A Century of Disaster

Cycling for 100 miles isn’t exactly a conventional way to celebrate a birthday. On my 20th however, it seemed like a good idea at the time (those last three words turned out to be key). It’s rare that I would dedicate an entire post to one ride but this one just stood out – sometimes even the best laid plans can go very badly wrong.

As always at this time of year, simply deciding what kit to wear took up the best part of an afternoon. Four base layers topped with a Castelli Gabba. Legs adorned with knee warmers and my thickest pair of shorts. Going with an aero road helmet (not for the purpose of speed of course, more for keeping my head dry and warm oweing to the merciful lack of vents). Finally, the all important thermal socks. Next it was time to sort out the navigation. My Father and I have four GPS units between us, all of which were fully charged and taken on the ride. Any regular readers will know that neither of us has anything resembling a functional sense of direction – for me, Garmin failure probably means a night under the stars.

The route was something of a gamble, anyone who has used the route planning feature on Strava knows that it’s far from foolproof. On many occasions I have stared at my Garmin in a state of exasperation as it tries to send me down a footpath or bridleway. Annoyingly it only came to 97 miles – necessitating some extra ones at the end, more on that later. The objective was Crowcombe Combe, a famous local climb – perhaps infamous is a better word given the 25% gradient.

In hindsight, with my years of experience I should have known it would be trouble when the heavens decided to open the day before the ride. The lanes of South West England are terrible enough at the best of times but following such a deluge they would be rendered more akin to MTB trails. Spurred on by my (foolhardy) sense of adventure and desire to burn off a few slices of birthday cake – it simply didn’t occur to me to abort the ride or to use a less challenging route. My age has yet to make me wise.

It was a pleasant surprise to wake up on the big day and see the streams of sunlight coming through the window –  “what could possibly go wrong?”, I asked myself. In fairness the first five miles passed by uneventfully, it was only after descending onto the Somerset levels that the problems started. Never have I seen such a vast quantity of mud on the roads, my Summer Bike was soon plastered from head to toe. Neither of us had bothered with mudguards which made drafting a dangerous business, this being my excuse for the abysmal average speed.

Fifteen miles in, the first major obstacle presented itself. I’d estimate the flood was at least 1.5 feet deep, to make matters worse it happened to occur on a sharp bend – making it impossible to tell where it ended. A big detour had to be made, not doing a great deal for our moral. Once back on course, the next ten miles involved more of the same; massive puddles, potholes, mud, loose branches and just about everything else that could be thrown at a pair of unfortunate Cyclists.

Now it was time to head up into the Quantock hills, I hoped that the higher ground would yield better roads and allow us to make faster and smoother progress. Sadly this was not to be, the only way to avoid riding on a major A road was to take a series of ever narrower and rougher lanes. I almost lost count of the number of wrong turnings that were made, by the end of the ride it came to a grand total of 22. The next challenge was struggling up Crowcombe Combe on heavily laden bikes – having lived in Devon for the best part of four months it’s rare that a climb takes me by surprise. This one was something else, especially as I had stupidly chosen the bike sporting a 53-39 chainset. By the end I had resorted to zig zagging from side to side, reminiscent of the early days of my Cycling career.

Half way round now, I dared to hope that we might make it home before dark. For a few miles things seemed to get easier, a pleasant tailwind helping us along the top of the Quantocks. Sadly this didn’t last long, after a twisty descent it was back to the dreaded lanes and associated wrong turnings. My worst fear was realised when my Garmin lead us to a bridleway. In the summer it may have been possible to carry the bikes along it, however on this occasion there was no option but to turn round. This time it took half an hour to find the course again. I suspect it will be a while before my Father next agrees to ride a route that I have planned – I really don’t blame him.

Suffice to say that miles 50-60 were truly torrid, at progress was so slow that it took 35 minutes to cover the last four. Just as the roads began to improve, my Garmin announced that it was running out of battery. No problem (so I thought)  – I had bought a spare. What I failed to take into account  was that the device failed to realise that we were already some way into the ride, assuming that we were in fact travelling in the wrong direction. This made navigation even more challenging, in order to avoid going back the way we had come I needed to do the exact opposite of everything the Garmin suggested. I’m sure that the combination of the wretched thing beeping and me subsequently swearing under my breath could be heard for miles around.

Quite how we made it home I’ll never know. The remainder of the ride proceeded in much the same way as above, only with the added challenge of trying to get back before the darkness set in. One final sting was to be found in the tail, despite many unintended detours the ride still fell just short of 100 miles. It was with heavy hearts that the pair of us rode past our front door so as to get in an extra four of them. Truth be told, I found myself questioning why on earth I had ever thought riding 100 miles in the Winter would be a pleasant means of celebration. 24 Hours later I still haven’t come up with an answer. Next year, I think a simple meal out will do the job very nicely.

