Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Well, the big day is finally here and I'm sure all the planning, spending and wrapping will be utterly worth it as usual :)

There has been a fair amount of training being done here at TSBRT towers, but I don't think Christmas morning is the time to tell all.

So, I'll wish you all a very Merry Christmas and I'll see you in a few days

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

New Ways of Hurtin'

At the start of the month I was fortunate enough to be on a four day residential course, whilst the days were challenging, long and tiring, I was determined to maintain the impetus I'd discovered for my training.  Along with Ad, we made use of the on site Fitness Centre each morning.

I'd read in the latest Runners World magazine that one of their contributers has started doing a workout that he's christened 'Gym-Lek'.. A play on 'Fartlek' (or speed play as it translates to english, a far less amusing name in my opinion).

I put the idea to Ad of adapting this to our biking slant, in the form of (rather obviously) Bike-Lek.  He seemed keen* and so we met at 7am the next morning.

For those of you fortunate enough to have never slung a leg over a gym bike, they have varying levels of difficulty from 1 (easy) to 20 (Chris Hoy thighs required).

A warm-up spin of 5 minutes and we were off.. Ground rules being laid down and adapted as we went in something akin to those 1000 aside games of street football that seemed to break out when we were kids.

"Ok, so recovery speed is 12mph"
"and it should be for 1 minute"
"... deal.. how about keeping rpm at a minimum of 80?"

We set off with an initial minute at level 15, no problems, dropping back down to level 12 I questioned whether this was going to be of any use to our training.

That was the format for the next 25 minutes.. work hard then recover, the hard work getting harder each time and the recovery period seemingly less and less effective.

We got clever, we tried a pyramid of effort..

"1 minute at level 16, minimum RPM of 100, 1 minute at 17, RPM 90"

At the end of our session we were both tired, sweating and cursing our brains at the unused Air Con unit on the wall opposite the bikes.

Two days later we were there again, ready to battle the time, levels of effort and ourselves.

This time, it hurt, really hurt.  With each passing minute I got weaker, less able to keep the RPM up at the target level.. fading over the 25 minutes of effort.  As the bikes beeped to signal the end of the workout Ad looked on amused as I fell of the bike and lay on the floor, gasping for air.

I question the possibility of it being a regular show in my week and I doubt it would be quite so tough if it weren't for a mate being sat on the bike next to me, but if I ever want to inflict hurt on myself in a slightly obscure way, I'm gonna head to the gym with a riding buddy in tow. 

* he didn't say no, so a winner in my book

Monday, 13 December 2010

Places You Think You Know

I often have a feeling of confusion when I read other blogs and how people are travelling several hundred miles by car for a few hours of riding, to travel back again at the end of the day.  I’m blessed to live in an area that is perfect for biking, it’s not mountainous but there are hills steep enough to test the strongest of legs, as for trails, it has well established old favourites and a thriving trail building culture that sees new sections springing up on an almost continual basis.

Unfortunately, I very rarely have full days available to go off and explore for new stuff, instead, I can easily slip into a rut of riding the same trails, in the same order, week in, week out.  That’s ok, I love the trails I ride, but it means that my riding can stagnate if I’m not careful, the ability to read the trail ahead, pick the line of least resistance, move the bike and flow through the trail  becomes dull through lack of use.  This is easily rectified of course, I can ride with different groups, the beauty of the Forest is that everyone has a different ‘patch’ they have laid claim to, sure, others may ride some of my favourites, but they go by different names and are approached from different directions.

The first of my now weekly Wednesday night rides had me riding up a trail I’ve always ridden down.  I followed, quietly muttering about a good descent ruined, but my new riding buddies were exonerated some 15 minutes later, as they led me through swooping trails I’ve never touched, heading towards a trail known as Dowies (or doughies, or any other way you want to spell it – trail names are unwritten aren’t they?), I was left laughing as I attacked a path that had a profile similar one of those bumpy slides you find in any good playground.  That ride stayed with me for several days afterwards, I had the rush of adrenalin that I smile quietly at each time I lead someone new to my area down a
favourite trail.

I’ve gone out and looked for new trails, often these are done with the family in tow and form a ‘walk’ that warrants rolled eyes from my wife, she knows the true motivation of these forays into unknown areas of the forest and I do little to hide my enthusiasm when I spy a likely trail heading off from the path we’re walking.  These potentials are then filed in mind ready for an opportunity to ride them.
Recently, I rode a block of the forest I’ve not stepped foot in for the best part of a decade, I was a foreigner in a strange land, I searched for several hours, failing to find anything that would deserve a return trip, a saunter down one dead end though left me breathless as I came across this view..    I stood in quiet admiration for several minutes, barely believing that I was only two miles from my house – how did I not know this view was there?.

