Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Overloading our car with bikes!

Our brilliant but overloaded VW Vento
When we go on holiday we normally take Rachel's VW as it's got a bigger boot than my car.  That has been fine for all kinds of camping trips with and without bikes but this year it's just been too much.  Sometimes we've had a roof box full of our gear, adding further to the weight!

When we arrived for our Cumbria holiday this year, we managed to scrape the bottom of the car along a raised ridge leading to our holiday farmhouse.  In doing so it pulled off some kind of brace that was bolted to the underside of the car.  The local garage said it wasn't a problem but might get picked up at the next MOT.  Phew.

While we were on holiday the clutch started to slip and this now has been the final straw.  This is the orginal clutch which has lasted for 163,000 miles so we can make an allowance here.  We had in mind replacing the car this year, having bought it way back in the last century.  So, with the new school term approaching we hopefully have another car coming this week (which we haven't even seen let alone test driving).  It was the "very reliable" and "not remotely exciting to drive" reports in Which? that helped us decide.  Besides, I reckon the new car will be able to carry even more bikes but I haven't mentioned that to Rachel yet!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Cycling and running in the mist

Early morning mist in August

Have you noticed we've been having some very beautiful early morning mists lately?  I think this has happened in many parts of England.  I just wanted to highlight these mornings as being ideal for getting out there, on two feet or on two wheels.

It is very tempting for me to peer out of the window and see a grey "nothingness" with everything looking cold and grey - then it's all too easy to slide back under the duvet.  And yet these can be the very mornings when the mists suddenly start to lift with the warmth of the rising morning sun.  I know it's a matter of taste but I think there's a real beauty to these mornings and can go for miles and miles without realising it.  Even over roads or trails that are well known to me, there is a new quality to them that makes them appear completely new to me.

If you visit my blog often you may have noticed I prefer to run, or perhaps cycle, early in the day.  This time of day is very special for me.  Sometimes they're times of real inspiration and magic in feeling like the only person awake and wonder in the day ahead.  These misty mornings have simply added to that, deepening an already wonderful experience.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Cycling over Kirkstone Pass

Looking north, towards Ullswater

For some time I had been looking forward to a really nice long bike ride while we were in Cumbria last week and I was not disappointed.

As luck would have it, with my family I negotiated my "bike day" and it turned out to be the best day in terms of the weather.  Pleasantly warm, just a very slight breeze and sunny, cloudy skies made it perfect.

I ascended from Ullswater, a steady climb which can be seen in the above photograph.  I was very pleased I had that 26T "Granny wheel" gear on the 1 in 4 steep part near the top!  It was nice keeping in a good pedalling rhythm and knowing there was one lower gear still further.  At the top there was a runner (followed by his dog!) but no other cyclists.  I remember having that satisfying feeling as I looked around, mostly enjoying those long distance views in the Windermere direction.

Descending was great fun but just too short!  I took the road to Windermere and the best bits were the corners which brought out the best in my bike's handling.  I could take those corners really fast and with complete confidence there would be no nasty surprises.  While my shades might look questionable, I needed them for keeping out flies and any other flying insects - I've had too many near misses following flies going into my eye at high speed.  When this happens it is very disconcerting!

This must count as one of my all-time great rides.  I'll map this out on Googlemaps sometime and put it on this post but in essence I did about 64+ miles that day with 3 big climbs, all using the 26T Granny gear at some point. I remember as I started to climb up out of Orton on the B6260 it was unexpectedly steep and I was feeling tired.  Momentarily I felt quite emotional almost expecting myself to declare I couldn't take anymore of this!  A second later and I was fine once again.