I have spent much time trying to come up with the perfect word with which to describe the ill-fated ride. One springs to mind above all others – Epic. We battled against dodgy lanes, malfunctioning GPS, fading light, floods and 25% inclines – aboard bikes that really weren’t suited to the job. Did I enjoy it? God no. However, I do find myself immensely satisfied for having seen it through to the bitter end. Others (i.e. those with common sense and half an ounce of sanity) may have given up, yet we did not. I’m sure that both of us will speak of this ride for many years to come. I’ll certainly never forget the events of my 20th.

On that – I’ll leave it. Stay tuned.

Project Ironman – easier said than done.

The new year begun for me in much the same way as I suspect is the case for most of us – a severe case of post festive blues. It has been a case of getting back to the grindstone regarding training, nutrition and exam revision. I have certainly acquired a few bad habits of late; eating far too much sugar, forgetting to fill in my training diary and devoting a less than optimal amount of time to academic study. Just to name a few.

In order to motivate myself to get off the sofa and say no to those leftover festive treats, I decided to register for my first Half Ironman. Fortunately there is such an event taking place in September, a mere 45 minute drive from my front door. No excuses now. It was then that I realised the extent of the challenge that now lies ahead. I haven’t swum seriously for at least a decade and if previous experience is anything to go by I’ll have to be very careful with running volume so as not to injure myself. Time to hit the books.

I came across a very interesting volume called Born to Run. For anyone interested in running or simply endurance sport in general it is well worth a read. I was very intrigued by the argument it makes in favour of barefoot / minimal running. In short it mentions recent research that suggests humans have evolved to run and that modern, heavily padded running shoes serve as a hindrance and increase the risk of injury rather than reduce it. With a history of niggling running injuries I have decided to give it a go, ditching the unnecessary tech and going for a more minimal setup – once funds allow for the purchase of new shoes that is.

My go-to reference has been Going Long, written by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn. Having gotten along very well with the training bible series and found the advice within to be helpful and reliable, it seemed like a sound choice. I’m still in the process of slowly digesting the information contained within, a proper training plan has yet to be drawn up. If only I could take in that which I am supposed to be revising for new year exams at a similar rate.

Yesterday I headed out for my first run in months. Two miles at a gentle pace, surely nothing could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately I failed to take into account my own general ineptitude, at the 1.5 mile mark I noticed a slight twinge in my left ankle. Thinking nothing of it I simply carried on, 24 hours later I am walking like C-3PO (i.e. hobbling) – my ankle is throbbing and my calves are seized. At this point, I’ll be lucky to get to the startline without having to resort to crutches.

To add insult to injury I have somehow managed to pick up a virus, after my disastrous run I attempted to head out for a ride. After all of of one kilometre I was forced to call it a day, sometimes the legs just say no – in this case my stomach was in agreement. I have had a headache ever since, as you might imagine this is not making the exam revision any easier.

Anyway, time to stop complaining and remember the positives. Hopefully my injury isn’t a long term thing and will clear up with some rest, the same going for whatever illness with which I am afflicted. From past experience I know that my legs will never be quite as painful as after that first run – things can (hopefully) only get better. An Ironman training plan will soon be formulated and it will be time to start for real, a most exciting if slightly scary prospect.

Until late April Cycling will still be my main focus, a race organised by my club will be a nice way to round off that particular chapter of my athletic career. Realistically Triathlon training will result in an decrease in prowess on the bike and as such I can’t expect to be as competitive in bike races. Time then for a last hurrah, nothing like a home race to really drive the motivation to the the highest level.

For now, I’ll leave it. A happy new year to all readers.

Shopping for Cyclists

You might recall a post I wrote back in august about the dangers (and enjoyment) that come with making an impulsive purchase. Cutting a long story short I wandered into a local bike shop and came out with a new machine and almost nothing left of my life savings.

The machine in question was a Scott Foil – sporting a full ultegra 6800 groupset, for a student such as myself that’s very high end componentry. I suspect the man in the shop spotted the look in my eye from the very moment I walked in, very kindly offering to take the bike off the shelf for me and explaining how I would not find a better price anywhere else. One week later, having collected the bike I was offered a substantial discount on a very expensive carbon handlebar – this was of course a completely necessary purchase as the standard bar was all of 2cm too large in width. It was of course also necessary to get some finishing kit; new bottle cages, valve caps, skewers etc.

Was it a sensible decision? No. Has this new bike really made a big difference to my race performance? Absolutely not. Has it been worth it? Totally. There are few experiences in life that yield as much satisfaction as that which comes from working hard and earning the money to buy something shiny – or simply aero. I tell myself that it’s healthy to indulge from time to time, after all you only live once.

Anyway, I was reminded of this episode last week having finally stopped procrastinating and started the Christmas Shopping. Finding a gift for my Father is always difficult, he is a fellow Cyclist and something of a magpie when it comes to equipment. This year I had the bright idea of visiting the Rapha outlet store in order to source a present – how fortunate that this happens to be local and promises massive discounts on kit.

Upon walking in I experienced a familiar sensation, very similar to that of August. Row upon row of high end kit, most of it on sale. Being a Student I don’t possess much in the way of this sort of gear, most of my Cycling apparel comes from the likes of Dhb – good value and doing the job perfectly well but just lacking that special something. To my credit – this time I was able to rein myself in to a certain extent, coming out only with one garment for myself and managing to find the aforementioned present.