I guess it’s a well known truth that you never really appreciate what you have around you and that any motivated tourist will probably see more of an area in a week that a local will in a year, sometimes though, it’s good to go out and look at your everyday surroundings through a strangers eyes.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Balancing Act

Our normal weekly ride went ahead as planned last night and, I'll make no bones about it, it bloody hurt.  Not just because we started the ride with the temperature hovering at around -5 and pointing downwards either.

 Pulling into the carpark there were already 6 other riders shivering around their bikes.  Getting kitted up as quickly as possible I soon noticed that I only had one glove.  Amongst the typical (and only to be expected howls of derision given the unwritten rules of the group) Al  bravely offered to lend me his spare set.  Gladly accepting I got my helmet out of the back of the Landy and found my second glove nestled in the straps; cue more howls of derision.

We set off as quickly as possible and, before a few hundred metres had been covered, our first problem manifested itself.. Rex's glasses fell apart, a few cold, foot stamping minutes for the group and we were on our way again.

 The fire tracks were covered in a few inches of snow and the going was tough, the forest seemed transformed into a new and unrelenting world of lung freezing air and ice rink trails.

It became quickly obvious to me during my efforts to keep up with the quick moving group that time off the bike has really affected my legs, where I was previously powering up hills at the front, I was reduced to bringing up the rear with no answer to an unrelenting pace.

The temperature soon affected our bikes, first victims were our camelbaks, attempted drinks of water resulted only in the scrunch of ice.  Brake fluid thickened, mechs stubbornly refused to shift and gear cables stuck in their hoses.

Approaching the last singletrack of the night we dipped close to a local pub.  Brightly decorated trees lined the carpark perimeter and warm light spilled through the windows into our separated world of ice and snow.  A wistful final glance and we turned back into the Forest for a blast down Dr Johns.

 A couple of hours after leaving the carpark we were back, hurriedly loading kit and bikes into cars and heading to our respective homes for warm showers.

 It occured to me during the ride that fitness is a fickle thing, whereas a month ago I had biking legs and lungs, a few weeks off the bike and on the roads has seen my fitness shift towards running.  I guess that's what makes triathletes impressively fit, they are constantly stretching themselves in different ways and, to compensate they become rounded and adaptable athletes.  This is the start though, my first season of competition is still months away and I have a winter of preparation between then and now.

I'm aware that the weather has become a national talking point of late (lets be honest, when is not a talking point in the UK?) but I thought I'd share this with you, a comment passed by a very straight talking mate.. 

 "It's not the BIG FREEZE, it's not the new ICE AGE FROM HELL or any other bollocks that our lying, brainwashing media try to make everyone panic with. It's WINTER. Thats right, that simple WINTER. That being the same, simple, straightforward winter that has happened since the last ice age, every year for approximately 2,000,000 fucking years. Probably just time to get your big girl pants on and deal with it."

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Not a word I generally tend to associate with myself I have to admit, possibly backed up by anyone who has ever had the misfortune of watching me approach a dance floor. No, the rhythm I'm referring to is in my training.

I realised a couple of weeks back that I had been drifting along without any real focus to my training. I've laid it down for all to see that 2011 will see me compete in a number of triathlons, Bike Endurance events, and possibly even an open water swim.

That's great, but, in the words of a motivational quote I'm sure you've all seen "A plan without a goal is just a wish"

Before you get nervous about me becoming a lentil knitting hand wringer, I'll throw this in;

There, cynicism restored

I'm aware that my initial objective for 2011 is the Forest of Dean Half Marathon. Not a biggie for some people, but I know that I'm not a runner, it's a past time that although I enjoy, I don't excel at. Given the option between trainers and tyres, the trainers would stay in the hall and I'd soon be hitting the singletrack. Trying to reawaken my running during Winter isn't ideal either, but needs must and I'm aware that if I'm to be any use at all next year I need to focus hard on those areas at which I struggle.

Determined to do something about this, I spoke to a work colleague who has an impressive running pedigree, including a PB for the marathon of 2hrs 30. He briefly outlined the sort of weekly mileage I should be aiming at along with a little structure about workout type. Armed with this no nonsense advice I put finger to keyboard and prepared a basic training schedule.

I'll hold my hands up and admit I backed out of yesterdays session, no reason but in the eternal battle between duvet and pavement, duvet took it by a mile. Pavement, it appears has allies though, one of which called himself Guilt and took great delight in sitting on my shoulder for the remainder of the day.

