Sunday, 27 March 2011

Thorn Audax Mk3 - update

Regular readers will know how I have been impressed from the outset with this new bike.  Happily it continues to delight me, so now a few hundred miles later, here's an update.

The main thing is, of course, the frame.  As the wheelbase is about 2 inches shorter than my old Dawes Galaxy, the handling is a bit more sprightly and although I am very used to it now, it continues to please.  The frame has a nice mixture of being nice and stiff when I'm pedalling hard (pulling up a hill when I ought to be in a lower gear) and yet beautifully comfortable.  When I look straight down the forks, I can see them fluttering slightly in going over a rough road surface, just like the Dawes.  It's nice having handlebars a little wider than what I'm used to - they're just right and fairly comfy with some cork type handlebar tape with a strip of gel backing.  The bog standard Shimano brake levers are just right, as are the gear levers, now I'm used to their position at the end of the handlebars.  The brakes are, well made, stylish, smooth, perfetly balanced and more than adequate but not outstanding in their stopping power.

The Brooks B17 saddle is a real delight and seems to have broken in a lot faster than my other did 27 years ago.  I've played around with the position a couple of times, fine-tuning the ergonomics is crucial.  I've given it a few doses of Proofhide and have needed to tension the leather using the complimentary spanner.

I need to perfect the bike though.  There's an irritating rattle, which I thought was the front mudguard and brake rubbing against each other.  ON close examination, it's actually the mudguard rubbing against the fork.  This is a potential rust problem, so I need to get that sorted this coming week.  The mudguard is, I believe, just a little too wide.  I should say, in defence of Thorn Cycles, this bike was built up in my local bike shop and some details like the exact mudguards were, shall we say, a little more flexible.

The smoothness of shift of shifting gears is fantastic.  The rear cluster is fairly close ratio but even so, it is very quiet and quick with each of the components working well with each other.  What does sunrise me is the ability to get these slick gear changes even when under pedal pressure.  Having a Sram 9 speed cluster seemed a luxury but it all works well with the Shimano Deore mechs and Shimano bar end shifters.  The ratios are good and useful.

Overall this is a well sorted bike.  It fits the purpose of being a fast, practical bike that is versatile enough for commuting, light touring, day rides etc.  I am looking forward to enjoying some longer day rides to really put it (and me!) through its paces.

Quick update on things....

A very pleasant week including our 15th wedding anniversary.  As last weekend involved Rachel and I going away for a treat, we said to B&H they could choose what we did on the anniversary itself.  Their choice - and we loved this - was fish and chips on the Downs for tea.

After a trial ride last weekend, I decided to take a chance and cycle to work one day and see how my (still) injured hand held up.  The outcome wasn't too bad, I'm still not "out of the woods" yet but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  My leg cycling muscles were definitely out of shape and I found I was working quite hard.

So I decided to do it all again the following day as the weather was so good!

The result is that my hand is suffering a bit, compounded by another 25 miles today!  In spite of what the Doctor has said, I am still not convinced I haven't got a broken bone, so I might go back once more to have it checked more thoroughly.

I digress.  So grateful and blessed for another happy year of married life.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The benefits of running uphill

In 2008, when I was first getting into running, I used to avoid hills, slopes or any kind of incline.  The thought of my legs and lungs burning up was just too much to bear and so I used to plan easy, flat routes.  Gradually these routes got a bit longer and started to involve a few hills.  In doing that I realised I was working that bit harder, just for a couple of minutes and then enjoying a down hill swoop on the other side.  I really started to enjoy

Nowadays I positively love hills and am fortunate in having a few around our home to try.  So what are the benefits, why is running up hill good for me?