Judging from experience – many fellow Cyclists often find themselves in similar situations. In general we are a group that is easily drawn in by expensive equipment, however ridiculous manufacturers claims sound, a desire to go fast and/or look good tends to prevail. Upon finding the perfect gift for a friend, one thought always pops up – “wouldn’t that be nice for me to own”. Cycle retailers are very good at capitalising on this, every day I am bombarded with emails promoting the latest sale or must-have piece of equipment.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of a simple truth. Cycling isn’t about expensive equipment – it’s about getting out on the open road (or trail depending on your preference) and enjoying yourself. It encompasses that all important suffering, finding your limits and learning how to push past them. For some it is a means to socialise, others use it to clear their heads and get difficult thoughts in order. It doesn’t matter if you ride a carbon dream machine or a 20 year old steel tourer, the sport can still be enjoyed and the many physical and mental benefits that it brings will be much the same. I’m not saying that it’s bad to have nice equipment – just that it isn’t the be and end all that manufacturers often make it out to be.

One of my new years resolutions is to spend less time worrying about having the latest kit, instead devoting my attention to improving myself. Studying Sports Science has begun to equip me with the knowledge to make myself faster through improving diet, position and training. Realistically some far greater gains can be made through these methods than simply emptying my wallet.

Think I’ll end on that. Merry Christmas

Slipping and Sliding

Monday morning; Deep winter finally came around. For the first time this year, I was greeted with a frost. For most people this is a pleasing sight, if a bit cold. However, for a Cyclist it spells doom. Sub-zero temperatures mean black ice, the possibility of riding through snow and the need to purchase yet more winter kit. The latter can of course also be seen as a positive, that Rapha hardshell jacket finally seems justifiable.

All this reminded me of the experience I had on my 18th Birthday. Back in February 2015 I foolishly decided to enter an early season sportive. The first 30 miles passed without indecent, though the clouds did look somewhat ominous. Out of nowhere it began to snow – I’m not talking a few flakes here, this was as close to a full on blizzard as it gets. It would of course be the one day where I decided to wear a white jacket which must have rendered me almost totally invisible to cars, judging by how closely they chose to pass me anyway. Thoughts of getting a good time were replaced with ones of survival, namely getting home in one piece. Fortunately I did manage it, though my hands were practically welded to the handlebars at the end. As introductions to adult life go it wasn’t the best – though very realistic.

Anyway, back to the present. The soul redeeming feature of this cold weather has been the reappearance of the sun. At least it is bright, providing a pleasant relief from the grey skies that characterise the UK winter. In my usual naivety I made the assumption that it would be perfectly safe to go for a long ride as long as I waited for the worst of the frost to clear. So it was that yesterday I embarked on yet another 4 hour endurance ride, my training at the moment consists of little else.

Getting ready took the best part of 40 minutes. The hardcore cold weather kit hadn’t needed to come out yet, hence was all sitting around at the very bottom of the untidy pile of clothes that sit in my wardrobe. As per usual, finding anything that came as a pair proved to be very tricky – one sock or leg warmer always seemed to be missing. Winter base layers, undershorts, headscarf and mittens were all donned. Followed by a mismatched pair of arm warmers and my thickest gilet, the pockets filled to the brim with gels and bananas. It was akin to putting on a suit of armour, albeit a rather unflattering one judging by the looks on peoples faces when they saw me trying to get out the door.

It started off fairly smoothly – the warmth of the City meant that the first few miles of the ride were completely ice free. Sensibly I stuck to B-roads, reasoning that these would be safer than the lanes. I even had time to admire the surrounding landscape, which did look especially picturesque at that time of day. At the minute anything that provides a distraction from the monotonous base miles is very welcome. There was the odd patch of slush, nothing to worry about – or so I thought.

Twenty miles in, things began to get interesting. Having crested the first major climb of the ride and begun the subsequent descent, I received a warning. My right shoulder began to ache, this is down to the metal plate that once held the two parts of my clavicle together. In very cold weather it contracts and begins to hurt – an inbuilt thermometer though one I’d like rid of. In the narrow, shaded lanes the temperature was far lower, cue the black ice.

Fairly soon I’d resorted to riding along unclipped, every time I thought the ice had cleared the road would enter another shaded section. Descending the narrow Devon lanes did feel as if I was taking my life in my own hands – how much easier life must be for those who are sensible enough to stay at home or get on the turbo trainer.

The rest of the ride continued the theme. One minute I’d be spinning along very happily in the sun, the next I’d end up inching along at walking pace. It occurred to me that it’s been almost a year since I was injured – given my clumsy and uncoordinated nature it would be just typical to have broken something else. On a more positive note, I have a verifiable excuse for my ‘steady’ average speed of 13.9 mph. Getting home was something of a relief.