Needless to say, at the sound of the alarm this morning I rolled reluctantly out of bed, got my stuff sorted ready and stepped outside. My Garmin was obviously as reluctant to face the subzero temperatures as I was, for it doggedly refused to find any satellites, normally, this is a 30 second task, but today it stalled for a good 10 minutes, frustrating, but the little blighter didn't escape that easily, the heart strap did though, as it appears the batteries have gone.

Once out on the road I ran well, the cold air stung my lungs for the first few miles and the moisture from my breath froze on the buff I had pulled up over my face. That was OK though, I pulled it lower and carried on. I have to say I enjoyed it, even the bit when my eye lashes developed their own icicles.. it's being out there in the tough stuff that makes me feel good about my training.

Driving the same road an hour later, the car showed a low of -11.5, smug levels set to high, I parked at work and set about the rest of my day.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Search

It’s early, the first rays of morning sunshine are fighting their way through dense leaves to deposit golden pools of light all around me. It feels as though I’m sharing the beauty of this early summer morning with no one but Marley, my young boxer who skips happily through dew covered grass at the side of the path..

This dawn walk has sat in my mind for the last few days, it’s voice becoming gradually louder as excitement mounted. An internal alarm sounded that woke me from my sleep and I lay in bed for a few minutes thinking about the coming day, after quietly dressing I coax the reluctant dog from his bed and gather my kit. Slipping out of the house and transferring bag, dog and self to the car I drive the few miles to my planned parking spot.

Today I’m the hunter, this walk is the quiet planning and preparation for coming rides, I have the skills, time spent in a Rescue Team has left me equipped with the knowledge to achieve my goal.. my instructor on a search skills course was a tracker working for America’s Border Patrol, he used ancient skills to capture those entering America illegally, my skills are normally used in helping to save lives but now they have a selfish application. I look where I will find clues; track traps that will show who has passed by.. his words sound loudly in my head.. “Every contact leaves a trace”.. I ignore the sign of animals, I’m looking for the mark of Kenda, Panracer and Schwalbe.

Preceding weather will dictate how I search.. I’m lucky, rain has left mud that welcomed passing traffic, tracks were carved that set in recent hot weather, leaving dinosaur print like signs to show that I’m getting close.

My quarry is well known to mountain bikers, we crave it’s company and I live in an area where it is abundant. It’s those trails that swoop through trees, singletrack that presents you with a challenge during and an immediate reward after, the stuff of bikers dreams that fill post ride discussions with excited chatter and mounting enthusiasm.

Usually when I look for new trails, the family are in tow in the form of a ‘walk’ that warrants rolled eyes from my wife, she knows the true motivation of these forays into unknown areas of the forest and I do little to hide my enthusiasm when I spy a likely trail heading off from the path we’re walking. These potentials are then filed in mind ready for an opportunity to ride them or, as in the case of today further exploration on foot.

Walking on I spot it.. a small opening in the undergrowth with tell tale sign leading into the trees, taking a mental image of the start point I whistle Marley and follow those who have gone before. Carving on ahead is a thin scar, its line easily distinguishable from the pine needles that cover the ground.

I picture the passing track accelerated to riding speed, noting corners and dips and how they flow from one to another, moving along the trail I move fallen obstacles and do my best to commit the feel to memory.

Smiling as I reach the end of my new discovery, I swap the quiet shade of the singletrack for the fire road, scanning the immediate area for a follow up, I push back disappointment as I realise this stands in isolation and move on..

Friday, 19 November 2010

In Defense Of Winter

My work mate, riding buddy and head of FKK Racing has recently posted about winter training. I'm assuming here that you'll disappear off to read his thoughts on the subject so I'll pause a moment to await your return..

Hello again.. this just be my take on it but he doesn't paint a very positive view of the season that Britain seems to spend 9 months of the year entering, suffering or emerging from does he?

I've got a different view on the subject. I have to admit, I didn't used to have, but my change of heart has been born out of numerous dealings with wet weather that saturates to the bone, cold that chills to the core regardless kit used and darkness that stubbornly resists giving way to daylight.