  • Running up short hills is a bit like interval training - burst of effort, then take it easy
  • Apparently a 10% incline = 40% more energy
  • A sense of achievement
  • Strengthens my ankles and toes
  • Builds muscle strength throughout my legs
  • Brilliant cardiovascular exercise
  • Huge calerie consumption
  • An achievable mental challenge, as well as a physical challenge
  • Warms you up on a cold day
  • Adds variety
  • I think of those fantastic views
  • I once overtook some cyclists!
One of the benefits I have enjoyed is in a race situation.  In the handful of races that I've done, I have looked back and especially enjoyed the hilly ones.  Why?  Well, when I start a race, I'm normally in the mid point of the pack, or perhaps a little further back.  Once the race starts, I always seem to get over taken by younger runners, pushing me even further towards the back.  Even when the pack is spreading out and settling into its pace, I still get over taken.  That is, until the first hill.  I find it fairly easy to keep a steady pace going up, nothing "show-off" but a nice steady pace and then I start to overtake some of those faster runners to the point that I generally finish at about the 20% mark (i.e 80% are behind me), which I feel very content with.

Even thought they might still be painful for me with my lungs feeling as if they'll explode, I know its doing me good.  I dread to think what my heart rate is, it must reach at least 180 bpm - which is something I fear is not recommended but I console myself by knowing it is only for a few seconds or minutes

So hills.  They're hard work but always there to enjoy the benefits!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Running: a wonderful de-stressing exercise

Here's just the quickest of updates and for myself, a reminder of how valuable running is.

Yesterday I woke up at about 4.30am.  Dosed a little and decided to just get going before my family's routine kicks in.  I left the house just after it was getting light but still gloomy with low cloud, damp and a cold chill in the air.  Initially it was pretty hard going and tempting to go back and have that extra mug of tea.

I ran my regular circular route but in reverse as it then takes me longer to get to the hills.

By the time I'd got back, I felt pretty good mentally, more ready for the day ahead.  A subtle kind of high, certainly not that "rush" from a sprint finish but still a pleasant dose of endorphins.  A gradual "it'll be OK today Doug" and I felt a real calmness.

All just as well really, quite a tough day in SW1 again.  Same project as mentioned before but picking up in it's pace and gravity, also involving some more people.  In fact when I arrived, most of my colleagues were already sitting down so I was a little taken aback when I heard a voice saying, "Hello it's Doug isn't it?  I saw your name on the list and now I bet you're wondering who I am?"

I was completely foxed.  She seemed friendly and pleasant but clearly playing with me in front of everyone else.  A smiling grey haired lady, confident and business-like; but I was still puzzled.  She then introduced herself as Jeanette Whitford and instantly I knew.  Well, she'd certainly changed but then I haven't seen her since 1995 when, to be honest, I didn't know her terribly well but well enough as a colleague.  So at coffee break time, it was an opportunity to briefly catch up and unfortunately she had to leave early at lunch time.

Perhaps I might have a chance to have a run tomorrow morning, again at dawn.  Quite a few tricky things going on at work that I need to be mindful of, so a nice run in the quiet stillness will help.

Monday, 14 March 2011

39 Stone Cyclist - Cycling Active magazine

Another good read in what must be the current best value general cycling magazine around.  Plenty of variety in the articles covering fitness, kit, nutrition and features on cyclists.  The article on Emily Brooke's LEJOG ride was very interesting but the prize must go to Gary Brennan, the 39 Stone Cyclist.

It's quite a dramatic story of Gary hitting a crisis point which led him to making a life changing commitment.  As you can see from the snap of the magazine article, he weighed in at 39 stone (wow!) and found himself in hospital with all kinds of difficulties.  That was the turning point that saw Gary take up cycling which has been a dramatic, inspirational real life story.  It's well worth tracking down the magazine article or maybe visiting his own blog if you want to know more.

I can only take my hat off to the Gary's of this world.  He made that commitment when he was at crisis point and had the determination and grit to follow it through.  I can only imagine what it must have been like for him, it's quite a story which, unsurprisingly, is still on-going.