It’s at times like this that I question why I cycle in the first place. It’s put me in hospital once already and yesterday very nearly did so again. “Wouldn’t it be nice?” I think to myself. To not get up early in the morning to train, have more time to do work, more money to spend and considerably more living space at Uni? My counter argument is simply that life would be incredibly boring. What else would I talk and write about, that is to say bore friends and family with? What other sport could do so much to maintain both my physical and mental health? Without Cycling I fear I’d slip back into my old ways – overeating and never leaving the house unless it be absolutely necessary. In short, it’s well worth it – inspite of the odd bad ride.

Think I’ll leave it there. Got any winter riding stories to share? Feel free to get in touch via the comments section below. Onwards and upwards.

From Sportives to Racing – tips for a successful transition.

It’s likely that when you started Cycling, a Sportive was your first event. Being non-competitive they are accessible to all riders and are a good place to start. Perhaps you then moved on, longer distances completed in steadily quicker times. For me, there came a point when Sportives stopped being a challenge. I knew I could get round pretty much any course with a gold time as long as wasn’t stupid with the pacing. At that point, I turned to racing. I suspect there are many in a similar position – wanting to take part in more competitive events. Here is how to make it a success.

I’ve said before that sportive times are not a good predictor of Race performance, read that post here if interested. The demands of racing are very different  to those of sportives in an number of ways. Don’t be surprised if your first few races don’t go well, even if you have achieved gold times on tough sportives – to a certain extent you may have to ‘start again’. Take it from me it is truly worth it, doing well in a sportive does not compare to the elation that accompanies a good race result.

Firstly, sportives are completed at a more or less constant pace, taking into account variations in terrain of course. In races it is a different story, the pace very rarely remains the same for any length of time. You’ll need to be-able to respond to surges in pace caused by attacks, sprint out of corners and bridge gaps. Importantly, you need to be-able to recover quickly enough when the pace does (usually briefly) drop in order to do the above multiple times throughout a race.

Secondly, races do not require as much Endurance. You may be in the saddle for 6 hours or more when riding a hilly century, contrastingly closed circuit races tend to last for around 40 minutes and road races just over two hours. Don’t get me wrong – you still need to do the odd long ride, but during the competitive season you will be looking to maintain endurance rather than increase it.

Thirdly, bike handling skills are far more important in racing than in sportives. Anyone who has read any of my other posts will be fed up of this message by now – I still can’t stress it enough. You must be comfortable riding in a group before entering a race – otherwise you will be a danger to yourself and others around you. The best way to learn this skill is simply to join a Cycling Club, that way you can learn group riding skills in a safer (that is to say slower) environment. British Cycling have produced a very useful series of videos on how to race safely, click here to take a look.

Finally, this may sound obvious but it certainly wasn’t to me when I first started racing. Races are not as well supported as sportives. Don’t expect to find mechanics at Closed Circuit races, food isn’t usually provided. Road Races do tend to be more supported but the message still stands. Pack something to eat and make sure your bike is mechanically sounded before heading off to a race, otherwise you may be caught out.

Here are some quick tips on transitioning from sportives to racing, these should all make the process easier. Most of this is covered in more detail in other posts, take a look at the Racing Advice section.

  1. Intervals are key

Races, as I have already mentioned – are shorter than Sportives, ridden at a faster and ever changing pace . You should try to replicate this in training, it’s ok to reduce volume in order to compensate for the increase in intensity. You’ll have far more success in races if you train 6 hours per week at a high intensity than with 12 hours ridden at endurance pace.  I found this article on interval training very useful and informative, it’s the first part of a series – all of which make for good reading.

2. Incorporate skills training

Working on technical skills can make a massive difference – a deficiency that has little effect on sportive performance will likely present a large problem in races. If, for example you tend to ride at a very low cadence (say below 75 rpm on average), work on increasing it. This will make it easier to accelerate quickly so as to respond to changes in pace.Cornering at speed is another common limiter for new racers – though this is difficult to practice safely on open roads. Once again, I’ll mention the virtues of joining a club – a fast group ride is the closest it’s possible to get to a real race, there is no better way to improve bunch riding skills.

3. Follow a plan.

Ultimately races are harder than sportives, in order to do well you may need to follow a more carefully structured training program. It is true that many riders do not have a written training plan and still have very successful racing careers – however they are in a minority. Find 2 or 3 races in which you would like to do particularly well and build a plan around them. My post on training goes over this in more detail.

It is very important to include rest periods within your training. As a rule of thumb, halve your usual weekly volume and leave to any hard interval sessions every fourth week. High intensity training is very fatiguing, especially if you aren’t used to it. Overtraining should be avoided at all costs.

4) Use data – test yourself.

Click here for a post explaining this in more detail. It’s likely that you already record your rides on Strava or similar, but do you take much notice of the information on the screen? You don’t need a power meter to be-able to train ‘scientifically’, nor do you need to spend hours sifting through data after every ride. As outlined in the link above, just paying attention to a few key numbers is enough. Regular testing is important, making it much easier to gauge progress or detect the early signs of overtraining.

