Last week was mental health awareness week in the UK. Though I have never suffered the extremes that someone with severe mental health problems can experience, I am all too aware that every fluctuation from the ‘normal’ trajectory of life, however small, can knock us off centre before we realise what is happening.
As I have grown older, traversed life, got married, had kids etc I have developed a heightened awareness of my own self, the things that can ‘disturb the force’ if you like. I will not apologise for the shameless Star Wars reference as I think the commentary around balance, hope and not giving in to darkness is a very real fight for many people who deal with their own mental health problems on a daily basis. Since my dad passed away, 9 years ago in October, I have faced into things that I have known were there for years but suppressed so as ‘not to cause a scene’. I had anger and guilt issues that, coupled with a tendency to bottle things up, would spin me out on occasions and would usually result in some form of outburst, whether that be in work or (latterly) when the kids are being loud or not doing as they’re told. I would sit quietly, wishing my life away to get ride of those feelings. It’s a scary place when you lose control.
I have, in all these instances since I ‘re-found’ the hobby, found solace and comfort in my bike. It’s no coincidence that I feel happier, healthier, more alert and more motivated on Tuesdays and Thursdays as those are the two working days where I get up early and complete a Zwift workout. The weekend brings the opportunity of a longer ride outdoors and I value this time above all other. It is the chance to clear my headspace of all that has gone before, to work through issues and formulate plans, to make a mental to do list for work, to de-stress and remind myself that I am an incredibly lucky man and most importantly it is the chance to feel free for a couple of hours. Cycling has also given me an incredible focus, embracing the pain the local hills dish out serving as a cathartic release valve to expel all of the frustrations of modern life. It has taken me a few years to get to this point but where once climbs were feared and avoided now the pain and suffering is embraced and welcomed. I’ve read about many similar instances from many different people at different life stages but all using a bike to improve their physical and emotional wellbeing. This needs to be harnessed and encouraged, not demonised and ridiculed.
Yesterday I went into London on my bike to experience the quiet city that Covid-19 has produced. It was a strange yet enthralling ride as I rode down The Mall and round Regents Park, I picked my way through the back streets of Soho and Covent Garden, out to Spitalfields and back south of the river via Tower Bridge. I smiled at all the families out riding together on the roads in Herne Hill and Dulwich, the kids smiling rather than frightened by oversized cars passing them. It was great to see so many people embracing new activities or things they’d forgotten that they love to do. 100km later I was home but, in truth, I could have just kept on going such was the positive mood it had put me in. It made me think, with more clarity than ever, how lucky we have been to be able to go outside and ride our bikes during this period of lockdown.
Stripped back to its most basic form, the bicycle is a simple machine. What is amazing about them is the positive impact they can have on the most complex of things, our minds.
If you are feeling anywhere off centre then please talk to someone, or at least go for a ride. If you’re feeling good do check in with friends and family even if it is just to say hi. Everyone is forging a different path through these different times, with different pitfalls and different highs and lows. Everyone is dealing with life in a different way so keep an eye on your loved ones, you could be just what they need.
This Saturday coming I will turn 43. Not a special milestone birthday by any means and in the current world we are experiencing its likely to be a low key affair that matches the status of being 43. 42 did not turn out to be the meaning of life, the universe and everything as I’m sure many who passed through this particular age bracket found out, so the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has gone down somewhat in my estimation.
However, reflecting on the year gone by, I find that it has been quite a year with a lot of highlights and many reasons to remember it with fondness (especially the 2019 part of it). From a cycling perspective I enjoyed trips to Sweden and the World Championships in Harrogate, I got ridiculously excited watching Mike Teunissen take the yellow jersey in Brussels on stage 1 of Le Tour and I completed Ride London for the second time (this time without falling off/getting knocked off)
It is Harrogate that will stick in my mind for a long time though. I got to meet a lot of excellent people from the cycling corner of Twitter, I got to meet a lot of excellent new friends at the Alpecin cycling ride out, I went and said hello to Mike a couple of times at the Old Swan and I was on the finish line to watch Annemiek van Vleuten raise her arms as world champion after one of (if not) the most dominant rides in cycling history. It was made all the better to see her, some hours later, ride back into the hotel with the rainbow bands on, medal round her neck taking the applause from the spectators and the Dutch team.
