Feb 102014
 

Tick tock goes the clock. Clip clop goes my shoes. Swish swoosh go my tyres.

All I’ve been doing is trying to get out when I can. The weather in the UK is not always conducive to training for a summer race in the heat. But I have to log some miles, put in some time on foot or wheel. Just get out there.

It’s just under 4 months before the Tour Divide starts. I know most of the things that I need to organise can be done in a short space of time. Flights, kit, accommodation at the start, sorting a lift home from the end. But the one thing that I can’t leave for much longer is me. My fitness, my strength, my ability to propel my bike and I from Banff to Antelope Wells. It is a rather long way.

So I’ve been active, not training per say, but keeping active. Walking where I’d normally drive, riding whenever I can. I’ve spent as much time as I can on the Fargo, getting used to how it rides in any and all trail types. Even on the road – which is a bit slow and dull. I’ve started riding everywhere loaded up, if for no reason but to get used to carrying the extra weight. It is a lot, but it can come down when I get less… festive.

So the time is coming where I have to be a bit stricter. Tighten up so to speak. The first bit is easy – no beer. The second bit -no cake – is less easy…we’ll see how that goes.

Jan 222014
 

SUP1

…No, not that one!  I’m talking about Commitment: something I’ve struggled with in the past – bags of loyalty, but I’ve undoubtedly been hesitant with the hard grind of backing up my morals.

I noticed this at the weekend when out paddle boarding, with freezing feet (having not invested in all the necessary kit for winter sea sport) and enjoying the exhilaration of catching my first wave… my only successful wave of the session. You see, I’m a total rookie at this sport. A kook. I had a couple of SUP lessons last summer, fell in love with the sea again (having grown up literally on the beach), and was generously gifted an end-of-season board and paddle for my birthday. It’s not top of the range kit, but it’s perfect for getting me out there and it’s the right place to start.

I felt pretty embarrassed knowing I was the only one in the water and being watched by the well attended audience of Sunday seaside visitors. But I know that you have to start somewhere, and I was exactly here with cycling not that many moons ago. I stayed in the sea until I could no longer feel my feet and then after getting out only to discover I’d forgotten my towel (only a novice could do this, surely!) I promptly ordered myself some boots ready for next time. I can’t get better without practice, and practice at this time of year needs warmer kit.

I’ve tried so many sports I can’t even remember them all to list: netball, climbing, volleyball, tennis, hockey, football, surfing, running, squash… the list goes on. Cycling is so far the only one that I have committed to, that I have competed in and has gripped me. It’s my sport and I feel like I belong to it. I think perhaps if I hadn’t moved away from the coast for University that surfing could have been my cycling. Hmmm, but if I’d been committed then I would never have moved away.

It’s a different thing when you really stick to a sport and develop. It’s very rewarding to say the least and with cycling I think of myself as an athlete now. I train daily, with specific sessions, and cycling is a large part of our family life. My body reflects this commitment in both how it looks and feels: strong and light. It’s such a pleasure to feel like this and it comes from doing something I love.

I have no ambition for the SUP boarding to rival my cycling. It is a different thing entirely. Like all the sports listed before it, I see the SUP as a recreational activity which I’d like to be able to enjoy with some style and grace, whereas my cycling goes much further than that.

With cycling I want to push my way to the top. How fast can I go? How hard can I push myself? What are my limiting factors? …and how do I eliminate these? I have real event goals that have been chosen with thought for my current situation, and for where I will be come the race season. I have a great coach and fire in this belly. I do understand commitment these days and I feel the rewards. I’m putting my commitment into my cycling dreams for 2014. I’m sticking to the plan.

 Posted by at 12:17 am
Jan 032014
 

chickycasserole1

I’ve noticed sugar has crept (or rather leapt) back into my diet again as my mind is distracted with other things at the moment. Hormones are on the rampage and I’m caught in an emotional battle to suppress my overwhelming desire for another baby – something that we would struggle to afford and would certainly scupper my three-year plan cycling dreams that we’ve been working towards.