It was a demanding ride but so rewarding, uplifting and a wonderful memory to treasure.  I highly recommend it for a demanding ride with much variety in the surrounding landscape.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Dealing with stress - some tips

Some of you will already know that I've had some work-related stress over recent years (click on the About page tab for more on this) but I thought it might be useful to give a few tips from my many strategies:

  1. Go for a run - but you need to be accustomed to this for it to be effective.  From my own experience, this means being able to run for at least 30 minutes.  I've blogged about this before but it does work for me, really it does.  I can go out with a heavy burden, lots of worries and then return an hour later and I feel transformed.
  2. Get a cheap digital watch with an alarm.  Mine is the one in the photo above and cost around £7 in Argos, that's all.  Becky my eldest daughter was fiddling with it a while back and managed to set the alarm to sound at 3.06pm and couldn't work out how to un-set it  One day at work, when I was in a tedious meeting the alarm went off.  Everyone looked at me as I in turn looked at my watch.  "Wow 3.06 already, my apologies I have to go".  Everyone was so amazed I planned my time so precisely, my exit from the meeting was never questioned.  A feeling of being in control, not out of control.
  3. If you have faith then you know praying is exactly right.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Monday, 22 August 2011

Mick n Phil Marathon Lads

While we were in Cumbria last week, Rachel and I found ourselves talking to Mick and his wife, who were with their son Phil.  It was a chance conversation at the top of Kirkstone Pass (I'd cycled there the previous day - blog post to follow soon).

We said "hello" as we went passed, strolling around and before we knew it a conversation had struck up.

It was moving listening to Mick as he gave us a glimpse of his life - the ups and downs, the highs and the lows.  He said he'd be easy to find on the internet and sure enough, he was right.  It was a joy to meet him and his family - and who knows - we might meet once again at a future race.

Please take a look at their website for their story as I can't do it justice here.


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Early morning inspirational cycle ride

Near Dufton, Cumbria
Last week we were in Cumbria for a weeks holiday along with some friends, Paul & Steph and their kids.  Needless to say I took my bike and running shoes for some early morning inspiration.  We stayed just outside Appleby - as in Appleby-in-Westmorland - and the annual Appleby Horse Fair.

On Friday morning I peered out of the window at dawn and saw a misty field which looked inviting.  For a while I couldn't make up my mind whether to run or cycle.  Mentally I tossed a coin and cycling won.  Although I was out for just an hour, I only covered 10 miles.  It seemed every few yards there was something to stop and marvel at.  Some of those things are photographed here (hope you like them) others are memories in my mind.

It's hard, really hard, to sum it up.  It was beautiful, inspirational and magical.  I saw nobody, not one single car, just me, my bike and the road.

Appleby to Dufton Road, Cumbria

Appleby in the mist

Edge of Pennines, near Hilton, Cumbria

Caption competition?  Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review - Specialised BG Gel Mitts

If you are a regular reader you will know of my hand injury, which although slowly healing, was aggravated by cycling in holding my handlebars.  It was that which prompted me to invest in these one lunch time, in order to soften the ride and make cycling easier.

The big attraction as the gel inserts in various places on the palm, designed to cushion the ride.  After all, numerous road defects and tyres at 100psi will cause quite a bit of vibration up through the handlebars.  For this, they live up to expectations in the main.

They cost me £26 in a LBS less a CTC discount.  At the time of writing these were £19.99 at Evans Cycles.

Sizing wise they seem on the small size.  I have XL mitts but there's no way I can have XL sized hands.  Once on, they are a good fit but taking them off is quite a fiddle.

They are not sweaty at all.

The bit which disappoints the most with them being poorly made.  Already stitching is coming loose and a hole is gaping.

Would I buy these again?  No I woudn't.  Sorry.

Monday, 15 August 2011

40's - the best decade (so far)

I remember people telling me "it's all down hill now you're 40 but happy birthday anyway".  I also remember in my mid 40's when my optician said it was time to have reading glasses because I was middle aged.

I didn't mind having to wear glasses but it was the middle aged bit that bothered me the most.  Surely middle aged people are old, boring, past it?  I couldn't possibly be like that!

If you've read the About page, you'll know why I started to take more care of myself.  It is because of that this decade has been fantastic for me.  I have aged of course, but I'm in better shape than I was almost 10 years ago.  I was reflecting on this as I found myself glancing through a Reader's Digest book we have.  It says (paraphrased)....

