Change nothing, and nothing changes.
Taxis and training....
At the risk of sounding like Swiss Tony from The Fast Show, personal training is a bit like taking a taxi...
New Year, New Resolutions, Health and Happiness, 2015.
So Christmas is done. It’s time to think about the New Year. If you’re like me, and everyone else, you may well have overindulged a little in the last month… Honestly, that doesn’t make you a bad person.
January is the normal time to start getting things back on track. Just because December was ‘heavy’, it doesn’t mean that you have to change everything in January. Don’t forget January is a long month; both financially and literally. So spending 5 weekends longing for something that’s ‘forbidden’ might not be the way to go.
Perhaps a more positive outlook might be the way to go – try making one change a month (or may be two at a push) next year. Rather than ‘no more…’ or ‘I must not…’ why not try ‘I’ll try to do more…’ ‘May be a little less of…’
Restricting calories may not be the way either. It may well be when you eat things just as much as what you eat. Remember that calories are not necessarily the enemy, nor carbohydrates, nor fat either, and protein might not be the answer to everything!
Of course, a little (more) exercise will help, so look to change habits for the better that will stick rather than just a short term fix. Making a series of long term changes will ultimately have a more positive effect than trying to give everything up at the same time – and ultimately failing…!
Ride London-Surrey 100.
Ride London-Surrey 100
How Noah would have felt if he had a bike and not a boat.
4am may sound like a pretty early alarm call. But this was something that I had been planning towards for a long while, a one off event. So in my head I was ready for it – that doesn’t mean it’s something I intend to do every morning…
This is only the second year of the Ride London-Surrey 100 (to give it’s full title), but already, as a participant, it is a pretty special day out (I’m not shouting this too loudly, as I realise there is a massive amount of disruption and inconvenience to all those not involved!).
Back to that 4am alarm call… it’s still a shock to the system, even if you’re ready for it. I was given a 6.32am start time, as a ‘reward’ for a decent time last year. This meant my ‘gate’ closed at 6am and I should aim to check in at around 5.30am. as most of the roads in the immediate vicinity were closed the best thing to do, for me, is to cycle there.
The event is extraordinarily well organised, for the most part, and there are designated drop off points both north and south of the river. So having ‘negotiated’ a lift from my better half (that is true love…), I and a fellow rider got dropped off at the Southern end of the Blackwall Tunnel. Quite coincidentally, another friend was being dropped off at the same place – so there we were, at 5.15am on a Sunday morning, cycling through the Blackwall Tunnel..! Believe it or not, you could feel the excitement building!
We weave our way through East London to find our start areas. It’s now 5.30am and the three lanes of the A12 are as busy as any rush hour, but with 20,000 cyclists making their way excitedly to the start.
In all this excitement and chatter I noticed my brakes had become a bit slack – time for a last minute check. Somehow, between the Blackwall Tunnel and Olympic Park, one of my brake blocks had come off!!! DON’T PANIC!! 100 miles, in the pouring rain, with one rear brake block – that just wasn’t going to happen. So, a quick (and relatively expensive) trip to the Mavic support shop to purchase a new set of blocks! Of course it was really busy in the shop, lots of panic purchases, mainly of inner tubes.
Anyway, I get out of the shop at 6.12am – I have a 6.32am start. Some speedy work with an allen key, a fair amount of swearing, a few deep breathes, and I’m good to go – it’s 6.25am. I am now Jason Bourne on a bike, I can hear the theme tune in my head. I find my ‘holding pen’ quite easily and it looks fairly bare.
“Excuse me mate, where’s ‘G’” I ask.
“G? They’ve gone” he replies…
Before he’s finished, I've gone too. They can’t be that far away, surely…
They weren’t. I joined the back of my start with about 2 minutes to spare. It could have been a lot worse; it wasn’t raining, yet…
So, the actual ride. The fact that roads are completely closed means that the pace is fast, fast fast, yes that’s double fast… It stayed dry as we sped through East London to Tower Hill, past the amazing ceramic poppies, under Blackfriars Bridge on to the Embankment up to Piccadilly, under Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Earls Court, Hammersmith Fly over and over Chiswick Bridge. All the way through Central London at an average speed of 25mph on closed roads, what a privilege – at no other time will you get the opportunity to see our City in this way.
In to Richmond Park through Sheen Gate, and it’s 20 miles already. Before we know it we’re in Kingston (no one-way system or buses for us to worry about!) and over Hampton Court Bridge. It’s still not raining…
It must have started raining around Weybridge. That is, I don’t remember raining before that – it had just started raining hard enough for me to notice it! Although the pace had been so far, there were still some fairly large groups all together. Because of this I had been concentrating on those people around and in front of me – but then, boy did it make sure I notice!
Back at Olympic Park, in the dry at the start, they had announced over the tannoy that two of the significant hills had been taken out of the route. At that point it seemed a bit over cautious. But the deeper we got in to Surrey and in to the Surrey Hills and the North Downs, the more sensible that decision seemed to be.
Some of the road surfaces in Surrey leave a lot to be desired. I say some, I mean most… Add to this the torrential rain for a number of hours, water running off the fields, shin deep standing water in some places, surface water and spray adding to visibility issues – and you’ve got some fairly treacherous conditions. Leith Hill especially, and Box hill aren’t very good surfaces and are very fast and technical in parts – so to have 20 odd thousand riders of varying levels of experience and confidence would be a disaster waiting to happen.
There was still more than one reasonable climb, up to Newlands Corner. That was still enough for some to have to get off and walk or for cramp to set in. I had always planned to stop and refill my bottles here, and the plan didn’t change even though the course was shorter. We were now 43 miles in to the ride which was half way in this year’s abridged version. The view at the top of Newlands Corner is, on most days, pretty stunning – not today though! The vista opens out over Surrey, Sussex and over in to Hampshire. Because it’s open – it’s wide open to the bad weather too! At this point the storm seemed particularly viscious.*
I stopped just long enough to get a chill, from being so wet rather than it being particularly cold. So, back on the saddle, I got my legs going as quickly as I could to get my heart rate back up and consequently my body temperature.
Due to the course rerouting we headed straight along the A25 in to Dorking (ignoring the hills that rise up either side), then straight along the A24 to Leatherhead. In a car, this would not be particularly thrilling, but on closed roads on a bike – it was awesome!
People were beginning to suffer now. The incessant pouring rain, for over 2 hours now, the pace of the ride; these are two of the factors that people may not have been used to or weren’t conditioned to. Being soaked to the skin for three hours or so effects your performance, no matter who you are. You maybe don’t feel so dehydrated as you may on a sunny day, but you’re still losing fluids all the time.
Leatherhead passed, back over the M25, through Oxted, surface water everywhere now. Oxted to Esher, under the A3, right down the High Street past Sandown Park and on to Kingston for the second time.
One thing that struck me this year more than last, was the amount of people out on the road side cheering us on! The small villages as well as the bigger market towns – Dorking especially must be how the riders in the Tour De France must feel. It was such a lift on such a grim day.