Unfortunately these dreams feel totally confused right now as they can’t include pregnancy and another baby in the same time-frame. It’s one or the other. It’s been a gradual shift but now I find one has heavily tipped the scale for me, although it’s not solely my decision. Rob is free of these ‘make-a-baby-NOW!’ hormones and as such is blessed with logical thinking. And, let’s face it, not many people in their right mind would choose to have another baby: the first six months ages each parent by five years via a severe sentence of sleep deprivation and lifestyle changes beyond measure.

But was it really that hard? And if it was, perhaps it’s easier the second time around? …or perhaps this is my hormones taking over again?! Becoming a mother has felt like the most correct thing I have done in my life and Megan is so wonderful she has been worth every sleepless night and more.

Anyway, it’s been beneficial to stop and assess my diet as it’s so easy to return to old habits – especially those like too much sugar and caffeine which offer a welcome quick pick-me up. I find I often use them as a ‘reward’ for late nights working, but bad health and poor sleep is hardly a way to reward myself!

So, rather than a cake recipe, here is a wholesome, easy and very tasty winter warmer for you. I remember my mum leaving this waiting for us in the Reyburn when we got home from school – hot and ready to eat but a swirl of cream before serving with lots of fluffy white rice.Using cheaper cuts of chicken on the bone makes this dish taste better, as well as being far less expensive. I only use organic free range chicken – there is no other option in my mind.

I’m not sure of my mum’s exact recipe, but this is my take on it for our own family table…

Serves 2 (+baby Megan)

Ingredients
Coconut oil (or olive oil)
4 free range chicken thighs (on the bone)
4 rashers bacon (any kind)
1 red onion
1 clove garlic
1 red pepper
1 table spoon dried mixed herbs (roughly)
1 pint chicken stock with bay leaf added
Optional double cream.

  1. Finely slice the onion, garlic, pepper and bacon.
  2. Melt about a table spoon of coconut oil (or olive oil) in a large saucepan or casserole dish.
  3. When hot add the chicken skin-side down. This should sizzle. The idea is to get a crispy skin and for the fat to render down. Once golden, turn the pieces and cook a little on the other side.
  4. Remove the chicken and put to one side in a bowl. Reduce heat.
  5. In the same saucepan/casserole dish add the onion. Cook over a medium heat to soften.
  6. After a few minutes add the bacon and garlic.
  7. Again after a few minutes add the dried herbs and mix through. Should smell wonderful. Then add the red pepper.
  8. Keep stirring and frying for a couple minutes longer then place the chicken thighs back in the pan skin-side up. Add the juices too.
  9. Add the chicken stock and bay leaf, bring to the bubble then reduce heat right down. Cover with lid.
  10. I leave to cook gently like this on top of the stove for about 1.5 – 2 hours, so the chicken literally falls off the bone – delicious! Alternatively you could finish the cooking in the oven if using a casserole dish.

Just before serving I pour in a generous glug of double cream and mix this through the soupy stock. This gives the casserole a delicious richness that I think completes the dish.

This dish works particularly well with fluffy rice and seasonal green veg.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
 Posted by at 1:46 am
Dec 212013
 

Nothing is real until you write it down, until it is out of your head, and in the minds of others.

Those I told had been to the Divide, their brains were able to accept my need to go. Others I explained the basics, said I was off to ‘do a long ride’ next summer. It will take time before they understand. The blue dots will help.

So here it is, my letter of intent to race the Tour Divide. Not ride, not do, but race – to the best of my ability. For no one, but myself.

See you in June.

Forward Planning

Dec 152013
 

dreams

Stories by the fire…

What an idillic winter setting – snuggled under colourful knitted blankets next to the wood burner, reading short stories out load over the cracking and popping of the fire.

I love this scene, and it’s what we aim for in our little country stone cottage on the hill. However, with our cold empty fireplace and no time for knitting blankets, we are a long way off this setting. But we are patiently trying to hold onto our dream as we build it brick by brick as-and-when we can afford to in stages. We have a fireplace now at least!