To finish with, here is one final word of advice. Don’t lose heart if the first few races go badly. I’ve said many a time that this is the case for most of us. Nothing quite prepares you for taking to the start line for the first time – it will get better from then on. I felt as if I’d taken a big step back when I first started racing, having gone from gold times in 100 mile sportives to being dropped on the start line. I went on to have a successful season, achieving my 3rd Category license. Just be patient.

As always, stay tuned for more.

Winter woes – and mud.

After having spent the last few days working on ‘serious’ posts, I’ve decided a change is in order. At this time of year, humor is an essential riding companion for any cyclist – at least those braving the outdoors. This week Autumn finally gave way to Winter, announcing itself in the usual ways.

Firstly, it was the inevitable drop in temperature. For me, this manifested itself after a foolishly optimistic choice of clothing was made – turns out two layers aren’t enough, however sunny it looks outside. Time to dig around in the depths of my wardrobe for the winter base layers and long sleeved jerseys.

On a more positive note, I have been provided with a whole new wealth of excuses for my abysmal average speeds. Cold air is scientifically proven to slow you down, increasing drag and rolling resistance. Plus, the extra weight of winter clothing and all that food you have to bring in order to compensate for the shivering. “It would have been 20 mph” I tell myself, at the end of a particularly long and arduous base ride – for which managed to average, wait for it, 14.1.

I’ve also been caught out as a result of poor time keeping, being a student this is part of the job description. I invited my Father down for a ride in Devon during his week off, of course as per usual we set out an hour later than would have been ideal. Arriving at the half way point to find the café closed was the first clue something was afoot, not to mention a major disappointment. A steady winter base ride soon turned into a 2-up time trial effort – the aim being to get home before the darkness set in.

Speaking of Café stops – my appetite has experienced a substantial increase. My plan of getting down to race weight by January has hit a snag. The shorter hours don’t help – sometimes there isn’t anything else to do other than eat, or bake. I rationalise it, my body must simply be preparing for winter – judging by the extent of its effort we must be due one lasting several years.

The day has come where I have been forced to return to the dreaded turbo trainer. Gone are the pleasant summer months where a cheeky evening spin was an option. At present, I’ve only had to use it for recovery rides and short speed work sessions – yet I know the time for painful two hour workouts will come soon. Every hear I mentally prepare myself for the horrors of indoor training – not once has it worked.

Of course, the bike now needs a service. After four years my faithful Cannondale is in dire need of some attention – the bar tape is fraying, the cable housing corroded and the bottom bracket is making a noise that I just can’t think is healthy. Hopefully, it can be nursed through the remaining six weeks of term before being taken to the bikeshop on a metaphorical stretcher.

Rides now take up far more time than they used to. No more interval sessions for a while, just monotonous winter miles in the cold, wet, hilly and muddy Devon countryside. I have numbers and experience that tell me I have some serious work to do on endurance. There was a time when I’d think nothing of a 4 hour ride – after a summer of short races this is not the case anymore. I’ve never gone through gels, bananas and whatever other sugary sustenance I can lay my hands on so quickly.

It’s not just the rides themselves – before and after each bring their own challenges. I long for the days of Shorts and Jersey – whilst debating how many dozens of layers I’ll need. It takes a surprising amount of time to simply dig everything out my wardrobe. Not forgetting lights, overshoes, spare waterproof and puncture repair kit. In winter the faffing rises to a whole new level.

Then there is the issue of bike cleaning. With no secure storage, mine is having to live in my room – there was a battle with the accommodation staff over this which thankfully ended in my favour. My Bike – stored outside in the cold? There is a line I won’t cross. Anyway, there is no outdoor hosepipe and I’m not prepared to carry a heavy bucket of water down three flights of stairs, especially not after a long ride. This leaves the shower as the only option.

My bathroom, to an external viewer would appear remarkably clean. This is simply due to regularly having to scrub mud off the walls and floor in order to hide the evidence. Hopefully none of the aforementioned staff have noticed how my bike is carried inside in a filthy state and emerges looking like new. The grease marks on the carpet are another concern – my current plan is simply to deny all knowledge and use that favourite excuse, “they were here when I arrived”.

Its not just the mud – giving my bike a full clean involves lubricant, degreaser, specialist bike shampoo and of course a spray to make it shiny. My room is not well ventilated, in order to prevent the place smelling entirely of bike, not to mention protect my lungs – the window must be open wide most of the time. This is of course not conducive to maintaining a remotely civilised temperature – I’ve already had to wear my coat indoors on two occasions.

In previous years – this level of inconvenience has caused a temporary hibernation. However, with a peak planned in April this is not an option. I must constantly remind myself of the goals I have set and that without keeping up the miles over winter, they will not turn into reality.

That’s all for today. Got any winter disasters to share? Comment below.

A tale of three Garmins

There are rides when everything goes right – on others, it isn’t quite so straightforward. Today, I experienced the latter type, one of those that felt doomed from the start. Fortunately in this case, it wasn’t just me against whom fate and circumstance conspired.

With a rare free weekend, I decided to come home – as a student, few things are better than having someone else willing to do the cooking and cleaning. Plus, after weeks of living in Devon – some flat and easy rides were in order. As is rare nowadays, my father and I managed to coordinate our respective schedules to the extent that we could go for ride together. This was where the problems started.