30s - by the end of the decade the first grey hairs will be appearing.  Bone breaks down faster than it builds up.  My response?  Grey hairs?  Couldn't care less.  Besides, they're not grey, they are blonde.  Comment about metabolism slowing and weight being gained.  Yes that happened to me and I didn't even realise it was happening.  I just bought new clothes as I fancied them, not giving the increasing size a thought.

40's - my eye sight has deteriorated significantly.  Partly through becoming naturally more long sighted and needing glasses for close - up work.  Retina problems have occurred through stress and it's all associated with this alleged Type A personality stuff.  I look much older but I just don't care.  I can put on weight far too easily as I believe my metabolism has continued to slow along with so many colleagues and friends of my age.

And yet as my 40s draw to a conclusion, I have never felt fitter, more healthy or as positive as this for ages.  Probably since I was in my 20s.  Whether I'm any wiser, well, that's another issue and not for here if you don't mind.  I'm calmer but more determined.  Harder on myself than ever before.

So yes, my 40s have been a fantastic decade.  I'm in better shape - physically, mentally and spiritually - than when I went in.  Can't wait until I'm 50!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Running and preventing blisters

I reckon most runners will get a blister or two at some point and naturally this applies to me too.  Here's a few thoughts how to maybe avoid them:

Getting shoes and socks right.
Comfortable shoes are really a given, otherwise you're asking for problems.  What about socks?  Easily overlooked but I have found they really do make a difference.  I use X-Socks which I tried on recommendation with my first running shoes a few years back.  I have since added an extra pair, same brand, different version.  The way these socks are designed and constructed is superb in my view.  I think I've been lucky as otherwise it can be a bit of trial and error.  At about £9 or £10 a pair I would be disappointed if they were unsuitable.  So, get the combination right.

Allowing your feet to acclimatise
We all need to allow our bodies time to adapt to new activities, particularly with running and building up the miles.  For all kinds of reasons, do it gradually.  New activities include wearing new shoes.  Likewise, wear these around the house to start with for a day or so.  Try a short run in them outside; perhaps a mile.  Only then I would I go for a substantially longer run

Lacing your shoes right
There are a number of different ways of lacing shoes.  It makes quite a different to the way a shoe moves on your foot, or not as the case may be.  In the above photo take a look at the lacing pattern on the foot on the right: you can see I've used the extra hole in forming what is a lace-lock.  This is to prevent heel slip.
Running when tired
This is one that has caught me out with blisters on the ball of my feet.  When you're tired, you take smaller steps; that can cause blisters.  Believe me, it can.

Hopefully this might have helped.  The solution to getting a blister is, of course, to let it heal.  To avoid them can be tricky; there's always Blister Plasters which seem to be fairly well tried and tested these days.  Whatever you do, deal with blisters and don't let the thought of a blister put you off running - there is always a solution

Friday, 12 August 2011

Summer holiday in Cumbria

We're off on our holiday early tomorrow morning but don't worry, there's a few blog posts timed to publish while we're away!

We'll be staying near Appleby, in Cumbria .  This is in a barn conversion (which sleeps 10!) and is owned by a Missionary who is serving in Nepal.  We've invited our friends Paul and Steph to join us with their youngsters.  So we're in for a good time!

To get there, we are driving up in Rachel's car, which is somewhat elderly, rusty and due for retirement during the current MOT.  So this is likely to be the last big outing but we'll enjoy it - it's fast and has a sunroof. This VW has been a great car with a huge carrying capacity but gradually some of the electrical gadgets have been failing one by one.   It goes without saying we are taking our bikes, plus my running shoes.  There is a selection of maps etc in the car already, so I'm hoping I'll have a few nice places to run nearby and for cycling further afield.

We're full of expectations and fridge leftovers.  B&H are excited and I must admit I am as well - I've been in the holiday mood for a few days and an opportunity to spend time with my family and some good friends.  I hope to stop thinking about work.  As a precaution I have my "To Do" list with me so I can jot down things as they crop up in my mind - this is better than worrying about them.