This was doubly so for Kingston. Early on, on the way out, I was aware of a few people, but now on our return loop, the streets seemed packed! Just when we were flagging, it was a wonderful pick-me-up!
So Kingston, we’re homeward bound. Up and over Kingston Hill, through Raynes Park – still the amount of surface water is staggering. In t Wimbledon and another tumultuous welcome - the last sharp climb up Wimbledon hill in to the village. This climb always seems to catch people out, it’s not too long may be 800m, but it’s steep in parts, 10% or so – after 80 odd miles that bites.
We hurtle down Putney Hill, half of Putney Bridge is open for us, just for us, just for today. On to the King’s Road, right on to the Embankment, we seem to fly past The houses of Parliament and charge up Whitehall. One last, sharp left hander (nearly too sharp) and The Mall opens up in front of us – no matter who you are, this feels special. It is amazing; you can always dig a little deeper on occasions like this.
All in all, it is an amazing day. It is by and large, remarkably well organised. I’m sure each year that it runs the operation will get slicker and slicker. If you do get the chance to take part, then urge you to take it, but I suppose I would, wouldn’t I…
Many thanks to all at The Mulberry Centre (www.themulberrycentre.co.uk ) for giving me the opportunity to ride this year’s event. I hope the donations continue to flood in – my page is still open for you to use that spare 5 minutes you’ve got… www.mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/mattdowse1
*= post event it was announced that a fellow participant had suffered fatal cardiac arrest at Newlands Corner. Obviously my sympathies go out to his friends and family.
Before you join a gym in the New Year…
To join a good gym these days it costs a fair amount of your hard earned cash. So it goes without saying that it would be prudent to ensure you’re going to get value for money for you.
Whatever your goal is, has the gym got the kit and facilities in general for you to achieve that goal and get to where you want to be. Of course, it’s got plenty of ‘cardio’ kit, treadmills, rowers and yes cross trainers (don’t you dare use those rude words near me…). But what does it offer beyond that? Group exercise – do the instructors teach in the style you’re going to respond to, be that spinning, circuits, Zumba, pilates or whatever. It’s a lot of cash per month for you to go to one class, not enjoy it (for whatever reason) and so not use it again.
What else does the facility offer? If losing the ‘Christmas blanket’ is your goalcan you get some guidance with regard to nutrition? Equally, if you’re training for a specific event – may be a long run, cycle, run or swim, or a more obstacle based run – can you get some advice or guidance concerning nutrition or race day preparation?
When you go to the gym to have a look around before signing up, be sure to ask at least some of the questions above (you were going to have a look around before spending all that money weren’t you?!).
Talking of looking around, looking at my website you’ll see what’s on offer in the New Year – www.mattjdowse.co.uk But just to whet your appetite –
Run Club, Tuesdays - £5
Run Club, Thursdays – Free
Circuits, Thursday lunchtime - £10
Circuits, Saturday morning - £10
So if you did just three sessions a week, one circuit session and two Run Clubs, that’s £60 a month with no membership, no contract.
Personal Training prices vary depending on the package bought but a pack of 10 sessions will cost £400. If you use one PT session a week alongside Run Club and Circuits then the cost is very competitive compared to the major high street gyms. Additionally there is no contract or membership, so you could back out whenever you wanted to – but once you start and you see the results and the progress you make, I bet you get hooked and see the value.
Hopefully see you soon!
Get Buff for Christmas (or how to survive the party season).
I know, I know, but even I have to accept that it is now the middle of November and dates in the diary are getting filled with family get-togethers, reunions and Christmas parties. Now I may be an ogre, a beast, ‘it’s my way or the highway..’ (yeah, right), but even I have to admit that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (or Jill).
So, how are we going to survive this party season, how are we going to limit the damage? Here are a few tips from me to keep your fitness and health intact this season, both from experience and from common sense.
Start the party hydrated. Sounds kind of obvious but if you turn up thirsty or dehydrated you’re going to drink more and more quickly. Not only that, the alcohol will get into your system that much quicker and you won’t be able to deal with it as well – which will have its own consequences, which if you work in an office, you’ll discover via email the next day…(slap forehead with palm of hand)!
Less beer and less wine. Look to stay away from the hops and the grapes which only add ‘hollow’ calories. These are calories that have no nutritional value, your body just stores them. Try to stick to mixers like tonic and orange juice or other fruit juices. Although these will contain sugars, these are better nutritionally than the sugars in sodas and colas. You could always test the theory (it’s a bit of an urban myth) that drinking straight vodka all night will mean you don’t get a hangover – good luck with that!
Less pastries. When that good looking chap/waitress (increasingly good looking as the vodka kicks in) comes round with the finger food, try and stick to the fresher ingredients – like the fish, salmon for example with all its healthy omegas to help you feel better in the morning… Equally, at the station on the way home you may suddenly realise just how hungry you are – stay away from the pastries – that includes the pies and the pasties!
Here’s something a little ‘leftfield’. Why not try to start a resolution before the New Year..!? You could give yourself an amnesty for a few scenarios you see coming over the next month or so but you could go a long way to changing to one good habit before Christmas rather than trying (and invariably failing) to change 4 or 5 habits in the New Year. Even if you lose it over the actual Christmas period it’ll be so much easier to pick it up again afterwards if you’ve begun to change your mind-set now.
Lastly, get some exercise. I would say that wouldn’t I… Well, getting some fresh air and raising the heart rate (it doesn’t have to be hugely intensive), will do wonders for your state of mind. Although ‘getting a sweat on’ in itself might not directly make you feel better, the fact that you’ll be ‘encouraged’ to drink more water will make you feel a whole lot better!
If you needed a little further incentive, you could try this deal – 5 one hour sessions before Christmas for just £150. That’s just £30 per session! You’ll look great and feel so much better for your Christmas Party. Together we’ll work you hard, that’s guaranteed, but we’ll also start getting you in to good habits and give you an all-important start in to 2014.
Want to run a 10km faster? (Don’t be scared of strong).
If you were inspired by the 2012 Olympics at all then you may well have made an effort to be more active last summer. Indeed you may have entered a race for the first time to give yourself a goal or target to achieve, rather than just a promise to go running more that never quite happens. The best way to succeed is to set yourself goals that you can achieve!
So, now the autumn is here and the nights are getting longer with motivation on the wane – now is a good time to look at next year and enter a few events, or at least plan ahead and have something to aim at as autumn turns to winter and the ‘dark’ months draw in! Now is also a good time to think about what to do over the winter to improve performance for next year.
If you ran your first 10k last summer, then you’ll probably want to run at least another next summer, indeed you’ll no doubt want to improve on this year’s standard. Have you thought about how that’s going to happen? Or is it just a case of ‘I’m going to go out there and run a bit quicker and hopefully I’ll finish in a quicker time…’?
To be honest, that might work, but the odds are against you. To increase your chances of success you’ll need to do a bit of planning and have a simple strategy.
