Monday, 30 January 2012

The fear of riding with newbies

Several years ago I accidently started a mountain bike club at work. I say accidently - there were a few factors - alcohol, the World Corporate Games in Zagreb and the lure of entering events with company money. As a consequence of this I organised weekly rides for all comers. We had fast people, skillful people, chatty people, just-there-for-the-beer people and... new people.

I liked the new people. Taking someone out on one of their first mountain bike rides gave me a buzz, seeing their excitement at the swoopy bits and overcoming the challenges of the tricky bits. We generally finished at a pub for a drink and crisps and they all said they'd loved it and would be back out again.

Some were then abducted by Hoogerlandian pirates.

At least, that's my assumption. They were never seen again. Hoogerlandian pirates are the most likely explanation.

However, some came back. Again, and again. Some I rode events with. One has done a couple of 24 hour solos (I think her mind must have been abducted by the pirates). Eventually my riding became more training based, the regulars moved to other jobs and the Friday Rideys dribbled to a conclusion. Still, the memory of the newbies lingered.

So when Darren mentioned that he was taking out a mutual friend for her first real off-road ride, and would I fancy a bimble across the common, I agreed enthusiastically. I could fit in some intervals beforehand and then meet them for some recovery riding. I'd also not used a mountain bike for a couple of months so it would be a welcome change.

Oh, hang on. That reminds me. The fear.

Sometimes I get scared riding with new people. Not because I'm scared they might fall, crash, explode or otherwise expire. That'd add to the fun. Someone else in an icy stream? Laugh it up, fuzzball. A total loss of energy, near hypothermia and being chased by polar bears? Just makes good blog material.

No, I'm not scared of something happening to the newbie. I get scared of doing something stupid myself.

Suddenly I've lost all off-road skills. I put my feet where? Is it heels up or down when descending? How do the gears work? How do I get out of these pedaaaaaaaaaaaaaaals (crunch). What was natural is now alien. Unconscious competence to very conscious incompetence. Combine that with a few months only on the road, gloopy mud and greasy roots and you have a bill of materials for embarrassment.

I brought out the full arsenal of skill-compensation. 4 " full-suspension bike for a normally-ride-it-rigid route. Tubeless mud tyres at 25psi for extra grip. Lower the saddle. Full-face and body armour. Bubble wrap.

10:25am. There they were, newbie on the borrowed ex-team issue Kona hardtail, clean looking bike clothes, trainers and flat pedals. And Darren on his 5.5" travel Trans-Rockies proven all-mountain beast. I like his thinking.

I relaxed. I may slip off the narrow wooden bridge, wash out on a diagonal root and plummet into the drainage gully but at least I had an excuse. Underbiked. Clearly.

Of course, no-one fell, we practiced some technical sections a few times, the newbie proved that volleyball and running fitness can translate to cycling and everyone agreed to do it all again.

I hope the pirates don't get her.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Why recovery weeks suck

According to Joe Friel and the Training Peaks training plan generator, I'm now officially old. This means that my training plan has a "rest and recovery" week every three weeks. Last year, when I wasn't officially old, it was every four weeks.

This has consequences.

People occasionally ask me why I do all this exercise. It's quite simple, and started when I saw a photo of myself at about the age of 25. I'd been out of university for a couple of years, in paid employment and had access to a fridge, freezer, car and supermarket. If you put money, a wide array of food, places to keep it and a way to get it home together you get... fat. Well, fatter. Suddenly I could have ice cream sundaes every night, chips whenever I wanted, pre-made-grease-laden frozen meat-style products. After a couple of years of this - and only once-a-week 5-a-side football for exercise - I became slightly chunky. Certainly not "big", more "well fed".

I started to think about exercise. Did the odd run. Joined a gym. Played a bit more football. It helped that I was in a very sporty office, with most of my colleagues doing various activities. I even started weighing myself. At my chunkiest I was 12kg more than I am now (26lb, nearly 2 stone). What with the cutting back on the ice cream and the increase in exercise I started to shrink back down. I plateaued at 7kg more than I am now, which I was happy with.

Then I discovered cycling. Then, by virtue of a New Year's Day bet to do a half-marathon, I discovered training. Which naturally led to cycling training and racing.

My weight started to fall again. I started to get close to "lean". I realised I had to eat more if I was training.



I had to eat more.

Awesome. What more incentive is there than being able to eat much much more than usual if I was bike training? Coming back from a 5 hour ride and essentially sticking my head in the fridge and chewing. Sometimes I go straight to swallowing, chewing wastes too much time.

Which leads me to recovery weeks. Last week, a hard training week, I could have that chocolate twist, the fruity flapjack, the hot dogs, the homemade sausage rolls, the energy beer. That was last week.

This week I have to be good. This week I have to be careful.

