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#