The dark winter months are a perfect time to work on your speed and your strength with shorter, higher intensity efforts in the cold rather than longer slower ‘plods’. As a baseline, take your time from your last 10k and workout how fast (on average) you ran each km – easy enough!
Let’s make the maths easy. Let’s say 10k takes an hour – 6 mins for each km. Now, what’s your target time for next year? 55mins, 50 mins or even 45? You know what you can achieve more than I do so aim high, but be reasonably realistic.
Let’s 50 mins is your target. A 10 minute improvement over 10km is significant and will take some hard work, but it is achievable. Hell, on the day if you ‘only’ improve by 8 minutes that’s still some achievement!
So we need to improve by 1 minute a km. We need to teach/train our body to deal with that intensity. The legs need to move faster (along with everything else) and the heart and lungs need to deal with the extra work.
To run faster we need to move all of our limbs faster (you think!), not just our legs – our arms too. Therefore we will be putting additional load through our muscles/tendons/ligaments/joints. These all therefore need to be stronger to deal with these extra stresses and loads. If not, then different muscles may well become overloaded or imbalanced leading to injury, and inevitable frustration and possible failure to reach your goal..!
I’ve used the word strong there – don’t be scared of strong. In this context strong is you against gravity, not you against the 18 stone of bodybuilder on the treadmill next to you! Start with simple and easy work, then progress quickly and keep assessing your goals, needs and weaknesses. Be sure to include upper body exercise as well as total body and leg exercises. Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking just leg strength and core strength is all you need.
If you’re going to be running 5 mins per km on race day then you need to know what that feels like! The treadmill is an obvious place to do that, especially on long, dark, cold, winter evenings. But if you know of or have access to a track then this is a fantastic place to train – 2.5 laps and a stopwatch and then you’ll know what the pace is all about! Of course there are plenty of other places and ways of running a standard km!
Now you know you can run a 5 min Km, but you know you’ve got to run 10 of them back to back… So we need to ‘overload’ the system so that 5min/km pace seems less stressful. Run that km as fast as you can, let’s say it takes approx. 4 mins, rest 2 mins then repeat – do it 5 times in total. It will seem hellish at first, but you will notice improvements. Incorporate this in to your training week, once a week – no more, for one month. Then after a month test yourself over 5km and I bet you notice an improvement.
But please do bear this thought in mind. Greg Lemond was the first English speaker (an American) to win the Tour De France. When asked if the mountains got easier each year as he got stronger, his reply was; ‘it doesn’t get easier, you get faster’.
RideUK24 – Newcastle to London, 300 miles.
August 24th/25th 2013.
Well, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But, jeeez, there’s no way, if anyone had said it was going to be like that, very few would have got on their bikes on that dampish midday in Gateshead.
Having said that, once we were all out there, there were very few that climbed off their bikes, for any other reason than to get a cup of tea (or coffee), oh and some cake, and the odd puncture. Mmmmm… cake…
Anyway, upon waking in my hotel in Newcastle it was obvious that it had rained but at that very moment it wasn’t raining – which was a positive sign. In fact, it didn’t rain all morning. When I dragged my backside up and over the bridge and to the start line in Gateshead, it wasn’t raining. In fact, there was even a hint of sunshine waiting at the start after sorting out the logistics of which bag was to go where.
There was plenty of nervous energy at the start, as you’d expect! 300 miles inside 24 hours is a long way, whether you’re doing it on your own or even if you’re sharing it – it’s a decent pace, not a frantic one, but it would need to be managed.
Anyway, a downhill first few miles help up the average pace a bit. Over the first stage the pace wasn’t quite frantic, but it wasn’t slow. And somehow, it wasn’t raining.. Great Smeaton was the first stop, and a quick cup of tea and we were off again. Now the pace seemed to gather. It appeared that the guys leading the group realised that the numbers in the group were too large. There’s only one way to make a group smaller, and that’s to make it more elite – in this case by upping the pace. Those that hung on got a great tow in to York. We’d hardly noticed that it had started raining…
We rolled in to the York rest stop just before the bags. It was designated a hot food stop so we fuelled up on a jacket spud and plenty of side dishes. A first change of shirt for me and I also decided on my heavy waterproof. It was going to be dark by the next stop at Scunthorpe, so lights. Indeed, as the light slipped away, the rain seemed to gain in volume… Indeed, by the time we reached Scunthorpe it was pretty much torrential.
But, it was flat as flat can be, and there was a tailwind. This was the one redeeming feature in the weather system – the wind was at our backs. If the wind had come from any other direction for any length of time, life would have been pretty miserable in The Fens that night. The road to Scunthorpe was pretty tough, the pace was full on, the weather was full on. When we got to Scunthorpe, ti was clear the weather had been there a while – everything was saturated!
I was feeling pretty good up until this point. I sat down, put my feet up, dried off a bit, had a cup of tea. I walked out to leave with the first group and immediately began to shiver, big time. No need to panic. Let the group go, there’s plenty of time! Go and get some dry kit on. It was earlier than I wanted to, but still life wasn’t getting any drier out there… So a complete change of kit and immediately the world was a better place. But no reason to hang around, crack on, keep moving, keep warm.
The next stage to Sleaford was a real toughie. I just had a feeling in my head that this was going to be the hardest bit. Through the dead of night, the weather was doing its worst - it seemed especially bad in and around Lincoln. The city is at the bottom of a bowl had a full on descent from the outskirts – which was horrible! To not be able to pedal when you’re that cold and wet… The wind gets in you and you just get colder and wetter… At last, we came out the other side, and we got to climb out of the bowl. This is tough on the legs after 150 miles, but the body temperature came back to normal pretty quickly!
Sleaford was a hot food stop, and boy was it welcome. By now I’d run out of dry kit, so I was ‘managing’ the kit I had. I found a couple of plastic bags for my feet – Sainsbury’s on the left, Tescos on the right (other brands are available…) with one then two pairs of damp socks on top and I didn’t have to worry about my feet again until London!
From here on in, in an attempt to keep warm, I got in to a routine. Strip down, towel the excess water off and try and select my driest top to go on underneath everything. Two more tops on that, my gilet, my ‘light’ waterproof and lastly my ‘heavy’ waterproof on top. Obviously the kit was damp, so to get my body temperature up before going outside – I’d perform 20 squats by the door, get some leg swings in and then run out, in my cleats, swearing like a welder (sorry about that), jump on my bike in a small gear and pedal like fury for 5 mins – no more cold (sort of).
Stage 5 to Whittesley - psychologically, at the end of this stage there were only 90 miles to go. We would also be riding towards the sunrise, and hopefully with a bright new dawn the spirits would be lifted with the rising sun.
To be honest, it never really felt like the sun ‘came up’. Of course it got light, but I don’t remember any real sense of ‘dawn’. It was more a case of moving from pitch black to lighter shades of grey. It kept on raining too.