Firstly, it was my gears. Stupidly I had put the winter wheels onto my Specialized and not tested them out prior to this point – suffice to say the bike was protesting, the tortured sound of a rubbing chain is one I’ve long since come to dread. My initial thought that re-adjusting the gears may have been a five minute job was soon proven wrong – half an hour later after much swearing, the bike was at least rideable.

Next came the inevitable hunting for the correct kit – it’s quite amazing how things tend to vanish in the tumble drier, ours has developed a particular taste for lycra. There is always one glove or arm warmer missing, this time was no different. How I longed for the summer, when you can get away with wearing only jersey and shorts. After a typically long search, the necessary items were found.

Now to fast forward to that critical stage – actually getting out the door. The house was locked, and the course loaded on my Garmin. Of course, it couldn’t find my heart rate sensor and decided to pick up data from my Fathers instead. This necessitated yet more faffing, running back inside for the spare HRM. I then realised I’d forgotten my front light, time to open up the garage again and rummage around therein.

Yet – it could have been worse. My Father is the one of the few people I know who can, on occasion, match me for disorganisation (genetics is the perfect excuse). He has recently invested in a power meter and new Garmin, after the mysterious disappearance of the old one. Just as we were about to set off, he discovered this new device to be out of charge. A spare one was found (a very old model that isn’t really fit to be used) – of course, it had to be paired with various sensors.

By now it was almost an hour after the ideal set off time – soon it would start getting dark. One last delay – in the rush to get out the door my Father had forgotten his helmet. Once again, the keys had to be retrieved from the depths of a jersey pocket (this, as it turns out is far easier said than done) – the house unlocked, raided, and rapidly locked again. By this point, I was struggling not to laugh.

The ride itself was relatively incident free. Aside of course, from my Father having to stop and recalibrate his new power meter (6,000 Watts is a little suspicious) and the inevitable mid-way malfunctioning of the old Garmin. The roads were mercifully flat, allowing for a genuinely easy spin – coupled with a relatively light bike it made for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. As predicted, it soon began to get dark – prompting an early turn off.

Both bikes were plastered with mud, as is inevitable at this time of year. I made the mistake of going inside and having a shower – the mud is still there, sadly I can’t mask how filthy my bike is – oweing to the fact it is bright orange. I’m gearing myself up for some ridicule on the Club ride tomorrow.

As it turned out, this was not the end. Upon returning home, and putting my Garmin onto charge, I discovered the one that my Father had lost two weeks earlier, I couldn’t help laughing out loud. After the entire house had been turned upside down and a new device purchased, it turned out the old one had simply come unplugged from it’s charger and slipped down behind a potted plant. It still works perfectly. My Mother thankfully saw the funny side of the situation, my Father is not due to live it down anytime soon.

It is a firm reminder that Winter is upon us – gone are the long days, warmth and general ease of existence accompanying the Summer. Cycling for the next few months will consist of little but rain, mud, darkness and the donning of umpteen layers. With the clocks going back, I am beginning to feel a familiar dread.

On that, I’ll leave it – time to go and (not) clean my bike. Goodbye all.

Ps, for those that read my last post, some ‘useful’ content is still on the way. Today’s misadventure was simply too funny not to share.

Out of the frying pan – into the gym

Its time. As of today, the end of season break is officially over – this week marks the beginning of preparations for 2017. It hasn’t got off to the best of starts – looking out the window, there is no way my regime of long steady base miles will start this morning. The start of mid term exams isn’t helping either, I’m writing this partly so as to try and take my mind off the first one.

You might recall my mention last week about making a serious attempt at strength training. It’s a controversial topic, with those that swear by it and many who believe it to be a complete waste of time and money. I’m fed up of having skinny legs, my power to weight ratio may be acceptable, yet my absolute wattage leaves something to be desired. Having decided to turn myself into a time triallist for purposes of the distant spring, it isn’t exactly ideal. This, coupled with the fact that my 47 year old father can easily beat me in an arm wrestle – has given me a push in the direction of the weight room.

It won’t be my first time – last year I made a brief effort to try and quickly regain some of the strength I had lost through injury. After three twenty minute sessions, I called it a day – having decided I’d much, much rather be out on my bike. This year my resolve is stronger, at the moment anyway. So it was that yesterday, having paid a membership fee that was far from student friendly, I marched myself off to the gym.

The first hurdle was simply getting to grips with how to use the various machines, being male I opted not to read the instructions (in spite of them being written in bold on the machines themselves) and simply go by instinct. As you will probably have predicted, this wasn’t met with a huge degree of success. I received several odd looks from the other gym goers, most of whom appeared as if they spent a large amount of time in there. Eventually, I got a handle on most of them – though I’m still not sure if any of the exercises were completed correctly.

Sadly, since its been almost a full year since it happened – I can no longer use “I’m coming back from injury” as an excuse for my abysmal upper body muscles. My one consolation is that most cyclists I know are the same – powerful legs coupled with an emaciated torso and arms with a diameter not greatly exceeding that of a coke can. I will admit to being slightly embarrassed, hoping against hope that no-one happened to look too closely at the small loads I was struggling to lift.

