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.

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.