We were in Cambridgeshire now. Well past the Midlands, heading South. More squats, more swearing…
Stage 6 to Buntingford, bit of a slow stage for me. I caught up a group fairly quickly and got kind of stuck. I tried to sneak off the front discreetly but the leader chased me down and told me off for breaking up the group. Suitably chastised I hunkered down at the back and kept the brakes on downhill. I didn’t want to be similarly helped away in a silver blanket at a rest stop…
Stage 7, the final push on through to London. The towns all have familiar names now; Stevenage, Hertford, Cheshunt, Waltham Abbey then over the M25, Ghingford, Walthamstow… tube stations, black cabs (not many, it’s Sunday morning), big red angry buses, all the usual sights.
This leg was only 34 miles, but the last push always seems like the longest – you just want to get to the end, but there was still some work to do. The route followed the valley of the River Lea in to town. There were a few rolling hills to negotiate, which seemed like mountains under the circumstances. Then there was the one cheeky little hill with a 10% gradient near Chingford, I must apologise to the local residents for my language on a Sunday morning…
The other logistical issue I had was that I had, of course, put some food in my back pocket to get me through the final push. But, with three waterproofs and three cycling jerseys on, I had no idea which pocket I’d stashed it. Nor did I have the energy to fight my way through the layers to get to it!
At last, East London. Walthamstow and the Lea Bridge Road. 2 more turns and it’s done. What do you know, the sun comes out. Amazing.
Although the finish itself, Hackney Marshes, doesn’t sound spectacular, it felt it! The music was pumping, there was a big (ish) crowd cheering us in, a glass of prosecco and a hug. It felt special. Never has a bacon and sausage roll tasted so special. A very welcome hot shower and a change in to clean, dry clothes. Time to go home.
Then I picked up the wrong bag. Another story…
Life has a canny way of bringing you back down to Earth...
16th June, 2013.
As soon as I posted that last blog, I knew I was speaking far too soon… The very next day the gear cable on the rear derailleur snapped and during the same week I twinged a hamstring whilst out running!
Remember I said training’s going pretty well? Well, if I step back and use a little perspective things aren’t so bad. I did a 150km sportive last month 5.32, which I was pretty happy with. Then this weekend I took fortune where some was less fortunate – a friend of a friend had to pull out of The Dragon ride so I took his place. A bit impromptu, but I got through the 130 very lumpy miles in just over 9 hours, which again, I’ll take.
I was quietly chuffed with five and half hours for nigh on 100 miles. It was a nice little sportive – the Pearson 150. All the proceeds went to The Royal Marsden so really worthwhile. But when I ‘clocked in’ at the finish at got my finishing time, on the bit of paper they gave me it showed the fastest time of the day – 4 hours 34 mins. That’s fully an hour quicker than me! I found it quite depressing. If this was a ‘big’ event such as the Ride London from the Olympic park or some such event, I’d expect a ‘name’ to be there and post a comparable time. But this was a reasonably low key (no offence to anyone involved!) event on a Sunday morning in Surrey! Shouldn’t someone who is capable of posting a time like that be involved in something a bit higher up the food chain?!
Anyway, in the last few miles my gears started to stick a little bit, make a ‘chattering’ noise. So during the week I put it up in the rack and started to tighten what needed tightening. Changed the gears up and down, but it got looser – must be turning it the wrong way… then, snap! The gear cable pings, well more like a flop really, but it definitely snapped. That was a bout four gear changes away from making the end of that Sportive very difficult.
Two local bike shops didn’t want to touch it. So I took it back to DeVer in Streatham where I bought it. Even they thought they were going to have to send it back. But they got it sorted in the end and my trusty steed was back with me with in a week.
Still frustrating though, a whole week without a bike.
On Tuesday evenings I take a Run Club, we meet at 7pm outside the studio (SW18 2PW) and after a pretty thorough warm up we work pretty hard for an hour. It’s more than just a plod. After we ‘ve gone through the warm up we tackle some fairly hefty interval work. I change things every 4-6 weeks to keep the guys on their toes but at the moment we’re working on the edge of our lactate threshold – 45 seconds sprint with 30 seconds rest, repeated 6 times.
As it was half term recently, numbers were a bit quieter so I thought we’d do something a bit different (competitive) for those guys who were there. Just to finish the guys off, we were going to do 5 x 30 metre sprints. Of course, as competitive as I am I was fully in on these – I lasted three of them before my hamstring went ‘ping’…
It wasn’t too bad, a grade 1 for those of you in to the technicalities of hamstrings. It was all fine for the Dragon Ride this weekend, and just as well. It was a beast. The weather was glorious, which was just as well. In bad weather parts of the ride would have been horrendous. The good weather did bring its own problems - a few cases of dehydration even by the halfway point (of the Gran Fondo).
I’m not going to go in to the details of it now, but suffice to say it was a hectic weekend. I’ll save it for another blog.
Congratulations to all the Manchester to London competitors. From the little I’ve heard it sounded like a fantastic journey. Let’s hope NewcLon24 goes just as smoothly!
So, How's Training Going...?
May 22nd, 2013.
Ever since I entered the RideUK24 (300 miles from Newcastle to London inside 24 hours), this is the question I get asked the most. The first two sentences of any conversation I have at the moment are: ‘Hello. How are you? How’s training going?..’
The answer is, quite genuinely, OK actually thanks. Despite the ‘horrors’ of the winter all those 20 or 30 milers have stood me in good stead. Now 40 or 50 milers are ‘de rigeur’ and 70 or 80 miles are on the cards if I’ve got the time. I’ve got my first 100 miler of the year at the weekend so we’ll see how that goes…
I’m just at the end of a rather ‘hilly’ training block, so I’m not expecting much. It’s always a battle of how to break up these hill sessions and make them more bearable. Oh, I realise I’m meant to suffer but when you go out on your own there’s always that voice in your head that means you drop down a gear before you really need to. But in all honesty, there is only so much you can do. Short hills, long hills, with gears, without gears (on my singlespeed), chasing people, being chased, under gearing, over gearing, steep or gradual – they all do a job.
The most effective way for me to get better at going uphill, or anyone for that matter, is to lose a bit of weight. It’s not that I’m carrying so much ‘excess baggage’, to drop fat is a fairly simple process. I played rugby at National league level for 20 years give or take and I spent a lot of that time training to be strong enough to withstand a collision with 16 stones or more, and training to be quicker and more explosive than that 16 plus stones so they couldn’t get to tackle me! I would train to be powerful laterally as well as in straight lines.
So now I’ve stopped playing rugby (well apart from the odd game here and there), I have a natural fighting weight of just under 95kgs. The guys you see on telly on the Tour De France or in the Giro D’Italia currently are nearer 75kgs or 80kg max. Have you ever tried riding a bike carrying 20kgs you didn’t need to? Why would you?