So, all's set now for a great holiday!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

"If you're going through hell, keep going"

It was Winston Churchill who said "if you're going through hell, keep going".

I was reminded of that on my morning run earlier today.  From time to time I find the first 10 minutes really difficult and that's exactly how I felt today.   Sometimes I feel like turning back and going home altogether but I never do; I always press on and never regret it.

Even though this morning's run was not the swiftest, it was a fantastic run over my hilly 7.5 mile course.

Somehow that first mile just melted away as I got to enjoy the rest of the run.  Always something to revel in with these early morning runs, today it was long shadows and those muted pre-harvest pale colours.  It was delightful and of course, I had it for myself!

The climax was the last half mile as it is slightly down hill.  I went as fast as I could for a few hundred yards and then coasted / jogged the last bit back home (mindful of a previous blog post in cooling down).  Still felt good though with that Runner's High with me through the morning.

So if you're getting used to running, please remember about this.  Sometimes an early "wall" will appear but try not to automatically stop and give up, especially if you have already covered longer distances.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Is cool-down important?

Please excuse the briefness of this post; I'll expand it further for another post.

A man called Lubo has come into our lives over the last 8 months and he knows a thing or two about fitness training; in fact he's well qualified.  Last night we were sitting outside with coffee on our patio and we were talking about exercise generally.  I said how I liked to do a sprint finish so I could really enjoy all those endorphins and then to burst in through the front door, all breathless and dripping with sweat.

He advises against this, no matter what good fun it is.  It's important to cool-down for 5-10 minutes and for me, at my age, to bring my heart rate down to around 100-110bpm.

"Will I be storing up future problems if I don't do that Lubo?"

"No, you might not have a future".

So, there's more to cooling down than clearing out that lactic acid from muscles.  It's a heart thing as well.  We'll come back to that another time.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Elliptigo 8S - an impromptu test ride / review

Today we took our bikes to the Marston Forest Centre in Bedfordshire for an afternoon of gentle, flat riding.  We needed to hire a bike for Rachel and while we were there I was chatting to the proprietor of the Cycle Hire enterprise.  He had an Elliptigo G8 there which we got talking about.

I said I'd caught a climpse of someone riding something like this a while back but hadn't actually taken a good look.  As the conversation went on, he kindly offered me the chance to have a go.  Naturally I jumped at the chance!
First impression is the Elliptigo G8 is a kind of cross between a bicycle, scooter and a cross trainer.  You start by pushing off as you would riding a scooter.  Then it is propelled by moving your feet around as if you were on skis.  Balancing is, well, just like on a bike really.

It seemed a little strange first of all but I quickly got the hang of it in terms of getting it to go forward.  It seemed a fairly efficient means of transport but one where you immediately feel very high on, not at all like riding a bike.

It had conventional brakes, straight forward in steering and balance.  This one was fitted with a Shimano 8 speed hub which although I tried a few gear changes, I couldn't really put it through it's paces in such a short time.  The treadles were made from Carbon Fibre, which saved a fair amount of weight but added to the cost.  There's a neat stand, just under my right foot in the picture.

Aside from a novelty value, is it any good?  I would say, without doubt, yes.  Yes as an alternative to running as means of training.  The oddest part was the irrational fear of pushing my foot far forward and then hitting the front wheel.  From what I can remember, this is impossible.  It still allows plenty of scope for cardio exercise and being about in the fresh air without pounding those joints.  Could be ideal for a group of runners, where someone needs to rest but wants to go along and become a kind of pace-setter.  As for a means of transport, probably.  It was hard to judge in the short time I had exactly how useful it would be.

The kit on the Elliptigo G8 is fine but it is difficult to see how any conventional bags could be fitted anywhere, not to mention the awkwardness of fitting mudguards if at all possible.

You can hire the Elliptigo G8 for the time being, I think it is around £9 an hour - best to make contact via the link below and see the comment below as it looks like I made a mistake on the price (sorry!).

