up my life every time I get onto the saddle.

-It's nothing like riding your bike on the road, although even in the most basic physical sense you might be spinning your pins round cranks on the bike, it feels 'wrong' in terms of resistance and I don't know if this is just the monotony, but its more tiring.  I resented every time I looked at my watch to see that the minute hand had only trudged on a few units, so I am dreading the amount of work I know I will have to do on it not just to make it an effective, meaningful part of my training, but interesting as well.

-It is Noisy.  Up to speed and I thought the whole house was going to take off under the power of my pedals.  The bouncy techno music that I thought would provide me with light relief and perhaps induce me into a time obliterating trance, was inaudible through my crappy headphones.  My dreams of maybe being able to watch more films, or listen to podcasts that I would normally consider to self indulgent in terms of time, shattered.

-Sweat.  I've often seen sweat guards for sale for 30 quid a pop and thought 'who the hell needs that?  Surely they want a doctor if they sweat that much?'   Even a meagre 45 minutes (or 2700 seconds if you prefer) was enough to have sweat seeping out of me like juice from the bit of rotten fruit at the bottom of the bowl.  I've never sweated like that on the bike and would probably be deeply concerned if I had!  The plus side is that the BTU's from my body will probably help in economising with the heating bill over winter, even if the house will smell like a sweat-scented magic tree as a result.

So, from looking in the past with scorn and bewilderment at 600 quid turbos replete with virtual reality simulations factoring in pot-holes, crosswinds, cow dung and drunken spectators and considering them the frippery of millionaires and tech-geeks, I now see where the demand has come from....  and how I want one!

And with this, I drag myself off armed with vitamin-c infused water, better headphones and a sense of steely eyed determination to see myself through another hour of high tempo masochism...

The offending article, with bespoke wooden handle.
'View from Turbo Featuring Side of House and Tree', Oil on Canvas, 2010

Sunday, 28 November 2010


Today was earmarked for a nice hilly 50 mile run but snow laden clouds had a different idea and I awoke to a blizzard...  Total white-out. I have however managed to craft a rudimentary handle for the broken turbo in much the same way as a neanderthal might approach the task... it's not pretty but it works.  for now.

Been doing my research and have been reading up on nutrition, bikes, training... information overload to be honest but getting a handle on it.  Nutrition wise with the holidays approaching I'm going to be realistic and try to limit the food and booze intake (i.e whisky instead of beer, mince pies I can grudginly do without...) but my overall goal is to drop back down to an optimal weight of 10 stone/65kg for my 5'9'' height.  I'm currently at about 11 and a half (about 73kg) after almost 2 years of pretty sporadic exercise and little by way of routine thanks to several factors such as moving country/city several times over this period (cerveza, siesta, fiesta when working in Spain was great for the soul but terrible for the waist line), medical issues and existential conflicts so my once rather bemuscled frame is looking decidedly slacker than I would like and I feel sluggish.

I'm not overly concerned about losing the weight as I'll certainly be spilling the kilojoules onto the road or on the turbo in the interim and a balanced diet and some self control over Christmas should do the rest (1kg a month? naive? maybe...).  My budget won't really allow for expensive dietry supplements however so I may have to do some DIY in that regard also by sourcing the ingredients in bulk and home-baking and brewing, which being a practical sort of chap is not a problem as long as it has the desired effect!  I'll be staying away from any Spanish steaks though...

Logistics-wise I've found this excellent free guide to the Etape-dowloadable as a PDF for free here at by a seasoned Etape-er which has been great-thanks!   I've found some cheap lodgings for the duration so all good there... now just need to get down to business and get miles into the legs-go away snow!!!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Etape du Tour 2011-Alpe d'Huez: Ground Zero!

First post!

I'm writing this blog as a personal diary of my first ever foray into the domain of sportive cycling.  2011 will be the year of the Etape du Tour and several other UK based sportives as I aim to raise my level of fitness, improve my riding, and basically just stimulate change in my life.

About me... I'm 27, from Scotland, and have been a casual cyclist for the last couple of years.  I've become more and more interested in the sport proper after an initial obsession over the machines themselves (mainly vintage bikes I have to admit) which are beautiful pieces of machinery in their own right.  I cycled as a kid but not road/competative cycling so when in a rather tumultuous (read bleak) period of my life I picked up an old beater, and spent hours stripping, cleaning and re-assembling every part, something clicked and I found a sense of calm and purpose that was much needed at the time and gave me vital repose from external and internal demons alike.  So, I've been steadily clocking up the miles and investing in the right gear, and although I usually ride solo, I know a good number of good people who all ride to varying degrees of seriousness, and this has spurred me on to aim a bit higher, find a bit of structure and train towards something a bit more ambitious than the usual 50 mile runs.

At the moment I'm unemployed despite many hours spent every day glued to a screen looking for jobs, filling in applications, joining agencies... and lack any kind of structure at all which is as terrible for the mind as it is for the body.  This is despite speaking three languages, having all the certificates, scholarships and awards you can flog yourself through Uni, £30,000 of debt and countless dead-end jobs to obtain.  My finances inspire a weird kind of numeric vertigo that I imagine many folk are feeling too at present, so all of the preparations and training I'll be doing over the next 8 months leading up to the Etape will be on a shoe-string budget, and will hopefully have to fit around a work schedule sometime soon, though I'll be trying to maximise current free time even if its just job searching whilst sitting on the currently broken turbo I've sourced for a tenner and will be mending tomorrow with my rather quirky woodwork skills.  ahem.

I'm pretty much a sportive virgin-I haven't been brought up to be a 'participant' in mass events or team sports so its a daunting concept to me to even join a club even though most every cyclist I've met has been really friendly, and the thought of decending the Galibier en masse at x kmph is enough to make my stomach lurch.  However... this shall change and I'm genuinely excited at the possibilities the next few months will bring.  Worst nightmare is not even making the grade before the event, after that it is injuring myself in the run-up, or not finishing.  Despite this, I need to consider that I'm young, in relatively good shape even if I've slipped since my peak at 23 when I did a lot of long-distance running, and I know I have the will power and discipline to see this through.

So... I'm going to keep this anonymous out of general modesty, and its largely for me to chart a personal journey in a way that I wouldn't normally have the confidence or reason to do so, but I will also try to make it as honest and real as the repetative strain injury I'll be sure to inflict upon myself in the process and maybe it will even spur others who like me are sometimes finding it tough to find a purpose to keep themselves going about their day to day lives in these hard times.

So, I give anyone who is reading this:  I give you the salute I plan to give (probably very feebly mind) as I creep up the Huez on the 11th of July and offer you a glimpse of the image that will be scorched on my retinas and etched into my bones during the by sweat-drenched, muscle knotting, jaw clenching rides for the hours, days and months to come!