So the obvious question is, how do I drop that weight?! Eat less!!! Kind of obvious, but it has to be said. But it’s not just about how much you eat or indeed necessarily what you eat, but also when you eat it. At the moment I’m managing to get in one ‘fasted’ ride a week. You really don’t want to do more than that from a health perspective. The theory being that by not taking in any fuel before you work, your body will revert to the energy stores it has been saving for times of starvation (sounds extreme, bit it’s just how we’ve evolved!) – ie; your fat stores!
Please do not rush in to this. The feeling can be hellacious. I can squeeze about 40 miles out before wanting to curl up and cry and throw my bike in a hedge. But it’s taken me a few goes to get to that far, you need to build it up – slowly! The golden rule is to work at a sub maximal state, don’t go chasing any Strava records, when that chirpy teenager goes past you on his BMX it’s best to leave it be… Slow and steady gets us to where we want to go.
In addition to this, easing up on the heavy upper body weights will also help me drop that weight. The ability to Bench Press 1.5 times my body weight or Clean an Press my body weight is not exceptionally useful as a long distance athlete of any kind let alone cycling. So much as I love these power, speed and strength based exercises I’m having to keep them from dominating my exercise programme at the moment.
Please don’t think that rules out any resistance based exercise – this is still very important in getting me prepared for the summer’s challenges. I’ll still be doing two ‘circuit’ based training sessions a week and some High Intensity interval work (running or cycling) to build and then maintain my cycling strength.
However, until August one of my biggest battles will be to get to as near as 85kg as I can!
Sport is Flipping Brilliant...
8th April 2013.
It’s on all the time – everything from WWE wrestling from Wisconsin to Test Match Cricket from Mumbai and because of that we can tend to take it a bit for granted. Especially when broadcasters churn out lower league football played on ploughed fields (and then repeat it later in the day!).
But we should not forget that there has been a whole lot of quality stuff on of late, with more to come.
We only have to go back to the beginning of last month for the climax of the 6 Nations – Wales v England in Cardiff. I know, I know, a painful experience for us English, especially when your mother-in-law is Welsh, very Welsh in fact…. (and your other half brings home Welsh cakes on Sunday). But there was no denying the passion on show on the occasion – 80,000 fans screaming adoration (or derision) with the stadium roof shut.
There has been some cycle racing too. The start of the Spring Classics. Traditionally the Milan-San Remo heralds a rise in temperatures in Northern Europe. Not this year… the 298km race (the equivalent of London to Doncaster, roughly) was neutralised after 100km or so because of snow. Not the kind of snow we’ve had this week here in London, but freezing to yout lid, breaking your sunglasses kind of snow. Riders visibly, uncontrollably shivering as they were hurried on to their team buses to be transported down the road to where it wasn’t snowing. Not good for the riders, but it made for epic viewing for us mere mortals.
The race was indeed restarted further along the route where it wasn’t snowing and ‘only’ raining, but you can make a fairly safe bet that it was only just warm enough for it not to snow – of the riders that restarted (there were more than you’d think), not many looked in a particularly good way. I guess here in the UK we can empathise with them at the moment.
There was the last Test match from New Zealand where England managed somehow to dig in and salvage a draw, quite dramatically believe it or not, with Monty Panesar doing a very good impression of someone who’d never seen a cricket bat before.
What with the Boat Race last weekend, the Grand National this weekend – sport just keeps coming at you, whether you like it or not. Obviously not every sport is for every body and for varying reasons. But in some way we can all relate to it in some way. Anyone that has played rugby, at any level, will tell you just how brutal that first half of the Grand Slam decider in Cardiff was. Which explains why, as the game wore on it became less and less technically accurate as the brutal nature took its toll on the players.
All of us that played any cricket will know that, sometimes, to not lose a game can bring us as much satisfaction as winning a game handsomely.
For those of us on bikes, we can ride exactly the same roads as our heroes, on exactly the same bikes, wearing exactly the same kit (if we chose to do so!). We can even post our times on the internet for the same routes for everyone to see – until we realise that we’ve taken two hours to do what a pro does in an hour…
We can tell ourselves; ‘I could have been a contender if….’
So why do I love sport? Because, for the most part (with some obvious exceptions), it’s honest. If you’re not honest to it you’ll get found out. The truth is in the results, there are winners and losers. There are reasons why winner win and losers lose. These may be physical, emotional, chemical (the elephant in the room), psychological – there are many varied reasons, but there’s no hiding from the result.
It’s as much down to hard work that Owen Farrell kicks those game winning penalties as it is pure talent, he’s not just ‘having a good day’. Bradley Wiggins wins TT’s through attention to detail on every level, Alastair Cook accumulates runs through application. These are skill sets that we can learn from. Who knows, what’s the worst that could happen? You might just get that Strava KoM you’ve been chasing…
I think I might move to Greenland....
Mon 25th March, 2013.
I mean, really?!? It’s the end of March already… Temperatures are hardly above freezing during the day let alone overnight. Now, I know I’m English and I know we have a predisposition to moan about the weather. But even as a man who has been born and breed in this temperate climate this is getting a bit much.
I’ve got to start getting some serious miles in (somewhere) – 300 miles is a long way (d’ya think!?)! I know it’s not until the end of August but time is slipping away… At the moment I’m getting one 60 miler in a week maybe, but generally it’s 40 miles with a (long) coffee stop and even then either my feet are falling off with cold or the 8 layers I’m wearing are all completely saturated! Come on – just a little sunshine…
‘Ne’er cast a clout ‘til May be out’ – it’s an old English adage and refers to the fact the spring often draws us in to a false sense of Summer comfort then provides a sting in the tail with a few late frosts. But this year, instead of prematurely discarding my Winter gear and caught out in a pair of shorts – I’ve had to buy more base layers!
But you know that when the sun does eventually come out, we Brits are going to go bonkers. Shorts and flip flops will be ‘de rigeur’. We are a breed that has learnt to squeeze the potential out of every last drop of sunshine. There’ll be a picture of a cricketer in Derbyshire or Yorkshire wearing 6 jumpers fielding in the snow, but in the sunshine…
I will have my shorts on too, I’ll just be sat on my bike somewhere approximately 70 miles from home… Until then I guess I’ll just have to refer to rule No 5 and get on with it…
Are you actually enjoying that?
19th February, 2013.
Slogging it out on the treadmill, sweating a bucketful in spinning, getting achy in bodypump or just trudging around the common…? Is this the type of exercise you actually want to do? Is it making you look how you want to look? Is it making you feel how you want to feel? Perhaps more importantly, are you enjoying it?
Do you sometimes think you’re doing it just because you’ve been told it’s good for you, either by society or an article you’ve read somewhere in a magazine?
Being active is undoubtedly good for your health. We have evolved to actively go out and gather our calories. Equally, our minds need to be pushed if we are to be fulfilled.
I’m not saying that he forms of exercise I have mentioned are specifically bad for you, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that and I wouldn’t try and suggest so. But, they maybe, just maybe better used as a supplement to other forms of physical activity.
