Nov 292013
 

 

The pain running down through the back of my leg is hard to describe. Kinda like a trapped nerve or being crushed by something large. Tense, try to relax, try not to scream! It’s hard to hold down, yet difficult to ignore. Difficult? No, impossible. I’m “being stretched” by my physio and he’s a strong guy who takes no nonsense: just the type of person I need to work with. So I breathe in deep and try not to tense, it is all for a purpose, I try to think of something else: how did I end up here?

It’s fair to say that I’ve spent the year near-invisible. A brief step into the light to collect my UK MTB Hall of Fame trophy before slipping out the door quietly and disappearing from bike world. Gone. More or less forgotten, the way that racers are just as soon as the next crop of hopefuls make their mark and repeat the cycle.

It’s been interesting to disappear, almost enjoyable, comfortable, inevitable? I don’t think so, more a matter of choice and internal interest: nothing quite feels right. The energy has gone, the hunger subsided and the near-addiction to training has (almost) passed. Mostly though everything just needed a rest, reboot and potential to rebuild.

20 years of pushing myself in cycle didn’t come straight from zero. Before that came skateboarding, cross-country running and an athletic propensity combined with an unabashed competitive nature and desire (unacknowledged at the time) to push to, and beyond, my limits. The past 25-30 years have literally scared my body.

blogxray

When I broke my arm skateboarding some of the reaction came as a surprise – too old to be skating, should know better, what was he thinking – all comments, mostly second-hand I heard banded about. In my life though, one I’ve dedicated to the pursuit of sporting achievement and athletic endeavour, nothing comes without occasionally crossing the line and coming unstuck. I have too many trophies to display, too many memories to forget, and too many thank-you emails from athletes I’ve helped to another level to believe it’s any other way.

And for every success there are at least as many failures or mishaps to mirror them. Just take the breaks: left ankle, right foot, right ankle, left wrist (twice) right collarbone (twice) both thumbs, two other bones in my left hand, left elbow, too many ribs to keep count, cheek bone and nose! It’s quite a list for non-contact sport and an athlete who prides himself on playing it safe more often than not. And that’s just the bones. Imagine the scars – the run across, but mostly through, my body, joints and between everything else that’s been torn or broken.  Even the mind cannot escape unharmed when you push so hard that everything in one moment hinges only on success in that moment.

aarmblog

 

So I’ve gone from cycling, for now at least, and the skating was a perfect remedy for two decades of training. Regime: binds me, made me, destroys me. It was time for a spot of mental rehab and the arm was worth the cost. It gave me a new focus and a fresh positive environment to rebuild some passion. The arm took that away, but from the ashes I re-found cross-country running and again learnt what it feels like to really try, not just be 20 years good at a sport, but really try and sweat and bleed. Turn myself inside out just to get through the session.

But running, ah running… and that competitive nature? Yeah I’m broken again. Well not again, just found out, you see: I’m 40 years old, I’ve done nothing but push myself my entire adult life, and the scars just run through everything. A crossroads for me, a point of no-return: fix it or lose it. No decision to make. I’ve stepped out, but it’s nothing permanent, it’s the point in a big-hit race when the letters DNF take on new meaning: no longer Did Not Finish, we move to Did Nothing Fatal. And that’s me right now, right back at the start, the foundation, no excuses, no ego, nothing to prove. Just the desire to do it all again, in whatever sport or discipline I fancy, refuse to be stopped or broken by time and my ageing body. Repair, rebuild, rinse, repeat.

The pain running down through the back of my leg is hard to describe. Kinda like a trapped nerve or being crushed by something large. Tense, try to relax, try not to scream!

 Posted by at 6:14 pm
Nov 282013
 

almondorangecake

At 5’7″ I currently weigh about 8.5 stone – this is probably the lightest I’ve been since my early teens. And I’m probably the leanest, and strongest, that I’ve ever been.

52kg has been my target race weight, however I certainly hadn’t expected to achieve it relatively effortlessly after having a baby. If I’m honest I’d convinced myself my figure would never come back, but here I am with a stronger core than ever and slimmer hips by a few inches. It’s most unexpected!

I have wondered if getting back into training quickly, during the body rehabilitating phase, has allowed my body to rebuild accordingly? Of course it could all be down to a proper training plan, weight loss through breast feeding and an improved diet, and strength gain from carrying Meg and the general physical nature of just being a full-tine parent. My ‘break’ is when I usually walk an hour a day with Meg in the pram or backpack, and I also have an hour training on the turbo each evening.

