A Beautiful Brutality

The other day I was on the bike leg of a brick session, the sun was trying to break through, the wind was blowing straight into my face, there was snot running from my nose and I was probably dribbling ala Tony Martin (that is the only similarity between me and the Panzerwagen) my head was saying why are you doing this and frankly my legs were in agreement. For someone of my age and ability this is a perfectly sane question,

So what is it apart from stupidity and fear of Iron Mike that makes me carry on? Well it turns out the answer is simple, if you lift your head and look around the countryside is simply beautiful

As I struggled along I was looking for some help, and as performance enhancing drugs aren’t available on the road or legal!, I wondered what would work and then I lifted my head up, stopped concentrating on the road ahead and saw that I was going along a road with woodland on one side and open fields on the other and then I remembered why I go outdoors and not go to the gym, I love the countryside.

For some reason I had lost the ability to enjoy the countryside whilst pedalling hard, I don’t know why, I enjoy it whilst running but on hard bike sessions I seem to forget to enjoy my surroundings.

I went to a talk by Chrissie Wellington the other year and she said to her it is important to smile whilst racing as it helped her and kept her going. I try to remember this at hard moments but as I am miserable it is hard to smile at those times so I try to enjoy my surroundings and then use that to drive me on, perhaps smiling might help I will try it in the future.

I think that it is very important to enjoy the area you are training in not just train hard, if you don’t enjoy it then the question is what the point? The answer to that question can only be answered by each individual but for me I train outdoors as much as possible as I work indoors and I would rather be outside in the fresh air and as long as I remember to look around then the pain is reduced.

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Out From Within The Shadows

This post have been a while in the making and is frankly one which I hesitated in writing, but ultimately it is about something which needs to be discussed in a more open forum.

In the early part of this year I lost my motivation and confidence to pretty much do anything. To start with I found some real life reasons to hide behind and call them the reasons but when I was honest with myself, yes these are possibly contributing factors but they weren’t the cause.

I don’t know if I was properly depressed, yes I was down and started to show the signs of depression, but I don’t believe I ever fully reached into the partnership with the black dog, instead I felt like I was led to cliff, walked to the edge and told to look over, and down the other side was the darkness and I was left to work out how to get back to where I wanted to be.

The way it manifested itself for me was firstly to not want to exercise, where as often exercise is a good way to improve mental health for me it was the opposite I found it a pressure and something I wanted to get away from. I pulled out of races and generally found reasons not to do anything. Yes I had days when I was able to get out, and in particular singlespeed mountain biking has helped as it was new and reintroduced me to the joys of mountain biking. Secondly I found I could have a public persona of everything is alright, I went to work did my job, and never told anyone how I felt.

How did I feel? Well basically, I just didn’t want to do anything, I felt like I couldn’t achieve, that failure was going to be the outcome no matter what I did.

To start with I thought it would pass, and then as time went on it got worse but I still felt it would pass, however, I didn’t do anything to and reverse the situation I just let it grow.

So what changed? Well I finally mentioned it to my wife, how I felt, and I know nothing revolutionary there, but just talking about it put it into some kind of perspective. The things I was hiding behind as excuses, work, deaths in the family and talking about it meant I was able to see that whilst these are things that do impact life they weren’t the actual causes.

In my life I am lucky, I have everything I need and more and so admitting that something is putting you into a depression is difficult because you can’t understand what it is. As I come to understand it doesn’t matter what you have, what you need depression can come to everyone, it seems simple to slip into it.

What have I learnt from this experience, well, that talking about it helps and there is nothing wrong with admitting that you need some help or that everything is not alright as unsurprisingly people will help you and the sooner the ask for help the sooner it can be given.

Now, I know I was lucky in that at worst I had a very mild or small level of depression but it certainly impacted my life, and having read of those who go very deep to the point of wanting to take their life it seems that if you don’t talk about it, it will escalate very quickly.

I am not sure I have managed to properly put into words my experience but just getting some down is enough as I now only want to look forward and not back at this, so if you are feeling down then talk to someone no matter how difficult it might be you have to start somewhere and once you take the first step in the right direction the rest will hopefully follow.

 

 

The Man With The Halo

This is a different post to those I would normally do, This is the story of a pro athlete who on the verge of possibly his best world championship performance nearly had everything taken away from him.

The film is around 25 minutes, but trust me it is worth the watch, if you feel you need some inspiration then this might just provide it or it might make you realise what you have

Enjoy it, share it

Click on this link to watch it The Man With The Halo

Can I Find The Right Direction?