I've come to realise that riding in the winter is, to all intents and purposes the yang to summer ridings ying. It's nature's payback for providing us with dry trails, sunlight dappled forests and balmy evenings when rides can finish late with only shorts and t-shirts being required. People often moan at the start of summer that they aren't fit, the fact they spend the winter months slumped on the sofa watching Top Gear repeats on Dave seems to be lost on them. In the same way as I believe the best descents are hard earned by grafting an ascent, those summer trails are all the sweeter for seeing them at their worst

I have a friend in the army, he often says that if you can train in the harshest conditions, anything else will be easy. To back this up, my best year of competition followed a difficult winter of training in preparation for an early year half marathon. Slogging through the cold, the rain and, more often than not, the thick mud that covered my favourite trails saw me hitting the frictionless summer singletrack full of new found strength. I admit, Ad does have a point, pulling on running or biking kit when, just the other side of the door the visible countryside is being battered by wind, rain snow or sleet is tough. When you're there though, so what? once you're wet you're wet, if you're cold you can warm up either through effort or reaching home and the comfort of a warm shower. Mud washes off, skin is waterproof and, to the best of my knowledge, the fondest memories are forged when the going is toughest.

Getting out there in the dark months separates us from them.. whilst we pound pavements or nail singletrack, the fairweather athletes and, even worse, the non-athletes sit, stagnating, hollow-eyed and oblivious to the world outside their windows.

I'm even backed up by scientific evidence (I'll note now this will be a rare occurrence on this blog so don't expect it too often) Research done by the University of Northern Arizone has found that training in cold air teaches your body to be more effective in it's use of oxygen, further more, Peter Clough at the University of Hull here in the UK found exposure to cold helps alleviate stress.

A double whammy it seems, ignoring the elements will not only give you a well deserved mental edge over your summer riding mates who hang up their kit at the end of September till the following year in favour of an increased waist line, it will also, seemingly will give you a physiological one too.

Winter Training? I'd love to

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Me.. much slimmer and younger!
During my early twenties, I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time hanging from various rock faces around the area in which I live, during the winter, I would spend a not inconsiderable amount of time hanging from indoor rock faces in the area in which I live.

I'm not really sure why I stopped climbing.. not the real reason anyway, there were a few catalysts which stand out and I guess the multipliers of these can be attributed to me eventually bagging up my kit and storing it in the loft for the past five years.

Around the time I was climbing a lot, I was reasonably good.. lead climbing* routes of around E5.  I was pretty fearless too, climbing whenever I could and bouldering when a climbing partner wasn't available.  I guess I got a bit obsessed.

And then the first of those little events happened.. whilst climbing a route that was new to me I completely froze.  I was leading, about 40ft up and just below the crux move.  I didn't trust the protection that I had just placed and I couldn't see an obvious position for the next piece of kit.  I stayed there with gradually weakening arms and an increasingly frustrated climbing partner stood below trying to push me on.  I eventually moved, topped out the climb and went on to do another few climbs that day, but the experience stayed with me, previously the height didn't register once I was climbing, I focused on what I was doing and all else faded to grey, after that however, I always had a slight awareness of increasing height.

The second incident happened on a slab route I'd climbed countless times before, it had rained the previous day and the rock was still wet.  Like I said, I was obsessed with getting out and, confidently moving off I got to around 20ft and fell, it was what is known as a ground fall.. in other words, my protection didn't leave me suspended in air, I hit the deck.. hard.  I didn't break anything but I was pretty badly beat up for a few days after.

I also saw a lad fall from around 6ft, landing on his bum, he broke his coccyx.. I can still hear the screams he made when the paramedics gently loaded him into an ambulance.

Needless to say, it's been about 5 years since I last pulled on my harness and dipped my hand into a chalk bag so I was naturally a little apprehensive when a mate asked if we could go climbing.

We climbed for an hour or so, ticked off some short routes, gradually increasing the technical grade and then, in a final act of bravado, headed for the bouldering room to round the evening off nicely.

You know what? I loved it, the feel of climbing, the smell of the chalk in the air, the heavy bass from the music reverberating through the building and the satisfaction of reaching the top of a challenging route. 

I felt hardwired into the old climber in me, sure, I didn't have the endurance to climb all evening then boulder til closing and steering on the drive home may have been slightly more difficult than I remember but I'll definitely go again..  Sitting here typing with sore fingers and aching arms I've got a smile on my face and I guess that's what it's all about.

*Lead Climbing involves climbing a clean route, putting in protection as you go

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Mind Blowing

I guess that's the only way to describe the skills of Scottish rider Danny MacAskill..

He shot to Internet fame when a video he recorded with his flatmate was released back in April 2009..

His eagerly awaited new video is now out and causing similar levels of excitement..

Go take a watch.. I bet you'll not believe what you're watching

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Back To Real Life...

We've spent the last week on holiday with Kates brother Rex, his wife Sam their daughter Esme, Sams family and few friends to celebrate Rex's 30th.

We all made the journey to Centre Parks in Longleat for a weeks holiday and I can say with some certainty that much fun was had by all.