Now, can I maintain this target weight until next race season? I guess it’ll fluctuate along the way but I’m pretty confident that this is where my body has naturally settled. I’d like to improve on my body composition – fat/muscle – so from here that’s what I’ll be concentrating on. Really the number I’m most interested in is my power:weight ratio. I want t do everything possible during this training and development phase so I can have another successful and enjoyable race season next year. I also want to have the strength and endurance to compete over a longer duration next year.

With each week I notice changes to my body – new muscles developing, particularly around my hips and thighs, better tone, flatter tummy. Refining my diet will have a lot to thank for this. I eat very little processed food, and sweet treats are all home-made with more wholesome ingredients where possible. Experimenting has been fun. I certainly need calories, but I try not to eat ’empty calories’ these days. I do love cake though(!) so I’ve been trying to find ways to make delicious and wholesome cakes to satisfy my sweet tooth. And they make a great energy fix straight after exercise.

Here is a recipe I’ve worked on for orange and almond cake.

It’s been adapted from a standard victoria sponge mix and it is beautifully light yet kicking with orange flavour. It doesn’t really need a filling or topping. It’s so easy to make.

This recipe uses less butter and sugar than a normal vicky sponge mix but you’d never know.  The ground almonds and olive oil make it beautifully moist and it’s surprisingly light and fresh. The almonds and orange bring some nutritional value to this cake that feels like a real treat to eat. If you want to enhance this I guess you could increase the almond quantity, but in doing so reduce the butter and the flour. It’ll make a heavier cake that may need a longer bake. Caster sugar could be totally replaced with the GI friendly agave nectar, or even honey.
I hope you give it a go…
Jen’s orange and almond cake
2 oz real butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 oz agave nectar
1 oz caster sugar
finely grated zest from 1 large orange
1 oz (generous) ground almonds
3 1/2 oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large free range eggs
Flaked almonds to scatter

  1. Pre-heat oven to 170degC.
  2. Put everything but the flaked almonds in large bowl and whisk with an electric hand whisk until smooth and the colour of the batter lightens (~2-3mins).
  3. Scrape batter into a round cake tin (~ 8 inch). I always line mine with re-useable silicone baking paper.
  4. Level the mix and then scatter the flaked almonds over the top.
  5. Bake in centre if oven for 15-20 mins. The smell will direct you as you should be able to detect when it smells sweet and delicious, which is a great time to check your cake.  When cakes start to over bake the smell turns bitter, which I guess is the sugar burning.

Definitely check your cake before 15 mins – if it looks cooked touch surface to see if it bounces back. 
Once cooked take out of oven and leave in tin for a few mins before turning out.
You could serve this warm with cream or yoghurt for a pudding, but I leave it to cool completely and finish with a dusting of icing sugar. Any excuse to use my sugar duster (best thing ever).

 
I’ve also been getting really into my casseroles and curries (from scratch) recently and can’t get over how delicious the results have been, for very little work and expense. I’ll share one of these winter warmers with you soon. The only trouble is that they do need a few hours to cook – which is fine for me being at home with Meg – but for most people it’ll have to be cooked the night before. They actually taste even better done this way, so it’s worth giving it a go if you can get organised.
 Posted by at 2:56 pm
Nov 192013
 

I can’t hide from it any more. I travel to work in the post daybreak murk of a big city that would rather see me dead than safe on its roads. I bypass the main streets and opt for the lesser road paths and trails that take me the 4km to work. Not enough, nowhere near it.

I pass the short section of cobbles that rattles the bitter coffee into my veins.

I pass the muddy off-camber turn behind the big tree with inappropriate tyres.

I drag my brakes around the fast corner aware that the lady with the Dalmatian won’t be far.

I nod at the lady with the Dalmatian, we both know this beautiful animal doesn’t worry about the daylight.

I ride the muddy path by the old bowling green.

I pop out to the road. 4.5 mins down.

Two mins at the traffic light. Before the death run.

Two schools. Several shops. Early morning drivers not looking for a cyclist.

Another set of lights before the stench of lasts nights curry house effluence assails my nose.

Left. Right. Pavement. Bang on the door.

10 mins home to work.

Just. Not. Enough.