A downside that stayed with me on the long train journey home was how unfit I was and how disappointed I’d been with myself in the company of some very good cyclists on the Alpecin ride. Yes, there were national hill climb champions and very experienced riders in the group but I was annoyed with myself for letting myself get into the state I had, so I resolved to do something about it.
Fast forward 8 months and I am in a completely different place. I’m stronger, I’m happier and most importantly I am over 2 stone lighter. At the last weigh in I have lost 30lbs (13.7kg) and now weigh 11 stone 3lbs (157lb, 71.4kg). My wallet has taken a battering from all the new kit I have had to buy, at one point I bought some jerseys in the sales before Christmas but I never got to wear them when the weather came good because I’d lost more weight!
I did a comparison in January to the Alpecin weekend some 4 months previous, I’d already lost 20lbs by then…..
…..so, as I was trying on some new kit, I thought it was time for another before and after comparison. For reference, the photo on the left was taken in Sweden last July.
I’m not done quite yet, I want to get down to between 68-70kg, but I have no shame in saying I’m incredibly proud of myself right now. All of the early morning SST workouts, the weekend rides and the will power around food have paid dividends. I’ve not had to use the inhaler and my cycling has become more enjoyable, I can see continuous improvement in my performance on regular segments and I am starting to relish taking on new challenges rather than shying away from them.
Although the Etape looks as though it won’t happen this year I will be ready when it does come calling, I’m determined not to go back to where I was a year ago.
As some of our European friends get their first taste of the outdoors in many weeks I guess it was inevitable that my mind should start to consider what life will be like post lockdown, from the children returning to schools to my own return to an office I haven’t stepped foot in for some seven weeks now. There are going to be safety and social distancing measures that will, undoubtedly, change the way that we move, interact and rejoin the human race but this is a bike blog and one specific thing played over in my mind…….my commute.
My commute pales into insignificance next to some of my colleagues’ efforts, a mere 20 minute bus journey compared to some who spend hours on packed trains or in bumper to bumper traffic. I have always eschewed commuting by bike because of the practical aspects; the creased clothes, carrying stuff backwards and forwards to the office, the never ending washing of kit and that’s not mentioning the fact that my commute, at 7km, starts and stops before it even gets going but manages to include one sizeable hill on the homeward leg. The current situation, however, is making me rethink this attitude towards a bike commuter existence and I have decided to take it on, with gusto!
So, a new bike for the journey? An e-bike to make that hill easier? No, where’s the fun in that? I’ve decided to fix up my old Felt Z75 that currently resides permanently on my turbo trainer, the same that served me so well in Sweden and on the L2P adventure
I love a little project so this will certainly keep my mind active for a while, so far I have considered that the following tasks are essential!
Like I said, that will keep me going for a while in between bouts of working from home, I’ve already started by preparing the wheels for their tubeless debut
However this did cause injury when a tyre lever sprang out and smacked me in between the eyes!
The other thing that I have been looking at for this is commuter clothing. I don’t really want to go full Lycra every day for a 7km journey so I need alternative, but practical clothing. Does anybody have any brand or product suggestions? Thanks in advance!
So I think it’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t exactly gone according to plan, correct? To date this year I’ve had a holiday to Cyprus cancelled, the Giro has been ‘postponed’ as has the Etape du Tour (unlikely they will go ahead this year in my opinion) and it is looking highly unlikely that Ride London will happen either. That’s pretty much a full house for my cycling events this year.
To brighten the gloom of a long, event-less year I decided to take the plunge and invest some of the money I have saved from these cancelled trips on a power meter. I’d toyed with the idea for a little while and had spent many an hour watching YouTube videos and reading articles on the different types but had resisted due to my lack of knowledge around power based training…..that plus the fact that it seemed a little excessive for someone whose main cycling trip consists of a slow, leisurely roll around the lanes of Kent! The cancellation of the trips made previously unavailable funds available though so which one to pick; Pedals? Crank? Crankset? Left and Right? There was a lot to consider!