I think 'holiday' is probably stretching it a little as we seemed to be constantly on the go, but that just made it more fun - how much can be crammed into each day.

A lot as it turns out, Center Parks, whilst time off work is definitely not a restful holiday, our chalet was pretty out of the way and we ended up walking around 5 or 6 miles a day.. me with a rapidly growing boy on my back in his carrier.. I didn't mind, it's easier than a pushchair and I can kid myself I'm getting a sly workout in.

We didn't spend as much time in the pool as I'd have liked, but when we were there Callum loved every moment and I turned into a 8 year with the prospect of water slides to throw myself down.  I even jumped into the outdoor plunge pool whilst everyone debated who should be the idiot that goes first.

Talking of slides.. check this out, that's Callum (aged 12 months) being sent down the slide meant for much older kids.  We got a few stern looks from the other parents until they all noticed that Callum was laughing like a loon.  We knew he would be ok.. he's liked swings and slides from the age of 4 months.. I think he has his parents love of fun..  Apologies for the pictures by the way.. taken on a rather rubbish disposable

Coming home and my thoughts turn inevitably back to preparation for the half marathon. I think I', in reasonable biking shape at present but I know my running needs a lot of attention to get anywhere near where I want it to be, especially with the number of running events I'm eyeing for 2011.

So, Gym last night and self induced beasting on the treadmill.. I really should get a schedule put together

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


A couple of years back, just around the time that we were mid wedding plans it occurred to me that a lot of what I do in my free time involves being alone, usually isolated and often in areas where mobile phone reception is sketchy, to say the least.

This realisation was given further weight through my membership of the local lifeboat / mountain rescue team, where I often attended shouts to those injured in remote areas.  The first 60 minutes of any serious injury are vital, known as the 'Golden Hour' this is the time when the casualty living or dying is often determined.

Upon reaching an injured person, one of the first responsibilities, along with providing suitable medical assistance, is to gain an understanding of who they are, any relevant medical history, allergies and next of kin contact details so that medical treatment further down the line is correct in nature.

I became aware that I should really have some form of ID on me whilst running, biking or hiking.  Investigating the options available I was initially taken with a dogtag system that was being targeted at motorbikers.  Building on the bombproof technology of details stamped onto a metal disk, it contained a small usb stick that you could input details on.

A great idea, but I knew from experience that the average Jo wouldn't have his laptop handy upon discovering some mud caked bike laying face down in a puddle of snot, blood and forest mud.  Neither would it occur to most that the fancy necklace lying in said pool may contain important medical information.

At this time I discovered a simple, U.S product.  RoadID.  Designed by a Mike and Edward Wimmer (a father and son team) back in the late 90's it came about from Mike being concerned at his sons exposure to pedestrian oblivious drivers, Mike urged Edward to carry ID with him whilst training for his first marathon.  After a near miss (hit?) with a truck the idea of a simple effective worn ID system came back to Edward with a vengence.

The idea took off and the RoadID was born. 

Scrolling through the multitude of grateful (if not unlucky) existing RoadID users, and how their ID tags had spoken for them when they were unable to speak for themselves I realised this was the product for me.

Looking at the options I quickly dismissed the fabric wristband.  I knew from owning various canvas strapped watches they would soon become rather obnoxious once washing and sweat had worked their combined magic.  I opted for the RoadID elite.

The options open to a purchaser are impressive, with RoadID offering a number of sports related images that can be added to the id plate, they also offered brain melting array of different sayings and text layouts.  Much dithering followed but I filled in my details and placed the order.

Only a week or so later (lets face it, fantastic service considering they are in America and were shipping to the UK) my RoadID elite arrived, I trimmed down the bracelet to fit my stupidly thin wrists and put it on.. That was two years ago and it's been there ever since.  Accompanying me on my 3 peaks weekend, numerous bike races, swims, runs and even to a wedding.

It's a bit scuffed now, but I think that adds to the look of it, besides, being loaded into an ambulance isn't a fashion show and as long as it remains legible, I see no reason to replace the info plate.

The site has grown and grown in popularity, with several big names adding their weight to the cause, they also sell rather nice clothing, they don't however, seem to have lost their approachable nature, with the Company owners replying to e-mails personally.. how many companies can you say that about these days?

My e-mail to ask about getting the banner you can see at the top of the page was answered, same day, by two people.. RoadID, I salute you...

If this feels like a sales pitch, well, ok.. maybe it is.. but I wouldn't lace up my trainers or swing a leg over a bike these days without knowing I've got my guardian strapped to my wrist

Monday, 25 October 2010

Monday Commute

'Please be careful'.. Kate throws the plea over her shoulder, climbing into the car she adds '..and enjoy the ride!'..