This year I have really struggled to find the same level of motivation that I have had previous years for training. For much of this year I have pondered what the reason is for this, and I haven’t yet figured out.

When I consider what the causes could be, I have been able to eliminated certain things, firstly my training plan supplied by “Iron” Mike as he is tailoring it to the feedback I give him, and to be fair the sessions on paper are fine. Secondly, support from the wife, she is as ever very supportive and offering help whenever possible.

To compound things, we recently lost a family member and rather than making me realise ho lucky I am to be in a position to not only be alive but also fit enough to train etc it has had almost the opposite impact..

With the help, of Mike, I have been trying to find activities that rekindle the fire, I think that is why singlespeed mountain biking has helped, it’s something new, a challenge that doesn’t really make any sense. I have been doing some trail running which is easier on the mind than road running and that is helping, I think.

I was supposed to have raced a couple of time already this year, the first one I missed due to being simply too tired, and the second was postponed due to snow. The next one I doubt I will do as I just don’t feel mentally in the right place, physically I am not too far off.

The one overriding thing I have lost is the sense of fun, I am not a pro athlete, I do all this for fun, something to provide a level of challenge but ultimately because I enjoy it and so to be in this position of not really enjoying it is hard. I am not defined by my results, and as a person I am not defined by exercise and so perhaps I just need to find the fun again.

I do realise that I am in a good position in life, and that to some people the fact that I am not enjoying training is probably seen as a “so what”, but when you stop enjoying something  you have loved for years it is an issue to me.

The “what next” question is still there, but I think that if I keep on the mountain bike and throw in some trail running I will eventually find the right path.

Will I race again? I honestly don’t know at the moment, racing takes a lot out of you both physically and mentally and the thought of it currently is something that does not excite me.

I hope that something will provide the spark, it might just take a ParkRun with other people where I don’t worry about the time and just run and enjoy it, or perhaps a good bike ride, who knows. The one thing is though I really don’t want to quit and don’t intend to quit I just need to re-find the fun!

One Foot in the stirrup

There is a saying about getting back on the horse when you have fallen off, this is often applied to accidents or unfortunate incidents or just when something doesn’t go to plan.

For me, I am not back on the horse but have taken my first step towards it, I am about to take a leg up!

This week I did my first longish run for a long time, a decent 8 miles plus backed this up with a a faster, shorter run in the week plus a couple of weekend runs.

More importantly I went climbing, putting the shoulder under some stress, I didn’t push the climbing and certainly was not climbing near my limits but just doing it and getting the feel again was great, during the climb the shoulder felt ok, not 100% but ok.

My long run did throw up an interesting scenario though, I experienced some stomach issues to the point where for the last 20 minutes I thought I was going mohave to do a Paula Radcliffe, and if not use the street my shorts were certainly under threat. This really did hamper the tail end of the run and meant knocking the pace down but the positive was everything stayed in my stomach!

The other interesting thing from the week was at ParkRun on Saturday I went for a more steady run rather than the usual go for broke, and this meant that I ran a steady pace at a fraction over 5 minutes per km but at no point did I ever feel I was pushing and at the end I still felt fresh. My reasoning for this was simply I didn’t feel as sharp as I have previously so decided to run steady and just enjoy the run.

Back to the shoulder, and this morning it did feel slightly sore, not a surprise after a climb plus running. However, after the run today it wasn’t too bad but as I type it is stiff but hopefully nothing more than the after effects of all the above and some gardening!

I am looking forward to keep on moving forward and hopefully getting back in the saddle, the acid test is likely to come with a return to the pool but that is in the future and when that happens the result will be what it will be.

Coming Along Slowly

After injuring my should I have been recovering slowly. The shoulder has been responding to exercises and is feeling better, still not 100% but the movement is back if not with out some discomfort

One of the things I have noticed is that whilst the shoulder provides some discomfort when training it doesn’t make training impossible and funnily enough on the bike I have beaten a few Strava pr’s without really trying and certainly not going out to intentionally do so.

Running has been coming along too, whilst not as sharp as before certainly I haven’t lost all my fitness and this week I would have been able to test it but for Watford’s home game being moved for tv meaning I couldn’t get to do a ParkRun, which I am currently using as a measure.

Regardless of this I feel I am coming along ok, I know I need to do some more speed work and some longer distances but they will come in time but until then I will continue to enjoy the training and have a go at an easy climbing session this week to test the shoulder.

 

Bits Keep Falling Off!

The last few weeks have really turned into a time of frustration, I seem to be slowly coming apart at the seems.