I settled on going the full hog, a complete crankset changeover as I wouldn’t need to switch between bikes all that often (if at all) and I chose the Stages Power Meter on an Ultegra chainset. This, however, was to present a new challenge that I had not considered! Specialized bikes use the BB30 bottom bracket rather than a 24mm one that Shimano use, hence the brand using FSA cranks, so I also had to buy some adaptors that would convert the bracket to the correct size for the Shimano cranks. That wasn’t as straightforward as it would seem as descriptions weren’t exactly clear but, thanks to a couple of forums, I found the Wheels Manufacturing BB30 to 24mm Crank Spindle Shims.
So, on the back of internet advice, my shopping list increased to:
Now I’ll admit that this task filled me with a little trepidation as I had never removed or replaced a crankset before. I’m slowly building up a knowledge of bike tasks but this struck me as one where I could really balls things up! Undeterred, I began the process of removing the old FSA cranks from my bike and it was there where I nearly gave up almost instantly as the crankset just wouldn’t move through the bracket, even with some pretty heavy handed encouragement with the rubber mallet! I was on the point of conceding defeat when ‘one last whack’ seemed to dislodge the crank and I was finally able to remove the offending article.
Following a good clean and re-grease, the shims and new crankset went on pretty easily. I did have to remove the adaptors a couple of times to ensure that I had the correct spacers on that would allow the crankset to work freely and not hinder the front derailleur or any other mechanism. Also, worth remembering where you had the chain before doing this, it took me a while to remember I’d shifted to the small ring before the install so the derailleur looked completely out of sync! I was surprised at just how easy the installation was, the calibration of the power meter was a straightforward affair with the Stages app and equally easy to sync to my Garmin with a little ride round the block
Now, it is all a question of learning what to do with this new piece of equipment! Training Peaks had a very good blog on the subject so I am going to use that as my inspiration!
I have also created an account with Training Peaks and am currently enjoying the trial period for their Premium service. There looks like a wealth of data to get my head round, it’s certainly a thorough platform!
The new addition looks great on my bike, interested to see where this will lead me next….
As parts of Europe begin to emerge slightly from lockdown, here in the UK we are continuing to follow the guidelines put in place by the Government some weeks back. It doesn’t look like that is going to change, for the next few weeks at least, as the country attempts to turn the tide on Covid-19.
The past weekend was Easter, this year though the bookend bank holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday were a strange occurrence where usually they are anticipated greatly for the two days off work! Everything is currently merging into one like the period between Christmas and New Year. I’d planned two rides, one for Good Friday and one for Easter Sunday and I was particularly interested to see what the Sunday was like out and about as it is normally the quietest day of the whole year. The weather was also forecast to be glorious so, again, I thought I would make best use of the situation in case more stringent measures were introduced because of people disregarding the social distancing guidelines.
Good Friday was lovely. Still arm warmers weather in the early morning but the legs were out for the first time this year and it felt pretty good. Even in the midst of a global crisis the bike, the weather and the calmness of a reduced traffic countryside made me smile.
What didn’t make me smile was an annoying brake rub that started after going over a bump. I thought it may be the new brake pads wearing in and that it would stop but it didn’t, if anything the couple of minor adjustments I made to the calliper made it worse! It wasn’t enough to stop me and make me turn for home, but it was annoying! I rode 50km including TWICE up my now ‘most hated to loved’ Beddlestead Lane so I was pleased with that. I headed home and fixed that pesky brake rub, the wheel was turning so smooth I couldn’t wait to get back out on Sunday.
Easter Sunday was quiet and then some! It’s normally the quietest day of the year anyway because most of the shops are closed and, unlike Christmas Day, people aren’t moving around all over the place to meet friends and family for dinners or celebrations. The past Sunday was the heady mix of birds singing and the whirr of a rather gorgeous Hunt freehub through the lanes.
I’d planned to do a 60km loop including Ide Hill and a couple of new lanes but I was having such a good time that I just kept going, arriving back at my front door some 80km later. It was a lovely morning, it’s going to be hard to accept when traffic levels return to pre Covid-19 levels.
These two rides have given me another thing to obsess over…….data! But that’s a post for another time.
Aside from being one of my favourite tracks by The Clash, the title of this particular post sums up how I’m feeling a little bit. While I am maintaining my training and enjoying it for the most part, the creeping inevitability of the Etape being postponed or cancelled is always in the back of my mind.