Suffice to say that getting through the session wasn’t easy – I made an attempt at positive self talk, reciting the season goals over and over again in my head. It was exceptionally gratifying to finish the last exercise, wiping down the machine and doing my best to achieve a dignified exit- that is to say resisting the urge to run to the door and escape as quickly as possible.

Muscles that I didn’t knew existed (a concern in itself when I have an anatomy exam coming up) soon started to protest, at this moment my body feels like that of an octogenarian. A couple of lessons harshly learned, namely to warm up and cool down properly and to make a return to stretching. This strength training business is harder than it might seem from the outside.

I can only hope that my motivation remains high for a long enough time so as to be-able to complete the program I have set out. I tell myself that the first session was always going to be the worst one and that it will only get better from now on – trying and failing to sound convincing in the process. A very large part of me is hoping against hope that strength training won’t work, so as to give me an excuse never to venture out of my natural habitat (i.e. the great outdoors, aboard my bike) again.

That is all, time to get in some last minute cramming for my anatomy exam this afternoon. At the very least I know how to check my learning – if it hurts as a result of yesterday, I should know the latin name for it. Stay tuned.

Turbo headache

During the last few days, the time has come to admit to myself that it’s Autumn. The reddening leaves, cold mornings and lack of events on the calendar has finally put an end to my denial. This sadly, can only mean one thing – soon the clocks will change, the rain will pour and sooner or later outdoor training opportunities will become highly limited. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not the type to never ride if it’s raining, cold or subject to very high winds. I can take one of the three, maybe two at a push – sadly during the british winter, as many fellow cyclists will know, all of the above are often found in abundance for several days in a row. Its time to go back to the turbo.

When I began Cycling, one of the first things I learnt was how crucial it is to keep riding through the winter. As a 15 year old I was genuinely under the impression that a few months off wouldn’t do much harm, after all I’d been riding a grand total of 12 weeks – surely with that fitness level, it wouldn’t take long to recapture some form. As you might imagine, this didn’t hold true – it was 9 months before I rode a bike again, having regained the weight I had lost and lost all the fitness I’d gained.

During what I’ll refer to as my sabbatical, my Father (at the time far more disciplined than me), mentioned something about his indoor training sessions – offering to show me how it was done. This formed my introduction to the turbo trainer – after ten minutes of riding I decided that enough was enough, the sweaty pain cave wasn’t for me. In that incredibly short space of time, what I suspect will be a life long hatred of the turbo was formed – “how on earth?” I wondered, could anyone actually bear to spend time on this thing?

Of course, as time went on – I learned to suffer through it. In all honesty I studied a bit harder in those days and as such simply didn’t have the time for outdoor riding during the winter, once a week if I was lucky. I discovered a well known series of training videos which did at least provide some entertainment and distraction. As my knowledge grew, I came to begrudgingly accept the usefulness of turbo sessions – there is no better way to complete a highly structured workout, on the road there are always distractions and changes in terrain that provide complications.

Last winter, things reached a new low. Sporting a broken collarbone, the turbo was now the only option when it came to maintaining fitness. Six solid weeks of sitting in that garage, doing the same sessions over and over again – desperate to pick up a real bike and venture outdoors, the pain in my shoulder a constant reminder that this wasn’t possible. I yearned for that last session, when it came to an end I vowed never to even look at the thing ever again. This of course seeming like a perfectly sensible thing say at the very beginning of spring.

Now I am forced to go back on my promise. In a fortnight the off season will come to an end and it will be time to begin preparations for 2017. Yesterday, with a heavy heart I attempted to set up my turbo – even before completing an actual session, the blessed machine caused me a headache.

Firstly, getting the bike in place proved to be tricky (you’ll remember what I’ve said about my mechanical skills, this shouldn’t come as a surprise). Perhaps it, like me, is doing anything within its power to prolong the time before an indoor workout is at hand. Secondly, the speed sensor I had purchased from a well known online retailer refused to work – prompting me to send it back. Having circumnavigated this problem, it seemed things were sorted – yet it was not to be.

My Turbo trainer isn’t exactly an expensive model – a hand-me down from my father, a novice cyclist at the time of purchase he simply went for a cheap one. Five years on and its looking very tired, I had hoped to get another winter out of it but this was not to be. The noise level, even at very low intensities was akin to a plane taking off just outside your front door. When living in Student halls, its important to be mindful of the others in your flat – I’d like everyone to still be speaking to me by the end of the year!

This has necessitated parting with a significant sum of money. Having had to purchase a new trainer and a tyre to accompany it (another means of reducing the noise). Distinctly unhelpful – for the last few months I’ve been putting money aside for a new pair of wheels – it will be a while before that fund begins to grow again. My dislike of turbo trainers has now reached a new height – something I simply didn’t think was possible.