Smiling, I go back into the house, my mind is still undecided, I know that I have about 2 hours before I have to be at work and that a bike is going to be getting me there.  Up until this point, my mind was settled on the road bike.. but looking outside at the beautiful autumn sun and rich colours displayed by slowly changing trees another idea had taken hold.. 2 hours, that's more than enough time to get in some decent local singletrack before heading to work.

Mind made I change, a feel of the chill whilst de-icing the car has persuaded me to dig out my longs.. the first time in a long while they've seen the light of day.

Bottle made, keys in pocket and door locked, I press the start on my Garmin and swing a leg over the bike, standing up on the pedals I speed along the road, forcing blood through cold muscles.  A very quick road descent sends ice-cream headache signals screaming into my brain, my hands are numb and my face hurts.. shoulda packed the buff like I'd planned.  Skipping into the forest I opt left for a short sharp climb, it's not a gentle warmup but offers a chance of a sneaky trail to get my singletrack fix early.

Another climb, this time I've warmed up and my breathing is easy and measured, I'm feeling good and the buzz of getting in this early morning stolen ride has fixed a wide smile on my face.

Leaves crunch under tyres and sunlight breaks through the thinning leaves.  Reaching the top of my favourite trail I take the opportunity for a quick sip from my bottle, thirst quenched I set off.  This is the beauty of night ride season, I'm flying, line choice is sharp and the bike is hitting the trails dead where I want it to.  Swooping down a sharp turn a noise up ahead diverts my attention, a deer, startled by my intrusion into his private world starts, disappearing into the undergrowth.

Reaching the fire road I weigh up my choices, time is just a little too short to do the furthest trail and I should start heading in the rough direction of work, no matter, I know the forest and already my mental GPS 'Recalculating' icon has flashed, identifying a handful of little trails I can cover before responsibility takes precedence.

Another trail, more fun, more flow, more smiles.  The ground has frozen hard from the low over night temperatures and its worked to make trails faster.

I stop at a high point overlooking the forest for a quick picture and then drop down a final track that will lead to the road and work.  Tucking low over the bars I'm mashing the pedals.. 10 miles to cover and about 35 minutes to do it in.. hhmm.

Reaching work, I prop the bike outside the office and walk in to the warmth.. I hadn't realised how cold I was, I cradle a mug of tea my work mate had thoughtfully made..  I'm buzzing, full of post ride exercise highs but looking around I see I'm alone, to everyone else it's the dreaded Monday morning.. to me, it's already been a good to be alive day.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Winter Nights

I'm climbing well, the familiar warmth of exertion is spreading through my legs, standing up on the pedals I dig in for the final kick to the crest.  A deep breath in and I feel icy autumn air stream into my lungs, I exhale and a cloud forms in front of my eyes, breath turned white by the powerful beam of my helmet light, reaching the summit I unclick one foot from it's pedal and coast to a rest beside my riding mates..

Last night was the first proper ride of the winter season, by proper I mean the half six meet at the carpark of the local riding centre was done mainly under the rapidly approaching darkness.  Until a year or so ago I hated night riding, my experience of it was limited, cheap lights often failed me when needed and the one 24hour event of the season I did meant the learning curve was often steep and blooded.

..a few moments to wait for everyone to regroup, we move off before the cold works through our layers and hard won body heat, the sound of shoes snapping into pedals fills my ears.  The trail turns downhill from this point, it's a section of singletrack we've ridden countless times during the summer, one that's quick, technical and smile inducing.  A pause to let the rider in front put some distance between us and I'm moving into the trail line, up on the pedals, fingers covering the brakes.  All of my concentration is focused on the pool of light ahead.  Senses spoiled during the light months struggle to adjust, the trail moves under my wheels but my brain isn't yet in tune, those night ride reactions have lain dormant, but they're coming back, this isn't about being quick and perfect in one go, it's about getting your eye in and becoming comfortable with the reduced visual input.  My front wheel catches an unseen obstacle and I hastily adjust, balance shifting instinctively to correct, realign to the trail and regain my speed with a few sharp pedal strokes.  My focus is complete and I feel totally alive, Eckhart Tolle speaks of the state of 'No Mind' - the point of which there is no internal chatter or white noise.  This is my No Mind state, I'm hardwired into the bike and trail, the bills, job stress, family issues and To Do lists are gone.. there is just Being..