That's why I don't like recovery weeks. Especially when they're one week in three, instead of one week in four. I've gone from 75% eating time to only 66% eating time. My eating time has gone down by either 9% or 12% depending on how you do the maths.

How sucky is that?

I think I need a doughnut to cheer myself up.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Fine dining for cyclists

Last night I had my first ever experience of "fine dining". It was at The Vineyard at Stockcross - a 5 star hotel with spa and attached restaurant. My only previous experience of the place was a friends post-Christening event which was an entirely different thing. The Vineyard has it all - people greeting you at the entrance to escort you through the building, a relaxed waiting area in the bar with posh nibbles, enormous mark-ups on the drinks.  They even have a fountain that's on fire. I'm always impressed by the ability to burn water for entertainment purposes.
Our team of waiting staff showed us to our table and introduced the menus. Not cheap, but not unexpected. They had a "seasonal menu" which was slightly cheaper, and mainly consisted of things that didn't look quite as appetising as the items on the main, more expensive menu. Cunning. It's like displaying SRAM Red next to SRAM Force, or XTR next to XT. Good as the XT is, you know you really want the XTR.

Obviously I went for the Red/XTR option - a pumpkin velote with wild mushrooms,  monkfish wrapped in pancetta with carrot and mandarin puree, roasted fennel and mini potatoes, and the possibility of a dessert to come... If I still had space.

Bread arrives. Just a couple of pieces for me, no need to fill up. Lots more to come.

Oh look, an "amuse bouche". A shot glass with some leek flavoured white stuff, some solid green stuff at the bottom and a mini crisp on the top. This wasn't really for me, I've never really liked creamy-leeky-stuff-with-some-green.

Ah, starters. The waiters were entertaining at this point - their little dance around us to ensure simultaneous plate landing was worth of Britain's Got Talent, and the lady who tried to interrupt our bawdy conversation to explain what we were eating was really wasting her time. Quite frankly I could remember what I'd ordered, and I couldn't really get why she explained the same thing five times to the five people who all had scallops... And who were all in earshot of each other.

I looked at my plate. I seemed to have another "amuse bouche" size portion. I did have a whole roasted mini-pumpkin although they'd failed to carve a scary face into it. The soup was served in a coffee cup, so I drank that and knocked back the pumpkin filling.

Main arrived. This time a starter sized portion. Delicious, but I could have eaten it again. And again. And again.

There was no danger of being too full for dessert. This wasn't a restaurant designed for a cyclist.  Dessert was a collection of nutty, chocolately items with a curious "mojito granita" on the top. Delicious, but what I was really craving was a pound of sticky toffee pudding and a pint of custard.

Four slices of toasted malt loaf.
A couple of Soleros.
A chocolate twist danish.
Three hot dogs.
Chocolate milkshake.
A giant BLT.
A cheese and bacon burger.
And a triple ristretto to perk me up for the drive home.

That's fine dining. For a cyclist.

Friday, 13 January 2012

One Year

(Warning - contains roadkill)

One year ago today, I was in an ambulance.

One year ago today, I was in shock.

One year ago today, I was slightly broken.

What better way to tempt fate than to ride after work. On Friday 13th. On the first icy day of this winter.

The initial signs weren't good. A freshly killed badger, at the spot where I try to look out for live ones. Lying in the road like some kind of countryside-mafia warning: "ride tonight and you'll end up like this". I'm normally fine with roadkill but this was in the centre of the tarmac, blood still wet, teeth bared. I'm cringing now thinking about it. It ranks alongside the exploded deer in my gruesome night-ride discoveries.

Up next, a dead squirrel. Less icky and thankfully off the side of the road.

My rear light started to misbehave. I thought the battery was failing, but performing the IT-guy ritual got it going again. Turn it off. Turn it back on. Let there be (red flashing) light.

I felt wobbly. Treatment - strawberry yoghurt Torq gel. Exactly like the gel I took while being assessed by the paramedics. Exactly one year on...

My main light battery indicator turns to red. Red = 25% left. That's only... two and a half hours on medium. That's probably going to be plenty for the thirty minute ride home, barring any accidents, mechanicals or incidents.

Then came the truck, the dirty construction truck, passing where it shouldn't, passing very close... but not close enough.

And finally... home.

Now, I know what you're thinking - that was an anticlimax. Well, as I climbed the stairs... up



... I noticed my toes were quite cold. Nasty.

You know, if you'd told me a year ago that in a year's time I'd be riding normally, on my usual routes, on a new bike, I'd have replied "yeah, probably". Screw you Friday 13th!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Outside spin class

Now and then, when I remember to book and I've cleared a space in my diary, I'll do an hour-long spin class in the work gym. Yesterday I had space in my diary, the Kaffenback, and would-ya-believe it, a set of cycling kit.

Time for an experiement. The lunchtime "outside spin class".