Follow this link to his blog:

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Recovery 3

My new and muddy Saucony Progrid Omni 9's

Here's a quick update.  Yesterday morning I went for a 7 mile run, over one of my hilly routes.  Went fairly well although I still feel my running form isn't as "fluid" as it could be, plus I need to build up the distances again.

It was also interesting trying out these new running shoes, the ones I got yesterday from Aro Sports.  They certainly do seem to offer a bit more cushioning towards the front of the foot and to begin with they seemed fairly bulky, though they're not.  Soon I became very used to them and they seem fine, nothing particularly to say apart from them feeling really good when I was going up a steep hill.  There's one short section of this road which is about a 25% incline.  I could feel my toes enjoying a bit more flexibility going up this climb - not that it made me run any faster at all, though perhaps a little more sure-footed.  All fairly straight forward, home by 8.15am for a shower and breakfast.  Felt good on those endorphins for a few hours.

Early afternoon, gardening done, sun still shining and an opportunity for a quick ride on Audrey the Audax bike.

I thought I'd go out for maybe 30 minutes and see how my hand fared.  Not brilliant really and quite painful when I got back.  I was trying different positions in holding the handlebars and I think I'll invest in some padded mitts or gloves.  The problem is holding the bars for harder pedalling, like starting off, going uphill or just putting a bit more effort in.  I think a previous comment came, from Anonymous, saying how much power is transmitted through hands - exactly right.

I'm pleased I can pick up on the running again now but frustrated about the cycling bit.  I feel my cycling muscles are way behind, fitness wise, than where I ought to be.  This hand injury has cost me a couple of months of cycling and fitness so far.

While this has been a bit of progress, I realise I need to persevere to get back to where I was, say, 4 months ago when I ran a half marathon at Linslade in about 1 hr 44 mins.  Mentally I can still feel I'm bothered by work and not quite on top form again - a combination that background stress not being dealt with very well and a fairly involved workload. Although I fall asleep easily enough, I often wake up at 3 to 4pm with work on my mind.

But hey, a nice scenic ride and an opportunity to have a breather with a few photos:

Friday, 11 March 2011

ARO Sports, Harpenden

Update - June 2011
Just learnt that ARO Sports Shops have sadly closed. On learning this news, I was tempted to just pull this post but I've decided to leave it as an example of excellent local service which mail order companies can never really provide.  
All the best to Colin and his colleagues.
Colin - of Aro Sports

I can remember pretty well when I first went into Aro Sports.  Looking back I was at a bit of a cross road - I'd just started to run and had found it particularly hard going on my knees and ankles; I was on the verge of giving up even though I'd only just begun.  After a bit of quick internet homework I realised I needed a proper pair of running shoes that suited by stride.

Gait analysis
They say first impressions count for a lot and that certainly applies here.  I went into the shop on (thankfully a quiet winter's afternoon), explained the problem and straight away Colin suggested I hopped onto his treadmill in order to carry out a gait analysis.  It involved me running using my existing trainers and being filmed from behind. He played the film back in slow motion, on a laptop and straight away spotted the problem.  Even I could see how my feet were landing and taking off awkwardly, it all started to make sense.

"Is it serious, can I run?"

"Yes of course you can!  We just need to sort out the right shoes for you.  What size are you?"


"Ok I'll see what I can find" came the reply disappearing into a stock room.

A minute later Colin emerged with a pile of boxes and one by one, each pair was tried.  When I say tried, I mean another run on the treadmill.  I was amazed at the difference between them.  One pair was even worse and these were instantly discounted and then the others got closer and closer to what seemed the ideal pair.  Even though they were a huge improvement and I remember saying there was just a little bit of movement around the heel.

That was fixed through changing the way the lacing was done, by using an extra hole and creating an extra loop.  This technique, though I'm not sure what it's called, was successful as I had yet another go on the treadmill.  It seemed to do the trick so I bought them!

So, that was my first pair of running shoes and I haven't looked back since.