During those first few 24 hour races I dreaded the night, I knew I had to do a lap or two, but feared the time I was on the trail, my lights would undoubtedly fail, one year in particular was especially memorable.  The uneven ground worked to undo the lights mounted on my handlebars so that over the course of 200mtrs or so they would drop until they pointed at my forks.  Completing 10 miles of this was misery, better equipped riders flew past, confident in their ability and equipment whilst I hugged the side of the trail, moving slowly and in a bad mood.  Each experience was enough to put me off venturing out into the night until the following year would again force me to embrace the night trails.  Eventually I parted with the necessary money and bought decent lights, adding another powerful second set a year later.  Suddenly a new world was opened up, the night was no longer to be feared but embraced.  Trails long familiar took on a different persona, skills honed during summer months were left useless, my riding changed and I felt myself progressing for the first time in a long while.

..The ground is passing more quickly, my brain has changed up a gear and the trail is being processed that bit quicker, the rider in front is being reeled in.  All too soon the end of the trail is approaching, those few signs which are a forest bikers equivilent of trackside braking markers.  I ease back and drop onto a fire road and into the bright pool of light created by the numerous light sets of my fellow riders.  Talk is easy and laughter frequent as experiences are shared..

We ride every wednesday, a handful of riders who are prepared to venture out no matter what the weather to get our fix, it's the trails, the comaraderie, the banter, shared jokes, laughs, crashes.  For those few hours I'm not a dad, nor a husband, I'm a bloke on a bike, the one you beat last week, but who might just beat you this time and no longer does the night stop me.

All hail the darkness

Monday, 18 October 2010

Another week of (nearly) nil

This is becoming rather annoying.. at least my extreme tiredness has an identifiable cause this week.  It's a 12 month bundle of teething joy.  Couple teething with the sheer amount of bugs that seem to be going around Callum's nursery and, consequently our family at present amd it's no wonder that in the fight between duvet and trainers it's a one sided battle.

Made more annoying by the occassional tweet of my mate Birdie who is currenly enjoying New Zealand in his build up toward the World Singlespeed Champs.  It would seem lots of trails, miles and smiles are the bedrock of his trip so far.

I'm very aware that running is my weak point, I run and struggle, very rarely do I get a run in that feels effortless, maybe, as Greg Lemond once said though "It never gets easier, you just get faster".

In an effort to get some form of training in and stop the degradation of my hard won fitness, I got out Saturday for a trail run.  Armed with head torch I set out for a short loop, it was over before I knew it and my legs ached far more than I thought they would do, I admit I've not run much but the terrain changes, loose ground and uneven trails made for a cracking all body workout,  It was hard work, indeed, as I dropped down the final hill to home, another quote came to mind.. that of William James, "Most poeple never run far enough on their first wind to realise they have a second..."  I've paraphrased that to suit, but it sits pretty well.

I can safely confirm my second wind was no where near challenged, but it was a hugely enjoyable experience nonetheless.  We live in an area that is surrounded by woodland, the roads are rubbish and it's quite amazing that I've never decided to run off road before, I spend a lot of time riding singletrack and so running it would, to a normal person, be a pretty obvious choice, not to me it seems.  This will, however be my running terrain of choice though in the build-up toward next year.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Terra Firma..