Here's a couple of useful links:

Friday, 5 August 2011

Tired legs + good conditions = new PB!

Another great ride to work today and memorable by beating my personal best (PB) by 2 minutes!  I did the journey in 43 minutes and I thought that was a great start to the day.

Rolling back a couple of hours and it seemed a very unlikely start to the day.  When I woke up the first sensation was not "I need my morning cuppa" or even "I need a wee" but instead it was "my legs ache".

Got up, lovely 'cuppa' and into our normal morning routine.  In spite of feeling tired with sluggish legs I thought I would round the week off with riding to work again.  The first mile is a very gentle slope, nothing strenuous or too taxing but I felt very achy and sluggish..  I then got to the last set of traffic lights on the edge of town and was picking up the pace easily; the air was still, no wind or rain today.  Conditions were just right.  Soon I was in top gear rolling along at 23mph but I knew I couldn't keep that up for long.  After a couple more miles I realised I was riding a good time so I pressed on forward, knowing I was in with a chance of achieving a new PB.

And so I did, arriving in 43mins 18 seconds, that's 2 minutes quicker with an average speed of just over 18mph.  Wet with sweat, no rain today.  It felt so good and my legs were fine; surprising really as I woke up feeling so achy.  These regular rides have really benefited me a great deal, it just goes to show how regular rides really make a difference.  Even my ride home was brisker than normal at 46 minutes.

At work I had that back of my mind I had a wonderful feeling of boosted confidence and achievement - I'm sure there are other commuting cycling who would agree?

Somehow next week, getting back to normal in using my car, as most days will see me out of the office.  Simply must get a few rides in and maybe a chance to pick up running again.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

My cycling in the rain guide

Yet again I had the opportunity of cycling to work today - in the rain!  That seemed a nice idea after yesterday's oppressive heat; today things were cooler and fresh as I set off on my 13 mile ride.

What started as a bit of fine summer rain, quickly got heavier but that simply added to the enjoyment.  It made me feel ALIVE and invigorated and it seemed a bit of a challenge, in spite of have cycled this route so many times before.  It was nice having a feeling of independence in not needing my car no matter how bad the weather.

When I got to work, colleagues gave me that "polite because he's utterly mad" smile as I dripped through the general office.  I grabbed my office clothes and went to change.  Stripped off in the toilets, even my Y-fronts were soaked through - my Hummvee baggy shorts had wicked water up.  Naturally my socks were soaked right through but I had a spare pair.  Just as well I have an office to myself as I had my socks draped over the radiator and as for my Y-Fronts, I pinned these to the wall behind my desk where no one would ever see them!

So, cycling in the rain today was great.  If you're prepared it doesn't matter if you get wet because getting wet all adds to the fun.  If you enjoy riding in the sunshine, you'll enjoy it even more after riding in the rain.  In fact you might owe it to yourself to do it, go on, experience it!  In the right environment there is a real beauty in cycling in the rain, just like running, the spray from cars and the sense that no matter how awful it is, it's a brilliant ride and you won't be beaten by it.

Here's a few practical considerations:

Clothing.  You need a water proof jacket, preferably a breathable one that is highly visible.  Shorts are good in all but the coldest of days - wet legs dry so much faster than wet jeans and don't rub.  My Hummvee baggy shorts proved to be unsatisfactory by soaking up the rain, so maybe Lycra ones have some advantages.  My jacket is the Altura Night Vision jacket, in yellow, is fine.
Altura Night Vision jacket, supplied by Evans Cycles.

Web price (August 2011) from £55.99
I used to have a Madison cape which had some advantages but was also very quaint and old fashioned.  It was like cycling in a snug, cosy mobile tent.  I managed to lose it in a house-move and I've always regretted that.  Very effective at keeping you completely dry but a liability if there's a strong wind coming from the wrong direction.  Also a bit odd when worn off the bike.

Do not wear a hood.  If you must wear something on your head, make it a helmet and allow yourself to have wet hair.