It's odd. Lots and lots of people at our fairly sporty office go running at lunchtime. The concept of riding a bike, outside, at lunchtime, is somehow alien. Squeeze into some lycra and join fifteen others in a hot, airless, underground spin studio and people consider you normal. Squeeze into some lycra and put a helmet on people think that you're going home early or simply deranged.

Part of the experiment was to see if the timing was any different. I left my desk at the same time I would for a 12pm class, walked to the gym and got changed there. I tend to get to the classes five minutes early to get a decent position and warm up gently. By the time I'd got outside to my bike, unlocked it, strapped on the Garmin and straddled the saddle it was exactly 12pm. No difference there then.

I rolled down the car park ramp, onto the campus ring road (it's a pretty big site) and accelerated towards the back gate. We have a bus service that takes people to town and as it was lunch on a Friday there were tens of people queuing up. As I passed them I could feel the eyes on me, their owners thinking "slacker, going home early" or "why's he going for a run with a bike?".

Onto the road proper and up towards the castle. The "castle" is an ex-English civil war site, with only the "keep" left standing. It has a stony climb around the back of it, then a mix of tracks and golf-course tarmac to get to a wooded common. More tracks, some monster puddles, some branches to hop and some wildlife to dodge.

I had a really weird feeling as I rode. It took a while to place it... the smell, feel and warmth of winter sunshine. Did I mention the weather? Glorious. Clear sky-blue sky. A fresh breeze. A chill in the air. And sunshine. It's only been a couple of months since I've been riding in the sun but on a January lunchtime, escaping from the office, the impact was amplified. The bare trees, the rolling green hills, the splash of tyre into puddle. This was right, very right.

As I continued (out of the common, onto the road, time-trial mode through the villages, looping back) I started to think of the differences between outdoor and indoor spinning. I even compiled a little list in my head.

Here is is.

Outdoor Advantages
  • The view. Trees, bushes, birds, squirels, hillsides and fields outweigh the sight of my own sweaty self in the spin studio mirror.
  • The smells. Crisp winter freshness vs sixteen sweaty bodies.
  • The workout. My rules. My pace. Forget "press-ups" on a spin bike, this was a real death-or-glory blast, attacking every rise like Philippe Gilbert in a Spring Classic, tucking in for every flat section like David Millar escaping the peleton in a doomed bid to get away in the last 2km of a flat grand tour stage, sweeping through the corners like Matt Goss leading out Cav on a technical finish.
  • The time. Everyone knows time runs at half speed in a gym environment, and double speed when you're having fun on a bike.
  • The sounds. Nature + tyres vs a bearded nutter shouting at me.
Indoor Advantages
  • Ladies bottoms. Although as I tend to sit at the front of a class I miss out on these anyway.
Conclusion? Outside wins. It would even be a whitewash if I could find a willing ladies bottom to ride behind.

25km later, and at 12:56, I got back to the bike sheds. Into the gym at 1pm, shower, back to my desk by ten past.

"Spin class?" they asked me.

"Yeah, something like that".

Monday, 2 January 2012

Well, that was 2011

At the end of 2010 I totted up all of my exercise:

Road bike, 321 hours, 9840 km
Mountain bike, 104 hours, 1448 km
Gym, 47 hours
Run, 8 hours

I've just done the same for 2011 and it isn't pretty:

Road bike, 293 hours, 6850 km
Mountain bike, 34 hours, 561 km
Gym, 25 hours
Run, 7 hours

In my defence my year was somewhat disrupted by breaking my collarbone on the track and the subsequent operation, rehab and recovery. I didn't get on the turbo trainer for five weeks, and it was another six weeks before I actually ventured out... for 45 whole minutes. All in all I reckon I lost close to three months of proper training. So, not a good start.

Still, I just about made my first planned event of the year. The Cotswold Spring Classic has a choice of either 100 km or 100 miles. My plan was to do the 100 km. Jon's plan was for me to do the 100 miles. Jon won. Astoundlingly, I felt good on the ride - being towed along for the first 70 or so miles helped.

Next event was the Tour of We. That was partially enjoyable. I mainly enjoyed the packing up to go home a day early when it was pissing down. Then the Magnificat. I should really have packed up and gone home a day early when it was pissing down for that one... but it was only a one day event. And I was at home to start with any way. Seven and a half hours of constant rain, punctures and an inability to get undressed at the end.

Then came the Pyrenees, pit bitching at TwentyFour12 and a casual appearance at the Torq 12:12, where we went with the intention of only riding for a few hours rather than the full 12, and surprisingly did exactly that. There was the odd 100 miler, a new bike and that was just about it.

What I lacked was real focus - it was always going to be difficult matching the levels of motivation of 2010 (when we did Lands End - John O'Groats) as it was tricky to find something equally challenging and inspiring.

Still, now I've got the Haute Route. I can't imagine why I didn't think of it earlier.