Knowledge that's helpful

Right from the start it was clear he knew what he was talking about and spoke with real experience.  I've been back a few times for some more shoes and it's really easy to strike up a conversation about running which is great as it's a nice thing to talk about and I always felt I'd learnt something.  Naturally it's often easy for that to be a kind of "soft sell" and maybe there's no harm in that - after all he's there to earn a living but nevertheless it has always been helpful.

I remember once going in once complaining I'd got a blister.  After a few questions the answer was clear - nothing wrong with shoes or socks, simply through being tired after a long run I was taking smaller steps and that created some friction that wasn't there before.  So keeping that stride length right was the suggested solution and he was spot on!

Several shoes later
I do remember Colin saying something like "I'll see you again maybe for another pair after about 500 miles".  That didn't seem many miles for a pair of running shoes costing £70, grrrrrr. Actually he was right.  After a few months I had started to notice my knees were starting to ache a little and then I started to work out how many miles I'd done.  Sure enough, about 500.  The trouble I had was that the shoes appeared to have hardly any visible wear so I thought I'd get this checked out by buying another pair (same make, model) and yes, the new ones were perfect and the old ones were worn out after all.

Even my wife and eldest daughter have bought running shoes now (though yet to start running much; but we're working on that!).  Again the process started with the Gait Analysis and the outcome was spot on.

Other things
Again you might think investing £10 in a pair of socks is a bit over the top.  Actually no, it does make a positive difference having the right socks.  Believe me, it does.

Aro Sports have also organised a local running club which is a nice thoughtful touch.  Indeed I've spotted Aro Sports vests at one or two local races.  Thinking about it, yes, I've noticed quite a few runners in and around Harpenden so who knows, Aro Sports might be contributing to the public health agenda in that area!

Would I do anything differently?
Quite a hard question to answer.  Clearly the business seems to work but the shop, judging from appearances, doesn't suggest a rapidly growing enterprise, more about not over stretching which is probably very sensible.  The website is quite cheery and as many consumers judge shops by the internet presence it's important this conveys the right message and "values", which is where independents can often have the edge.

I realise now there is a discrepancy (which is not in my favour) in the price of the shoes I bought today and the website price.  Maybe a one-off?  Don't know.  Either way I hate it when on-line prices and in-store prices are different.

Perhaps March is an "in between" season in terms of clothing - could do with a wider range to tempt me!  A few more socks, water bottles and so on could fill the shop up a bit?  There were some free running magazines which is a nice thoughtful touch and it made me wonder if it would be worth stocking a selection of books - there's so much you could do, right from very sporty books through to healthy living and inspirational biographies?

All in all....
....a shop I'm very grateful for having made all the difference between running and giving up.  So thanks Aro Sports - see you in another 500 miles!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Recovery 2

Do I look a bit stressed here?

Maybe, maybe not.

Yesterday was a tricky day for me at work.  Having submitted quite a few agenda items to the Strategic Management Team (from my position as a 'umble middle manager)I was thinking about their meeting while I sat at my desk during the morning.  Perhaps unsurprisingly a Director called me in what was their coffee break with one query and one rant.  Otherwise I awaited the feedback in the afternoon.  I had a total of 6 calls from 2 Directors which was more than I expected.  In a nutshell, a couple of loose ends to tie up, tweak this and have a little more hassle.  The joys of middle management in the public sector.

I sat there thinking that I wasn't handling it very well mentally.  Perhaps it would have been better for me to invite myself there for SMT (normally the CEO is very happy to accommodate me), though perhaps it wouldn't have made much difference other than getting it over and done with, or perhaps explaining things more clearly or gently steering the discussions.

Nevertheless it bothered me, so when I woke in this morning at about 5.00am I decided to have my usual morning cup of tea and then to go for a run!  I left before it was light and did a familiar 6.5mile run.  Doing that was no problem and I'm thinking it won't be too long before I'm back to half marathon level.