Sitting on a bike in a darkened room moving in straight lines, might not be all that we need. Hiding at the back of the studio (oh yeah, we’ve all been there!), where you can’t quite hear the instructor, moving a weighted bar in straight lines, might not actually be relieving the stiffness in your back after a long day sat in front of a computer.
Please let me re-emphasise that in no way am I inferring that these forms of group exercise are ‘wrong’. It has been said that there is no such thing as ‘wrong’ exercise, just inappropriate application. This sounds almost Orwellian – some forms of exercise are more equal than others…
What I’m trying to get across is to just have a think why you are exercising – assess your goals. Are you getting closer to these goals by participating in these classes?
If the answer is positive, then brilliant, crack on. If the answer is not so positive then perhaps it would be sensible to take the time to ask someone for advice or direction. Yes indeed, someone like me, but there are plenty of ‘us’ out there, so please don’t restrict you question to one person! It won’t cost you anything for a chat, you may well learn something new (most of us like to talk, too much!). You might even find some form of group exercise that gets you closer to your goals! Whatever it is, there is absolutely no harm in asking!!
2nd January, 2013.
It’s that time of year. A natural line drawn where we can leave the old behind and pick up the new. When we can forget about all the negatives of the past 12 months and refocus on everything that is positive. It’s a time to assess, to make changes, to at least reaffirm that we are moving in the right direction!
There is a plethora of information out there right now – eat this, don’t eat that, do this, not that, run here, lie down there… well just hold on a minute; easy tiger… slow down soldier… Trying to change everything at the same time is a one of the best ways of getting nothing done. Rather than trying to change everything immediately, make a promise to yourself that you will make a positive change to your lifestyle each month for the next year.
Make a list of the things you would like to change, in no order of importance initially. Don’t worry about how many there are, just write things down. As you progress other things will appear on the radar. There may well be three things that stand out on that list straight away. Let’s say; give up smoking, exercise more, drink less. Then these are your first three goals for the first three months – one for each month – January, February and March.
Pick the easiest one first, probably not giving up smoking (you can start to cut down!) – pick something that’s easier to succeed at – exercising more for instance, may be 3 times a week as a rule..? Success in the first goal is fairly crucial! Once you’ve achieved January’s goal, then move on to February’s – it’s a shorter month remember, so it might the month for abstinence…?
What I’m getting at is that one thing at a time is very achievable. It’s much easier to focus on that goal and see success. If you try and change everything at the same time it may seem as if you’ve taken too much on, easier to let go of your goals and failure beckons. Change one thing, focus on that one goal, even if your progress slows down towards that goal, then you will find it easier to renew your efforts rather than give up.
It is important to have a specific goal, something tangible otherwise attaining that goal will be difficult. Rather than ‘drinking less’, be specific – perhaps only drink once a week. Rather than ‘exercising more’, be more specific – get some sort of regular exercise at least three times a week. It doesn’t have to be ‘smash you in to the ground’ exercise every time, but some sort of high intensity work may be circuit based, would go a long way to making a difference.
Exercising 3 times a week will make a difference. You will notice a difference perhaps in a fortnight but certainly within a month. Exercising twice a week will change things, but progress will be slow and you may not notice so much. Exercising once a week will still do you some good, doing something is better than doing nothing. But it’ll be a long time before you see any changes or mark any progress, which may weaken your resolve and you may lose motivation.
In order to make real progress, plan to get at least three bouts of exercise a week – and get measured in some way! Not necessarily on the scales or with measuring tape – maybe how many laps of the park you can do in 20 minutes or how long it takes to do one lap, how many step ups in a minute, or press ups…. But make a mark in the sand so you know where you’re starting from!
It’s important also to remember that we all have lives to lead – children to get to school (and back again), family, friends, husbands, wives etc - none of these should be neglected. But if you do want to look and feel better then you will have to make some changes. Just not everything at the same time!
Last of all, have a little patience, don’t ever give up. There will be times when you think – ‘why on earth am I bothering?’ or ‘this is going nowhere’. Sometimes it takes a while for good things to happen and in 6 month’s time, you may bump in to a friend you haven’t seen and they’ll say – ‘Wow! You look amazing! What have you done?!’ Then you can smile and be as specific or vague as you like when you answer that one….
Wandsworth Road Closures.
This week I’ve read that an organisation called Active Wandsworth were considering to propose to close some roads on a few Sunday’s during the Spring/Summer period next year.
The (very) basic idea would be to join the parks and commons of the borough through either closed roads or existing cycle paths or tracks or safe pathways of some sort that already exist.
The theory being this would encourage families to ditch the car and cycle/walk/roller skate/scooter/pogo stick (you get the idea) on closed roads in total safety.
I think in principal this is a great idea. I haven’t seen any detailed plans of what roads might be closed, but one would presume it wouldn’t include the major arteries like Garratt Lane or the South Circular or even roads like Burntwood Lane. But more likely the less hectic side streets, maybe even the odd rat-run would be cut-off. It would be cut-off to general traffic, one would suppose the anyone that needed access would be allowed in! But I guess you never know…
This has, however, caused a bit of a brouhaha on a few internet forums. There have been references to a ‘swathe of road closures’ or ‘London is difficult enough to get around on a Sunday’ or ‘The street is made to be driven on and by God it is hard enough to drive/park on the damn street as it is! Who is there to make sure I as a motorist enjoy the street my taxes are paying for?’
All this seems to be a little exaggerated, to me at least. The proposals are for one Sunday in each month and a lot of the time period would during the school holidays when roads tend to be a lot quitter by default. However, the plans would have to be sympathetic to the fact that at the weekends a lot of children already do sport of some sort or belong to clubs and associations, and parents will want to go and watch or be involved in some way – and sometimes taking a couple of terrors, as angelic as they may be, across any part of London by bicycle to get somewhere on a deadline just ain’t going to happen!
I grew up in South East London and granted there were less cars around, there were less people, There were also three day weeks and blackouts during the coal strikes – so therefore it was lot quieter on the street. Impromptu games of footy and rugby, cricket in the summer (those broken windows, nothing to do with me…). What it meant was that I, and my Mum, knew the others on the street without really trying!
Surely, anything that encourages families to get out together (and exercise), that’s got to be a good thing?! Of course there will be cons, but these must be outweighed be the pros – as long as it was organised the right way. It would be great to try it out even if it only proved that it couldn’t work…
Seasonal Affective Disorder (or, my excuse for being so grumpy at this time of year…)
For some this is no laughing matter, it is in reality a form of clinical depression and it is also known by its pseudonym ‘winter depression’. But, at this time of year - the clocks have just gone back, the temperature has just dropped a few degrees, it’s dark so much earlier and the days are getting noticeably shorter – we can all tend to feel a little dreary.
The amount of sun you get can affect a number of things, your mood, appetite, energy levels and sex drive. In reality, most of us rather than suffering from depression, go through a much milder version – ‘the winter blues’ (yes that’s an official name not a Billy Ray Cirus ‘B’ side!).