What a weekend.. it's going to take something pretty amazing to beat it any time soon, of that I'm pretty certain!.
Saturday was family day, Callum is 1 in on the 13th October and so we had a party for him.. nothing major, just the grandparents and Kates brother with his wife and their little one.
It was a great evening and the star of the show was on fine form.. as he normally he is when there is an audience to entertain. The first lot of present opening saw him get a ride on Thomas train and a 'my first tool-box'.. he's quite obviously following Kates family in his practical nature and is constantly inspecting anything that moves, turns and opens.
Sunday was the day I had been dreading and anticipating in equal measures. Kate bought me a tandem sky-dive for my birthday, it's something I've wanted to do for years but have never done. She did one for her 21st and it was clear how much she enjoyed it.
We turned up at the airfield at the right time for our briefing and the weather, although forecast to be fantastic, wasn't. It was then that I found out that a UK sky-divers biggest attribute isn't bravery, but patience.
The initial brieing drummed into us the importance of body position, keeping your head back, your feet up behind you in the classic free fall position and the utter utter necessity of having your feet straight out in front of you on landing, unless you wanted to pitch forward, have an instructor land on you and then plough a rather impressive furrow on the landing zone with your nose.
Once that was done it was down to practicing the sky divers attribute big time, all the while harrassing the impressive tea bar on site.
Satellite images showed the cloud that was hanging over us would be clear by 1pm and, true to form by quarter past blue sky was fighting off the greyness and the sun was warming us.
I was on the first plane of the day and my instructor came over to do the final briefing, Rick was the veteran of the club, having over 4000 jumps to his name, 2000 of them as a tandem instructor. As is usually the way with people who are top of their game he exuded an air of utter self confidence, obviously feeling it unnecessary to try and prove how good he was through bravado or bragging. His quietly spoken instructions offered undertones of 'Don't worry' and we were soon walking to the plane.
Sitting in the plane as we climbed to 12,000 I was intoxicated by the views, the roar of the engine and the smell of the fuel. We were soon at the point of no return and, as the door opened the wind rushed in, filling my ears and emptying my lungs.
As a tandem jumper you sit in the instructors lap, as you come to leave the plane, they sit on the edge, leaving the student to dangle in space.. looking down I realised that all that was between me and the ground was 12,000 feet of air.. amazing.
Two rocks and we're out.. head back onto Ricks shoulder, hands braced across my chest holding onto the straps intended to keep hands out of the way of the bloke who's job is to get us stable in the air. I let out an involuntary adrenalin filled yell as we tumble away from the plane, for a second we topple and then Rick works his magic, I get a tap on the shoulder and put my hands out in front as instructed.
A second later Jay's face appears in front of me.. the guy is incredible, he's filming the jump and manages to get clearer images whilst dropping at 120mph then I do stood on the ground.. Thumbs up, I want to show I'm doing good and enjoying every precious moment.
35 seconds later and we're at 5000 feet Rick deploys the chute and bam, we go from 120mph to 0. I watch Jay drop away from us before deploying his own chute.
The final drop to earth takes about 4 minutes and Rick throws in some steep turns, apart from those seconds of g-force the parachute is still and serene.. coming into land Rick gives the instruction to bring my legs and feet up and then brings us in for landing.
Emotions flood through me, what a buzz.. I thank a rather embarrassed Rick with a huge hug and then I'm off to thank the best wife in the world for the best birthday present ever.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Free Falling..

For some reason* I'm really tired this week, I just can't get myself out of bed before 6.30am and that means I don't get time for exercise.

I'm making up by getting a session in after work on friday afternoon, but it's pretty far short of what I would really want to be doing in a week - two sessions.
Never mind, there is always next week and there is one hell of a weekend before then to get myself stuck into..
Saturday is Callums 1st birthday party.. something that has come round so quickly it's kinda scary.. before that we're taking the little man swimming - something he quite clearly adores..

Sunday I'm doing a tandem skydive.. it was a birthday present from Kate, but, being rubbish, I took an age to organise it..

I've always wanted to do one and now, thanks to my fantastic wife, I've got the chance :)
Don't expect stories of me being brave.. I imagine I will be sobbing uncontrollably on the way up and screaming like a girl the whole way down.. still, it'll fill another blog post right? ;)

* it's a 12 month old reason, a 12 month old reason who is teething like mad and as such doesn't seem able to sleep much

Thursday, 7 October 2010

First Post..

So, in a fit of decisiveness I've swapped blogging sites.. I've been trying to run a blog on Posterous but haven't got on with it, so now I'm on blogger :o)

I'll be getting this site up to how I want over the next few days, but for now, I guess I can start off by describing my ride last night..

It was off road, in the dark and, typically, in the middle of a bloody great rainstorm. It only totalled out at about 15 miles, but over-inflated tyres saw me skidding off roots with rather tiring (no pun intended) regularity.

I'm convinced things come in threes, so, after my third crash saw me somehow catch myself before I thudded into the mud I kind of thought I'd seen the end of the bad stuff.

And then I fell off again, only this time it was a proper crash, a big, out of control, tank-slapper which ended with an over the bar flight, narrowly missing an evil looking tree stump and a hefty tree that didn't need to be evil as it was so immoveable. Luckily, I managed to break my fall.. unfortunately, my fall was broken by slamming my man pieces into the handlebar stem.

It's fair to say the next 5 minutes passed in what can best be described as a haze.. repeated attempts to stand up were thwarted by (and excuse the language, I'm not adept enough in the english language to put this nicely) my b**ocks screaming "nofuckingwaymonkeyboyyoucausedthisyoucanstayhereabitlonger"

I did eventually get up, and, very carefully, get back on the saddle. I was very careful for the rest of the ride, dwelling on my rule of threes and the fact I was owed two.. considering the severity had increased through the evening I wasn't too willing to find out what number 6 looked like.
Still, my riding mates were all very concerned for my well-being, once they stopped laughing of course, but I wouldn't have expected anything less from them