Nov 142013
 
yoga

Such an awful term that is too commonly used in the cycle scene. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to anyone reading this that it’s a derogatory reference for those of us who prefer road cycling, and the often rigid cycling style this brings. I apologise to anyone who is reading this and is offended – this is not my intention at all as I hope you will understand if you read on…

So, I’m the stiff-pole roadie of the team, worse than that I’m into all that hippy stuff too – you know: organic food, fair trade, meditation, yoga. What kind of a cyclist am I?!  What am I doing on The Bike Picture, a predominately male mountain bike team into hard-core endurance suffering in the wilderness?

Well, team mate and friend Endurance Oliver tops me on the moon-child front, but cycling for me (and I assume the rest of the team) definitely goes beyond the physical. I use cycling – any discipline of it – as a means to let go of my conscious and then connect to my raw feelings, to experience my lungs at full capacity and put myself under a level of physical demand and fatigue that our bodies were designed for, but these days are rarely used.

I think this is why a lot of us find sport, or dance, or meditation. They take us to a place that our evolutionary expectation wants met. We want to push ourselves, we want to find our limits and broaden them. We want to let go of conscious thought and move into that place that is instinct. Something our internal dialog does a good job of taking over… I question if ‘language’ has boxed our ability to think beyond what we can verbally communicate.

Yoga and cycling have always run hand in hand for me. Initially both done for hobby, I’ve found as I developed to become a cyclist I’ve wanted to develop my yoga too. Initially I expected the yoga to benefit my cycling in terms of flexibility – I’d naively overlooked the spiritual and mental focus that is also required and it is this that has been most valuable and transferable to the bike, in particular for my timetrials.

I practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This form of yoga requires stamina and focus to perform a fluid sequence of poses (vinyasa) which are linked with breathing. The practice starts with a chant, then goes into a sequence of Sun Salutations, followed by static standing poses, meditation and relaxation. My practice currently takes about an hour. As I get stronger this will take longer due to an increase the length of my breath, and hopefully I’ll be able to take on more advanced steps and stages within my Sun Salutations and standing postures. What I aim for is to practice with total concentration.

You may have already noticed the pattern here… a yoga practice is much like that for cycling: For racing I start with a clear focus of what I’m going to achieve, followed by a warm up, then the event which involves total concentration and the ability to maintain a relatively uncomfortable position for a period of time, then there is a reflection on my performance and a warm down. Yoga has taught me to transfer my conscious away from my body and into my mind, to reconsider physical pain/fatigue as a positive feeling, to resist the urge to fidget and not to relax into a more comfortable position; an essential practice for timetrial where maintaining an aerodynamic position is so critical.

I’d encourage every cyclist to give yoga a go for these reasons alone. If you are too embarrassed to go to a class, there are some great DVDs available.

So, whilst I hope my riding style isn’t too ‘stiff-pole’, I’m pretty confident that my general flexibility is way beyond that of the average rider.

Wikipedia has more detailed information on Ashtanga Yoga if you’d like to read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashtanga_Vinyasa_Yoga

My yoga DVD collection includes tuition by Tara Lee, Nicki Doane and Rodney Yee.

 Posted by at 1:10 am
Nov 082013
 

coffee

‘Milk of Death’ is the rather unaffectionate nickname my husband has allocated to the bottle of raw milk he discovered in our fridge.

Modbury Farm, a local dairy where I purchased it from, has more positive things to say!

Raw milk is said to have many benefits to your health such as:

  • beneficial bacteria is contained within raw milk that is destroyed when it undergoes the pasteurisation process.
  • a high level of Omega 3 which is good for your heart.
  • It also tastes great with a rich and full bodied flavour.

It is basically unprocessed – straight from the cow – which fits into my ‘eat simple and with thought’ ethos. It comes with many health benefits, but having avoided the usual safety measures of the pasteurisation process it does also carry some risks.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and other official health bodies warn against the consumption of raw milk. I noticed on the bottle I purchased that it has to carry a cigarette-style health warning, and though most experts agree that it has nutritional benefits, many argue that the risks of drinking unpasteurised milk outweigh them. The official line is that pasteurisation might destroy a few vitamins, but it also destroys harmful – even potentially fatal – bacteria such as listeria, salmonella and E coli.