Symptoms often kick in during the onset of autumn primarily for the reasons I’ve stated above and those that suffer from a depressive state will be at their lowest during December, January and February (the harshest months). Then, as the seasons move towards spring around March time, these symptoms tend to dissipate. So although we all tend to feel a bit drab as Autumn turns to Winter, then more cheery come the Spring it’s not so likely that we’re all suffering from depression (although with some people you wouldn’t believe it…!)!!
The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood although the common belief is that there is less sunlight during the shorter days (apparently science has proved this!). It is known that sunlight affects the brain’s hormonal and chemical balances by stimulating the part of the brain that controls our appetite, mood and sleep – the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is in charge of melatonin and serotonin; what on earth do these do and where can I get some?!
Melatonin is a hormone that is heavily in bed with sleep (do you see what I did there!?). Anyway… It’s produced by the pineal gland. When it’s dark the pineal gland produces melatonin to make you feel sleepy. Isn’t evolution clever? So during the winter months our bodies naturally produce more melatonin hence our ‘need’ for more sleep and lower energy levels.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter – it helps sends the messages to the cells to be more creative. In the sunshine we produce more of it. So come the winter, there’s less sunshine, so less serotonin, less messages and therefore less activity!
The patterns of sunlight and darkness also have an effect on out Circadian Rhythms. This is not an aspect that should be dismissed as minor. Our body and our brain uses the day/night cycle to time various processes and functions i.e. when to be awake, when to eat, digest, sleep, altering our mood and energy levels accordingly (and the production of those charming hormones!). Very simply, the cycle is based on a 24 hour period and the body will adjust its internal clock according to the amount of light, or lack of light, it’s exposed to. Therefore affecting mood, energy levels etc. accordingly.
So as autumn draws on, although it would be easy to stay indoors on the sofa it appears it would be better for not only our mood but also out health if we do actually get out more. Wrap, make an excuse to go somewhere and soak up some autumn/winter sun! Alternatively we could all just go to Las Vegas and hide out in the Casino’s where the ambient temperature and light are tightly controlled (to keep you awake!), but where would be the fun in that…
8th October, 2012.
Let’s be honest about it, it’s pretty miserable out there today. Today is a day when there are plenty of excuses not to go out and not to be active. You look out of the window and you immediately think ‘Yuk, no thanks – I’m staying in’.
But… how much better would your day be if you got out there. What is it, a 10 minute drive to the gym? Do 40 minutes work whilst your there, a 10 minute drive back again and you’ve only taken an hour out of your day. When I say 40 minutes work, I mean make it good work – plan ahead, pick 6 exercises to do before you get there and do them, with intensity ie; not with an eye on the clock, or the window, or the pool or reception…
If the gym isn’t an option for you, just get outside – I know it’s raining, I know it’s damp, but it isn’t as cold as you think it is. Get out there and do a 30 minute run, or 20 minutes – it’s still better than sitting on your sofa for 20 minutes… I bet that if you do go out there, you’ll stay out longer than you planned. Because once you get in to it, you’ll find it’s not as bad as you think it is.
In our society, and I’m being fairly presumptuous that none of you are reading this in the jungles of Borneo, we’re never more than 15 or 20 minutes away from a cup of tea and a warm shower. So get yourself out there, get something done and feel better about yourself.
If you really can’t face it, get in touch with me – we’ll form a plan and I’ll get cold and damp making sure you keep moving and achieve your goals. Then, after a while you’ll find yourself looking out of the window on a day like today and thinking – ‘Yep, today is my kind of day…’
Sports Personality Of The Year....
19th September, 2012.
We’ve got to talk about it. It’s really not that far away. So I’m just going to put this out there. I’m going to call it…
What Andy Murray has recently done is fantastic. To win a Gold Medal and a Grand Slam in the same year is a rare achievement and no Brit has done it before. He’s even showed some emotion…. We’re beginning to warm to him as a human as well as a sportsman.
David Weir is a magnificent athlete. To win 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m and a marathon in the same athletics meeting is phenomenal – no one has ever done that before in any era. Forget the fact he’s in a wheelchair – I just loved watching him race. In a similar vain to Usain Bolt, when you saw he was racing you wanted to watch him. But with regard to David Weir it wasn’t for the showmanship, but because you knew he wasn’t going to save anything, he’s leave all on the track win or lose.
Bradley Wiggins – it seems so long ago that he (and his team) dominated the Tour De France. The first Brit to win that race (the first to come higher than fourth). But it’s been a truly stellar year for Wiggins; the first rider to win Paris – Nice (one week race), The Criterium Dauphine (a week long race in the Alps), The Tour of Romandy and the Tour De France all in the same year. He is the first person to win all these and then to go on and win an individual Gold Medal at the Olympics (in the Time Trial). Add to that, quite prepared to bury himself for Cavendish in the Tour – just look at the final stage in to Paris. Then once again dig deep in the Olympic Road Race, this time unsuccessfully, just a few days before winning his Gold in the Time Trial.
So that’s my top three, with Bradley Wiggins the winner. I know there have been so many other magnificent achievements this year and in any other year they would probably walk it. You’re probably running through them right now, so there’s no need for me to. But this year has been special. I also know that there will be some very heated debate up and down the country in clubhouses, pubs, bars and coffee shops as to who deserves this year’s award. I certainly don’t expect you to agree with me!!
The best way to sort it out? Just make sure you make a vote when the opportunity comes, then surely the right person will get the result.
What Happens Now?
12th September 2012,
So, the Olympics are behind us as are the Paralympics (the Parallel Olympics). It’s been a time of great emotion, sporting emotion (not just from the Brits – gasp!) and some truly inspirational performances.
Don’t forget that earlier in the summer Bradley Wiggins won the Tour De France (TdF) riding for a British Team. Our cricketers are also just off the Number One spot in Test playing terms and regained the Number One spot in the 50 over version of the game.
So what now? It’s all gone, we drift back to how it was before? I really hope not. When the sun is shining then it’s really easy to be inspired, to stay motivated. The test comes over the next few months, when the sun becomes a little weaker and the days get shorter. The reality check is – there are now no more Bank Holidays until Christmas…
So how do we keep this momentum going? As an individual there are a few things that you can do to keep yourself going as Autumn draws on and we head towards the winter months –
1. Pick a goal. No matter how farfetched or extreme you perceive it to be, or indeed how simple or straight-forward you think it is – make a statement that you want to do something – then go about doing it!
Two examples for you:
a) One of my first ever clients couldn’t last for more than 10 minutes on a treadmill doing a fast walk. Her first goal was to be able to run for 10 minutes on the treadmill. Once she achieved that, we moved on to her next goal. In the next 8 months she lost 2 stone (and addressed a whole load of dietary issues).
b) One of my clients has just dropped the bombshell that she has entered the London Marathon next April – she has made it abundantly clear to me, on many occasions, that she loathes running... now there’s someone who is stepping out of their comfort zone!