As I set off, there were a few spits of rain in the air and very, very windy.  I was determined to not give in because of the weather.  When I got to the top of the Downs, WOW what a blast!  I was having to lean sideways as I ran along the ridge and it really took my breath away.  I was wearing a pair of shorts and the light rain in the wind was almost sandblasting the side of my legs - and yet - I loved it!

Coming back I ran along a rough grassy verge as I have done so many times before.  I could feel my feet and ankles adapting to the rough uneven ground really well and I remember struggling with that when I first started to run.

All in all a really nice, albeit a blowy run.  So pleased I made the effort.  I have some more running shoes on order that should be in soon, so then they'll be no stopping me.

My hand, ah yes.  Maybe it was a combination of the cold temperature and the natural swaying action, it was rather uncomfortable to say the least.  Another reminder of healing still taking place.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


I was toying with calling this post "Injury update 3" but I'm feeling a lot more positive than that.

Not deterred by my unsuccessful attempt to buy some new running shoes from Arosports after work on Friday, I went for a run on Saturday morning.  Knowing I'm a little out of shape I decided to do my usual run, in reverse, meaning I would have to be running for 15 minutes before I started to climb, rather than the usual 8 minutes before I hit a really steep incline.

Once I'd got to the top I got the full effect of the cooling breeze and lovely views, albeit drab grey.  After 20-30 minutes I was feeling better than I expected and added on an extra mile and headed for a path that turned out to be rather "damp".

The first part contained a few puddles which I delighted in running through, even though I could have gone around the edge - but I was out to enjoy the thrill of a run, not pussy foot around a puddle.  Further on it got really "squetchley" and I was all over the place, sliding around but grinning throughout.  Got home at 8.00am and hardly anyone was really up for the day so little competition for the shower!

Wow I felt so alive!  Out of shape, a little more tired than normal but so much alive.  Pleased I did my 7.5 mile run in spite of being out of condition.

Then this afternoon, I again could resist the opportunity of having a ride on my bike, to see how my hand faired.  The outcome, the verdict?  Well, not bad.  I think by next weekend I'll be ready for a shortish ride and we'll take it from there.  My hand is probably 95% healed.

By the way, you might remember I mentioned I was going to see my Doctor about my hand.  While he disapproves of any kind of self diagnosis, he did agree that I've pulled my tendons and ligaments about.  Also he suspects I have probably broken a bone or two after all, saying X Rays don't always pick up whatever he was suspecting.  Owing to the passage of time, there is little point in another X Ray.

So, I had a good run yesterday and a short trial ride on my bike.  Things are looking up......

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

London - it's so exhausting!

Outside the RSA in John Adam Street, London WC2
 My wife thinks I'm having a ball at work.  This morning she asked what I was doing for lunch today (meaning "do you need your lunch box?") I said I was popping into central London for lunch at the RSA.  Slight raising of eye brow.

Actually it was a working lunch, honest.

I've been into London quite a few times recently as regular readers will already know.  Every day I go, I fall asleep in the evening.  It seems that mentally there is just something about it but I don't know why.  It is fascinating work and certainly it does exercise my grey cells somewhat.  The journey, well it's not too bad and I never have to wait more than a couple of minutes for a train, so what exactly am I complaining about?  Nothing.

It's just another reminder of a couple of things.

Firstly I need to continue pulling myself together knowing that February has happened - I've been injured and that was then.  Both mentally and physically I must keep going and they do go hand-in-hand so much more than ever before.  I can't wait before I've really got into that pattern of regular runs and rides; that "runners high" that keeps me going.

Just a quick word about the RSA.  As you can see from the first photograph the "Royal Society for encouragement of Arts Manufactures and Commerce" in John Adam Street, London WC2.  I was there today having been previously invited to give views on a new idea; this being a follow on meeting to consolidate these things.

From what I gather, that's just what the RSA is all about, or as someone in the group put it, a "Think tank; Do tank".  Also a brief suggestion I should join. Never thought of that before.  Should I?

Click here for a link to the RSA home page