It started with the shoulder problem, now this at the time seemed like a small set back as I was pretty sure it would be easy to get it back to normal with some simple exercises and not doing anything to really antagonise it. The reality on the other hand has been a little different.

I started on the exercises, and initially it felt like it was progressing, then for what appears to be no reason it regressed, and currently it feels worse than when I started feeling the issue.

Add to that, this week I developed a problem in one of my hips, it simply felt like it was locked up and left me limping around like old man who was in need of a hip replacement.

Once more I have no idea what caused this problem, the only good side is that as I type this it has finally relented and isn’t giving any pain, although it doesn’t feel quite as flexible as the other one.

As you can imagine this has left me feeling somewhat hacked off, I just don’t seem to be able to get fully back to fitness,

When you get in these scenarios it leads to start thinking, “is it time to stop?” or “do I need to focus on one sport only?” and to be honest I have considered both questions but don’t feel able to answer them. I know there are still things I want to do and that they involve multi-sport, yes I could just go back to cycling and I would certainly enjoy it, but the multi-sport part adds some interest to the racing and variety to the training as well as additional load on the body.

I am sure this is just a phase and in a few weeks all will be back to normal and I will wonder why I bothered about it, but on the other hand if it doesn’t what then?

Is It In The Mind?

Whilst racing my last duathlon I noticed that many of the fastest racers were all wearing compression calf guards whilst racing, now I own and use calf guards but only generally for recovery not in races. I consulted “Iron” Mike on this and he said he had raced with them and it was certainly worth a go to try them.

Initially I used them on a couple of training runs, and the only thing I noticed was that the muscles had that “warmed up” feeling from really early on, much sooner than even after a period of warm up. There was no evidence I was going faster or that the muscles weren’t tiring as fast, but that was mainly down to the types of sessions I was doing.

I decided to used them on the usual ParkRun to see what happened. Incidentally, there are quite a few runners wearing either guard or long compression socks each week. The result was that I set a new pb by 10 seconds or so, could this be down to the calf guards?

The following week I used the guards again whilst training, this time on a harder intervals session I was struggling to maintain a set pace, it was a pace I can hold but just couldn’t. This led me to wonder if perhaps the guards just were having a placebo effect.

Come the ParkRun, whilst I didn’t run another pb I was only 2 seconds off my previous weeks time, so I was back to thinking is there really something in this?

I know if you look on the companies who make compression clothing websites they will show you studies that suggest better performance etc but in real terms, terms of non-elite athletes do these things really work?

If I am honest I really don’t know, my race times suggest they might, my training times offer no real help, I have another duathlon coming up so will wear them on that to see if they help me there or not.

The only conclusion I have been able to draw is that they don’t seem to make things worse.

For the record I am wearing a pair of calf guards made by Compressport and so I haven’t tried any other makes, as these ones I have found help with recovery post event. IF anyone knows any manufactures who would like me to test theirs then I would be happy to oblige if they wish to send me some!

 

Some Things From This Week

Slightly different post this wee, I thought I would highlight 5 things I have learnt, rediscovered or just forgotten about.

1 – Press-ups. As many people will have seen there is a 22 day challenge to do 22 press ups each day and post a video of yourself doing this to raise awareness of combat vets. There are apparently 22 vets a day committing suicide and this challenge is to raise public awareness. If I am honest I was hoping to avoid this challenge s I hate press-ups, but I got tagged and rather than ignore it, I have taken on the challenge. So far, so good I have managed 4 days and am actually enjoying it, working some muscles everyday is never a bad thing. If you are tagged, don’t ignore it, give it a go. I have 18 or so days left and that is plenty of time to tag people. so watch out!

2 – Interval training. I have said it many times that interval training is the work of the devil, however you dress it up it hurts regardless of the length of the interval. This week I have had a set on the bike of 1 minutes intervals every 4 minutes for an hour. What surprised me most was just how quickly the 1 minute intervals came round, it seemed no sooner had one finished the next was starting. I was glad when the hour was done and I could just ride home!

3 – Trail running is brilliant. There is no shock to this, I love trail running and I particularly like it in the evenings when after being in the office all day you can get out in the fresh air and the countryside. Being able to head out across fields and woodlands for a run is one of things in life that never gets boring, yes the running is harder but that really doesn’t matter as it is offset by the views and environment.

A short post but I have been not writing much lately and so need to get back on it and hopefully this will be the catalyst.

2 Wheels Are Best

I have spent the last week indulging myself by riding a variety of bikes in different locations but all with one thing in common, it was fun!