Consider over shoes.  My Specialized cycling shoes are fine at keeping my feet cool but hopeless at keeping them dry.  So that's something I'm going to think about now. Why do they make you look so strange (like something out of Captain Kirk's star ship Enterprise)?

Bags need to be waterproof especially if you're carrying dry clothes for work and papers.  BAgs need to be equally waterproof all over as the rain will otherwise find a way in.

Visibility is reduced for everyone in the rain.  This morning I made sure my rear light was on, flashing at full power for extra visibility.  Secondly I rode a little further out in the road and swung back in when I sensed I needed to from the sound of the traffic behind me.  Always good to develop strategies for managing or controlling other road users but it takes some experience and confidence.  My yellow jacket, as above was without doubt, very conspicuous.  It is also too large, so it flaps around a bit.  But then, I bought it weighing 2 stone heavier!  I need a medium or perhaps a small size.

Cycling technique - a few things to bear in mind.
Puddles - be wary of these and go around them if you can, especially if they're big and you don't know the road underneath.
Grip between the tyre and the road will be much less, especially when cornering hard or stopping.  There is a danger of skidding.
Breaking performance will be much less in the wet, unless you have disc brakes.  I find that my rim brakes are less effective but improve when they've skimmed any water off.

Have I convinced you yet?

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cycling in harmony with your body

Once more I cycled to work, had cramp in my right foot yet AGAIN (see previous post) and missed a new PB by just a few seconds - soon I will arrive in under 46 minutes.  It felt good and I was in need of a shower.  We don't have showers in our part of the Ministry of Justice and so it is just as well I have an office for myself.

Through the day I was looking forward to my ride home.  I got loads done today, quite satisfying working through that To-do list and seeing plenty of things crossed off.

Called home, logged off, got changed and I was off.  The ride was notable for a few reasons and this is what this blog post is really about:

I was wearing a sort sleeve jersey and from time to time I found myself looking at my hands and arms as I pushed hard along an open A road in the countryside.  I was fascinated by watching my muscles working around my hands and forearms.  I then became aware of how cycling involves plenty of upper-body exercise and strength as I clocked then the way my shoulder muscles were working, not to mention my hand which still hurts following that fall in January!

I took a longer, hillier route coming home which added 3 miles.  That meant I could ride over the top of a hill with a tremendous view of perhaps 30+ miles.  The view was inspirational with magnificent clouds with some showers in the distance and some brooding stormy clouds too.

The weather forecast suggested I could expect a downpour which just did not happen.  At one point I could feel a few spots of rain and I was hoping for more - I just love being out in those summer downpours!

The important thing for this ride was the feeling of being in some kind of harmony where everything just felt good.  Physically it was fine, the conditions could not be better and the bike was running well.  My breathing and heart rate seemed fine being under a bit of load as I pushed myself; I could feel I was working hard and yet in almost complete harmony.  It just all came together.

Monday, 1 August 2011

How do you prevent cramp?

Riding to work again today led me to have cramp in my right foot.  I've had this before, not sure why.  What is strange is that it happened in exactly the same place approaching the same roundabout.

"This is weird" I thought and also potentially dangerous.  Getting cramp in my right foot, while riding along in SPDs and I couldn't easily twist my foot to release it from the pedal.

It got worse.  Then I had cramp in my LEFT foot at the same time!  There I was slowing down just before a roundabout which 90% of the time I have to stop.  Stopping means I have to release one foot, normally my left foot, simply to put my foot down and prevent me from falling over.  No option but to force my left foot to twist itself out and just as I did that the cramp stopped.

There were no cars after all so I re-engaged my foot and blasted on and both feet now felt looser.  Phew.

This really is strange.  Why does it happen?  Even more so, why in the same place?  I had ridden about 10 miles and just slowing down - is this significant in anyway?

It makes me appreciate my feet.  They get punished so much, all that running, cycling and just standing around.  I have broken a couple of toes in separate instances which healed quickly without problems.  Like hands, amazing structures but why do I get these cramps!?