Of course, there are a few positives. A decent trainer should make the sessions a tad less unbearable. I’ve also invested in the heftiest fan I could find – I’ve no desire for my room to acquire a permanent gym scent. On recommendation, I’ve signed up for a popular virtual reality cycling platform, at least I’ll be-able to simulate the outdoors more easily. Last but not least – after much searching, I’ve found my hardshell jacket – maybe riding in the wet & cold won’t be quite so bad after all when the threat of the turbo hangs over my head.

That, is where I’ll leave it for today. I have season goals to set, a bike to clean, Uni work to do and food to make. Goodbye all

The deadly bargain

This one should serve as a warning.

The fateful journey began two weeks ago. I had just finished a particularly painful morning shift, I am currently working for a major retail chain that shall remain nameless. On this occasion the unpleasant customers had come out in force, the rude, the stupid and in one case the smelly. Suffice to say my outlook was less than positive upon arriving home. In an attempt to cheer myself up I sat down with the calculator and worked out the size of my pay check. Having dropped out of one University course and enrolled on another, the responsible course of action would of course be to save my earnings so as to pay off the enormous debt that I have already accumulated (sadly this is the case for most students nowadays, I’ll spare you my rant regarding that one).

I noted with some satisfaction that this next wage slip would push my total savings over the 2k mark, this deduction turned out to be the first major mistake. The second one came when I received an email from a well known online cycle retailer – sadly it contained details of a mid season sale. Since becoming a student I have become good at fending off the inevitable urges that come with an email such as this ( I suspect most established cyclists will know what I am talking about here). I resisted looking any further, deciding instead to be sensible. By this point the seed had been sewn and begun to take root.

The next day, circumstances conspired against me (at least that’s what I tell myself). It fell to me to complete that most exceptionally boring domestic task – the mid week family shop. In order to get through it I thought it sensible to treat myself a little – there is a bike shop five minutes drive from the local supermarket. What harm, I thought, is there in just having a look? After all I had resisted the temptation of the sale the previous day, why not celebrate my new found restraint by going to the bike shop, admiring the items within and not making any purchase.

Upon walking in, I was, as per usual drooling over the various bikes on display I suspect the majority of people reading this have had this experience. Range topping TT bikes bedecked with the latest aerodynamic equipment, sitting alongside featherweight climbing bikes – how many KOM’s could I get atop one of those? I asked myself.

It was then that I saw her – right down in the bottom corner of the shop, sat amongst a group of other machines. Deep down I knew this would lead to trouble, yet I could not help but go for a closer look – I was not disappointed. This bike was just perfect – a well know aero model, sporting a full ultegra groupset, aero stem, carbon seat post and a shiny paint job. It was a model I had dreamed of owning on many previous occasions, and it just happened to be in the sale. A reduction of 500 pounds from the RRP – putting the bike at, you guessed it, just over 2k.

The rational side of me was very quickly overwhelmed. I’m sure the man in the shop spotted the look in my eyes from the moment I asked if I he could remove the bike from the shelf for me. He informed me that a small deposit would ensure she would be there for me, as soon as I could afford the rest of the cost I could take her home.

It didn’t take much persuading after that, merely a short trip home in order to skim through various reviews of the model – finding even more reasons to buy it. I discussed it with my parents, who were surprisingly supportive (my father is a fellow cyclist, my mother is therefore accustomed to the purchasing of new bikes for no good reason).

One week later and the bike is sitting in my bedroom – no room to keep it anywhere else (at least I don’t think so – perhaps I ought to look). Now sporting an upgraded handlebar which was offered to me at 10% discount, setting me back a further sum. Of course its needed new tyres, tubes, bottle cages, skewers, valve caps and bolts. I then find myself asking, whats the point of having an aero bike without a pair of deep section carbon wheels? Suffice to say my Uni debt hasn’t got any smaller and isn’t likely to in the foreseeable future.

Of course I can rationalise it – phrases such as “you only live once”, “it’s a good investment for the future”, “it will give me a massive advantage in races”, “it was a really good price” and, most prominently “I’ve worked really hard to earn that money, why shouldn’t I spend it on something fun”. Deep down I know it wasn’t a sensible decision, but its going to be a long time before that stops being outweighed by the sheer joy that only a new bike can bring. Let future me worry about the consequences (that man I feel, is not in for an easy time).

At the very least, my mistake can be used in order to educate others, and myself in order to stop making impulse purchases:

1) Don’t look at the prices of new bikes after a bad day at work.
2) Don’t look too closely at how much money you have managed to ‘save’ – it’ll become increasingly tempting to spend it until the urge becomes overwhelming.
3) Don’t ever go into a bike shop to ‘just have a look’ – you won’t come out with a full wallet.

However, as we all know – the correct number of bikes is N+1 (N being the number of bikes you already own). Your improved mood will benefit your family – explain this to them before announcing the cut backs that might need to be made as a result (who needs food and electricity anyway?). And of course, its ok to treat yourself once in a while – better a new bike than an unhealthy takeaway or large amounts of alcohol. The above is merely an extract from a massive range of available excuses.

On that, I’ll stop writing. Its time to go for a ride – on my old bike of course, wouldn’t want to risk damaging the new one by taking it outside.