While turbo sessions and weekend rides have prevailed under the current partial lockdown, I am noticing a huge change in the amount of movement outside of these efforts. In ‘normal’ times I would easily break 10,000 steps a day but this rarely breaks 4,000 currently and it’s difficult to get two young children to go on a walk that equates to 6,000 steps! Also, through the availability of food and the proximity to a stocked fridge/cupboard, the diet has been tested to the limit.
Fortunately my willpower has been pretty good and I’ve managed to stay away from temptation on the whole, especially the Easter related products that have started to appear around the house! I’d noticed at the weekend that my face was starting to look slimmer again so I did another comparison….
My weight had fluctuated around the 73-74kg mark since the middle of February so I was fully prepared for a slight increase on the back of the changes in diet when I stepped on the scales this morning, however I had a nice surprise when the reading came back at 72.1kg (11st 5lb). That’s now a full 13kg (2st) lost so I’m incredibly happy with that and it was the little boost that I needed to keep going. I have 2.1kg (4.6lbs) to go to hit my 70kg target but am now approaching that with a renewed focus. Long rides may not be really possible at the moment so if I can’t build up the endurance I will damn well make sure that the weight part of it is working!
Looks like the good weather is here to stay for a bit so I’m going to make sure I get out tomorrow in case stricter lockdown conditions are implemented over the Easter weekend!
I have a new outlook on life! The builders have managed to finish the loft and en suite and, although it isn’t painted or carpeted, it’s enough for me to put a table in for a makeshift office! Some brief respite from the noise of the rest of the house but no more staring out the front window!
As for cycling we’re still allowed to go outdoors at the moment, though good weather at the weekend caused the Government to remind people that sunbathing in parks and on beaches isn’t part of their social distancing guidelines and I feared the worst!
I went for a 50km ride on Saturday and I was pleasantly surprised by the people that I encountered as the vast majority were in ones and twos and cycling sensibly and responsibly. I only saw one group of three (who certainly didn’t look like they lived together) and they got a few choice words. The most difficult part of the ride was keeping a rhythm on hills when bridging gaps to other riders, unless I was going much quicker I hung back as overtaking would shorten a gap for too long and I didn’t want to annoy people but then it became difficult to cycle at my own pace.
I also made the decision, as the possibility of an outdoor ban looms, that I would revisit roads and segments that have given me trouble in the past. I’ve found that a bad experience on a road in the past gives me a huge mental block, but as I’m now a much stronger cyclist and my understanding of what could have just been a ‘bad day’ has improved I wanted to conquer those mental blocks. Beddlestead Lane is one such place.
When I first got back on a bike in 2014 as a very unfit man in his mid 30s, I made a mistake one day in going down Beddlestead Lane. What starts off as a gloriously fast descent soon kicks up to a 3km long climb. It is only a 3.8% average across the 3km which, to me now, seems quite insignificant, but back then it was like climbing Everest.
I remember stopping not even halfway up, coughing up a smoker’s lung and then suffering the indignity of having to walk up the rest of way. I was close to throwing that bike away that day and it really gave me a reality check of just how unfit I was. I never went back……until last Saturday.
I know I’m fitter, stronger and an all round better cyclist than I was all those years ago but it didn’t stop the mental block from questioning my ability, I’m finding the emotional and psychological side of sport a very interesting subject at the moment. I rode my usual route over to the turning for Beddlestead and stopped…..
I watched a couple of riders disappear over the lip of the descent and gave myself a bit of a talking to before pushing off down the road. As the descent levelled and the road began to rise I made sure I was in the correct gear and got into a good rhythm, the doubts washed away and I spun my way fairly easily up the lane. I caught up with the two guys that had gone on ahead which reassured my feeble mind of just how far I’ve developed as a rider, but I hung back and maintained the distance between us. As the end of the road appeared an embarrassment entered my head and I reminded myself not to be so bloody stupid next time!
The rest of the ride was a slow and steady enjoyment of my surroundings, the peace and the fine weather. When the cars come back I’m going to dream of days like Saturday.
So, while the roads are quiet, I’m going to do more of this. There are several roads that I want to go back to, to banish old memories and challenge the new me.
Stay well, stay safe