Starting last weekend I took part in the Brompton World Championship (BWC) race in London, a crit race around St Jame’s park after the Ride London Women’s pro race. The BWC has some rules, one of which id the dress code, a shirt, tie and jacket must be worn and no lycra. This makes for some wonderful sights with people really going to town to dress up.

For me, I went for a pink jacket to add some colour to the occasion.

Bwc_1

To take part in the race you don’t actually have to race, you are more than welcome to just enjoy the ride around the course. However, a race is a race and the opportunity to have a thrash around is too much to resist for me. In terms of competition there were ex-pros Dave Millar and Dr Michael Hutchinson plus various ex winners so there were some fast people. For me I covered the 17km at an average speed of over 36km/h to finish 68th overall, a result I was more than happy with.

Next up I went for a tour round the Chilterns with the aim of having a mid-ride coffee at some gardens, the route I got from a local cycling club and was around 80km in length. I found I was enjoying the ride on my road bike and so when the Garmin said to go straight across a junction I decided I would add some more distance and went left to add around another 20 odd km. The extra loop allowed me to ride through the countryside and do a couple of hills I haven’t done before. On arrival at the gardens I treated myself to a coffee and large slice of ginger cake, I know I am trying to reduce my sugar in take, but I just couldn’t resist.

cake_coffee_1

The ride home after this felt easy and I reckon I was probably grinning as I was going, even the hills to home seemed enjoyable.

Back to the Brompton of army next ride, and this was a couple of hours riding round Silverstone in an event organised by Muscle Help

I did get a few funny looks from some riders when I rolled up to the start on the Brompton, but once we were let loose on the track I think I changed their opinions mainly by riding past them or dropping them out of chain gangs! Some of the more season better riders were complimentary and seemed to enjoy watching me pass people who might have had a nice bike and good gear but no legs!  Riding round Silverstone was interesting as I had never really realised how windy sections of the track could be, and how in real life some of the run off areas are not that big and so stopping an F1 car from ploughing into a face might be tricky. No such issues on the Brompton though!

Brompton_Silverstone

After the fun of racing round a flat motor racing circuit it only seemed right to go and do some hills, so I headed down to Surrey to have a look at some of the famous climbs down there, and also it gave me a chance to recce Boxhill prior to the Ballbuster later in the year.

Now, I do not know the Surrey area at all, and this became apparent when I went came to Dorking and the Garmin seemed to be trying to send me down a way I couldn’t go and I couldn’t see how to get to the road I needed so I ended up following a sign that said Leith Hill, and this turned out to be a great decision as it took me up Coldharbour Lane which was a good climb, although the road was really greasy due to overnight rain and so if you got out of the saddle the rear wheel started to spin, or it could just be I was laying down tremendous amount of power! The countryside was great with some lovely views and I have to say drivers who all seemed happy to give me space so perhaps the stories of all drivers in Surrey hating cyclists isn’t true?

The final part of the ride was the climb back up Boxhill, having only seen this for the first time when I drove to the car park at the top in the morning I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, it didn’t look too steep but did it have some hidden traps? The early part of the climb was easy to get into a rhythm and I had the added advantage of being able to see another cyclist further up the climb who I was able to aim at. The other cyclist I thought initially was going quite quick but i soon gained and passed him leaving me on my own. The hairpins actually enable you to pick up some speed and so it wasn’t long before the climb was done. It seemed fairly easy to keep a steady easy pace and I have to admit to being a little disappointed really I was expecting something a little more, never mind though the views at the top were brilliant and well worth the trip.

Finally it was time to break out the CX bike and do a little off-road riding back in the Chilterns. I have to say I didn’t really push very hard and so the route was easy with a good mix of tarmac and dirt. Possibly the best part was riding along an ancient cart track past a model aircraft club field and seeing them flying some really big planes, impressive things. The rest of this ride was good fun enjoying some climbing and looking forward to that post ride coffee!

The other cycling aspect to the week was visiting both Look Mum No Hands and the Rapha Cafe in London on a trip there, both server excellent coffee and food and are places I will return to when the situation allows.

All in all I feel that I have had a great fun week where I was left to my own devices and so basically just played on bikes. It never ceases to amaze me just how much fun you can have on bikes, regardless of what type, model etc Any bike can go fast it all comes down to your legs, are you able to pedal it. Yes I am lucky in owning several bikes but I enjoy them all and ride them where possible

In conclusion I spent most of the week riding bikes and I loved it!