Due to the risks mentioned, I don’t advise anyone else to drink it, but with the research I’ve taken on board I personally feel happy to try it. I’m curious to find out what a difference the pasturisation process can make to a product that we generally feel is ‘natural’ and ‘unprocessed’.

Now, this is a strange thing for me to take on because I don’t actually like milk, or dairy food in general, but I do enjoy a really good flat white coffee. I don’t know how this happened as five years ago I would have only drunk espresso, but I guess I got sucked in with the fashion for sipping on milky lattes and frothy cappuccinos. I want to find an alternative milk for my coffee; I want to find something more palatable, but more importantly something that’ll offer better nutritional benefit and doesn’t have such a hidden dark side in terms of animal welfare. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that a cow must be kept in calf to keep producing milk.

I struggle with dairy in all sorts of ways and I don’t really want to be a part of it, unless of course I can feel happy with the whole picture. I don’t really want to be needlessly omitting things from my diet which is why I’m looking for a better option. On visiting Modbury Farm and briefly meeting the owners and the handsome small herd of jersey cows, I was blown away by what I saw – they clearly have the cow’s welfare in mind and not just for financial reasons.

If you want to read more about Modbury farm, their raw milk and jersey herd you can visit www.modburyfarm.co.uk

I took my carton of raw milk to Amid Giants and Idols (my very favourite very independent and artisan coffee shop) today and we had great fun doing a private testing session. With the UK’s #11 barista making the coffee, you know it’s always going to taste good! But would I know which was raw and which was pasteurised? Would it affect the flavour of the coffee?

It was surprisingly easy to tell the difference. The raw milk does indeed have a distinctive flavour and is noticeably sweeter and creamier than the pasteurised whole milk. I didn’t like it. The others loved it.

Rob will no doubt be pleased to hear that there’ll be no more Milk of Death lurking in our fridge, but I will be back to Modbury to purchase the pasteurised milk from their happy jersey cows.

I will try some of the nut milks next, and have also been given the nod towards goats milk. Just the idea of it throws my stomach, but I will give it a go. I’ve been assured that after two cups of tea I wont remember the difference. We’ll have to see.

For more info on Amid Giants and Idols coffee house in Lyme Regis please visit www.amidgiantsandidols.co.uk. I can’t tell you how good their coffee is – you’ll just have to try it!

For more info on suppliers of raw milk you can check out www.naturalfoodfinder.co.uk. Long-held safety concerns over pathogens found in unpasteurised milk mean that it is banned in Scotland, and banned from shops and supermarkets in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. But producers can sell directly to local consumers through farm shops, farmers’ markets and deliveries.

 

 Posted by at 12:16 am
Nov 012013
 

toasty-1

Just thought I’d share a very simple recipe. I’ve been trying to make my diet more wholesome; more nutritional. My mission is to eat clean and with thought. I hope by working towards a more optimal diet I’ll see some gains in my riding performance next year.

A few things have triggered this change, but mostly it’s come from realising that what I think our daughter should be eating isn’t necessarily what I’d been choosing for myself. It’s been an interesting observation.

This recipe is for toasted breakfast oats. I tested this out as wanted to experiment with coconut oil and agave nectar and was looking for a quick nutritional breakfast to make a change from my usual omelette. I can honestly say, having made this, that I’ll never buy a luxury (or any) cereal again as this is so delicious and so simple to make. I can bake a small batch each evening and can easily change the flavour combinations so it doesn’t get boring.

We have this twice a week as a sweet treat – it’s so incredibly tasty!

For a small (single baking tray) batch:
Turn oven to 160 degC. In a saucepan, melt one spoon of coconut oil with a spoon each of olive oil, agave nectar and soft brown sugar. Take off the heat once all melted and combined. Add a tiny pinch of salt and enough jumbo oats to soak up the mixture. I also add a generous portion of flaked almonds and sultanas and a light sprinkle of cinnamon. Scatter onto a baking tray and place in oven. I check every few minutes and give the oats a mix-up for a more even bake. Once they start to show a little colour they are probably done. Take out and leave to cool on the tray then transfer to an airtight container.

Tonight I think I’ll try with grated orange zest and then shave in some dark orange chocolate once it has cooled. Can be served with yoghurt for breakfast or ice cream for a pudding. I eat mine dry with a big mug of Dorset tea – yum.

Hope you enjoy your toasty oats…

 Posted by at 6:59 pm