This is life. I worked weekends/evenings all through my secondary school years in order to earn money. I enjoyed it. I was encouraged to save my money to buy something worthwhile – and not spend it on ‘tat’. Pound notes seemed to have a very distinctive smell in those days – I remember it well – as I used to play ‘banks’ and count out my savings, waiting until there was enough for the thing I really wanted.

This lesson to have less but go for quality (and keep it) has meant I’ve never wanted to ‘make do’ with a cheaper (or different) version. You see I don’t mind working hard and waiting for my dream to be realised. As long as there is progress…

These days it’s all too easy to borrow credit and not have to work or wait for financial things. In sport it’s still like old times: we have to work hard at our fitness, building on it, and be patient for the right time to ‘spend it’.

I’m very lucky to be coached 1:1 by a very knowledgeable and experienced coach. Whilst I have the accountancy skills for sums to know if I can afford to buy something, or when this will be likely, I certainly don’t have this understanding over my fitness. Rob, however, does. Which is very fortunate and reassuring.

This allows for very efficient training – no need to get into fitness debt and we can tailor training to peak for certain events. It’s magical. I feel like I can have the same control over my sport as I do with my finances, and therefore I do have some big cycling goals (big dreams) in mind that I’m working towards, brick by brick, as-and-when I can.

This year we built the fireplace. Next year we hope to get a wood burner. Perhaps the year after we’ll have the knitted blankets and some stories of sporting success to tell too. It’s all in progress.

 Posted by at 8:55 pm
Dec 022013
 

Here’s something to think about – I’ve always thought that a big part of cycling was about freedom. Freedom to ride whatever trail or road you want, legally of  course. The sense of freedom that being out in the open gives you. And the freedom to take it as seriously or as chilled out as you want. Everyone with me so far? Here comes the radical bit – in that case, why are there so many self imposed rules within cycling?

Most of these words have been kicking around on my laptop since the summer, but they kind of relate to what Jen alluded to a couple of posts ago with the whole stiff pole roadie thing.

Thankfully with the resurgence of road cycling, we’ve all but seen the end of the stupid you’re either a mountain biker or a roadie mentality. But I’m always hearing things like “you’ve got to run your stem as low as possible, you’re not riding with us if you’re using a seat pack,you’re not a mountain biker unless you’ve a peak on your helmet. Women shouldn’t ride bikes, your socks have to be this length or colour, you can’t wear long fingered gloves on a road bike, mudguards on mtb’s are for girls. Races are for serious riders only, your saddle has to match your grips or bar tape, you can’t wear lycra / baggies on a mountain bike / road bike (delete as applicable)”. You get the idea. And believe me, over the years, I’ve heard each one of these said out loud !

It’s always occurred to me that all these rules aren’t really in the spirit of freedom. Are they just some peoples need for sort of structure or code to follow? A need to belong to some sort of faction all abiding by the same sort of rules, or just some peoples need to show they’re more knowledgeable than the rest of us by claiming to know some long standing tradition handed down over the years with secret handshakes and . . . . . yawn ! Who knows? Believe it or not, but there’s even a website out there that tells you, in what shape to crimp your cable ferrules ! I mean, COME ON ! SHOW SOME INDEPENDENT THINKING  PEOPLE ! One thing I will say though, if you don’t know what a DCD is, you’ve never used downtube shifters or you’ve never clattered, screaming obscenities into a five bar gate because your mud clogged canti’s have failed to stop you . . . again, you may not be the right person to be making the rules in the first place. (was that dangerously close to making another rule?!?!).

Yeah, I have my own set of guidelines for how I like to ride and how to set my bikes up. But they’re mine. And I hope they’re not influenced by others opinions and they’re certainly not forced onto others like some, “you’re not cool if you don’t do this” mantra. Maybe this is just the inner Taoist in me coming out, but can’t we each make up our own minds how we ride and just enjoy cycling for what it is supposed to be .. Fun. In whatever form that takes.

Here’s a challenge, ditch the rules. Spend the time instead doing something revolutionary,  like riding your bike !

Yours truly, not a mountain biker, not a roadie, just a cyclist

 

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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