Now I could get all technical here and construct a beautifully crafted incremental training programme, with progression targets and a race schedule that would have her peaking for the big day in mid-April. But there’s a distinct possibility that may turn her off running even more!
She’s doing it for charity, so she wants to enjoy the day. That of course entails completing the route, but also not getting injured along the way, or becoming unable to function for a period of time afterwards (as a mother of two). So my roll, and she made this clear straight away, is to get her through it with a smile on her face (for most of the time). I’ll let you know how we get on…
2. Join a Club. As the evenings draw in and it gets chillier in the mornings (ok it gets pretty cold!), having a bunch of people to meet or to not let down does wonders for motivation. Running, or riding a bike, or whatever you exercise is, is fine on your own – just stick your headphones on and you’re away. But when the variables against you start stacking up – the weather looks a bit ‘iffy’, you’re a bit tired after a long week (the list of potential excuses is very long), then having a group to meet blows those excuses away. If you add that to the fact that you’ll have someone to keep up with, to chase, or chase you, you’ll find that in a group you always work that little bit harder.
3. Gyms are great. But it is actually possible to be a member of a gym for a year and not talk to anyone new and certainly not learn anything about your sport. By joining a club you will meet different people all of the time and most of them will have similar goals to you. Some may have already succeeded in what you are trying to achieve so you’ll be able to learn from their experiences. The chances are you’ll pick up knowledge just by mixing with similar minded people - if nothing else, you will probably realise that you all encounter the same problems, barriers, concerns even success.
All in all, whatever you’re thinking of doing, my advice would be to do it. You may well fail, the first time you try it. But I bet you’ve got more chance of success than you think you have. Look at Andy Murray – lost four Grand Slam finals before winning his fifth, the US Open this weekend. Look at Kath Grainger (rowing), 3 silver medals in successive Olympics before a glorious gold at Eaton Dorney in these Olympics. You can be damn sure that for them, giving up was a sacrifice not worth making.
Cycling And London (and other things...)
10th September, 2012.
As you may well have gathered, I make my way around London by bike most of the time, sometimes I use my moped and occasionally a car, but most of the time I’m on two wheels.
I reckon that by owning a bike as well as a car I’m not in a minority in the part of London where I live. It has certainly become less rare in the last 5 years and more common again after the magnificent Olympics!
But does this mean attitudes have changed? By attitudes I refer to the animosity that there is between various parties – ‘bloody cyclists’, ‘idiot moped riders’, ‘lunatic bus drivers’, rabid taxi drivers’ – these are all phrases that we’ve heard or overheard in conversations about London traffic.
Obviously I haven’t done any particularly scientific research, the only evidence I can produce is entirely anecdotal (and indeed mainly personal!). I wouldn’t go as far as to say that attitudes have changed completely, but they are certainly changing, for the better. The ‘big’ test of this was this week just gone by, as now all of the schools have gone back – there is more traffic on the roads and therefore by definition tempers tend to be more frayed.
Riding to and from places in London on my single speed I have occasions when I have to cross multiple lanes, either on dual carriage ways or left or right filters. The cycling law of survival is to signal early, be proactive, give as many indications as possible as to where you want to go – gesture, point, shout, nod, whatever gets you seen – being noticed is the primary objective. Then be decisive. If you hesitate traffic will carry on as if you don’t exist (which isn’t a great place to be!) and you’ll be stuck in the wrong lane… when you’re sure traffic is aware of what you’re doing , then go! And don’t dither!
Usually traffic lets you go because it’s quicker for them than to not let you go. However, over the last couple of weeks I have had a couple of instances where unexpected people have gone out of their way to let me through/over.
First up, a white van man almost came to a complete halt in Wandsworth to let me move over from the left hand lane to the right – and he gestured with a nod and a smile!
Secondly, a mum on the phone in her 4x4 let me through a mini roundabout when it was completely her right of way, but she could see me struggling with shoe clips and brakes and signalling (multi-tasking for men!) and she let me go first!
Lastly, a bus driver on Trinity Road let me turn right across the traffic, despite his way being clear, so that I wouldn’t be exposed to the charging traffic behind me.
So may be things are changing.
My theory is that whatever form of transport you chose then there will be users less considerate or responsible than yourself. Unfortunately it’s these ‘idiots’ (I use the word generically) that stand out. Whether its bikes, buses, black cabs, mini cabs, scooters, cars or even pedestrians there will always be a (small) percentage that thinks they are stuntmen, or don’t think at all.
I saw that there was a bit of brouhaha recently about the comments made in the editorial of the rather hi-brow The Richmond Magazine – in which the editor stated that ‘the only good cyclist is a dead one’. Apparently this was said in jest but it does rather emphasise that there is a way to go…
So, ride safe out there – we can’t all be Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish… imagine the guy you see at the next junction in a car, bus, van etc – will he see you..?
30th August, 2012.
I know it seems like such a long time ago now… but how good was it?! Just how good was it to have a once in a lifetime (for most of us) experience in this City and to have made the most of it. Ok, we got lucky with the weather, but most things we could control were just about spot on (and yes I know, those empty seats early on were pretty annoying!). Now, we get a another fantastic opportunity with the Paralympics.
There were plenty of doubters before it started and even for a short while after the opening ceremony. But those noises were soon drowned out by the sheer joy and enthusiasm of Londoners as a whole.
The athletes performed, the workers performed, the venues looked amazing and the Volunteers, well they were beyond comparison. If you’d paid the best PR training company in the world they couldn’t have done a better job.
But now it’s all over. To be honest it has left a huge hole, not just in the TV schedules. Yes, we miss Gaby Logan and Ian Thorpe and Jon Mac and all but we will also miss it to look forward to.
So will the athletes. Some will have waited all their lives for those two weeks - and it may just have lasted 20 seconds, or less in one stadium – they would have found it all worthwhile, or left with bitter disappointment.
For some of the athletes, winning a Gold medal was the end game. They probably wouldn’t have thought about what happened after the games, no vision beyond their event. For some, these games will act as a stepping stone, a rung on the ladder - perhaps towards the next games and an improved performance, or perhaps a longer term vision with higher ambitions.
All of these athletes will soon realise, if they haven’t already, that they need to find another goal. Whether it’s to continue on to the next Olympics in Rio (there’s an incentive in itself!), or maybe that’s too far, too much. Many will have immersed themselves so deeply in the pursuit of their goal that it may some time and reflection to decide what to do and which direction to go.
The bigger the athlete, the more doors of opportunity will open for them, which may make decisions a lot harder for them. However, for someone like Usain Bolt the options will be pretty much limitless – if he has the desire he can have a go at pretty much anything – but the void that will be left without athletics in his life will be huge, only time will tell whether he can fill it.
For some of the lesser known athletes, from sports with maybe a less high profile – boxing, judo, canoeing or kayaking – their choices may well be a little more limited with a more easily planned career path.
So what can we expect from the Paralympics? I suspect that most of us don’t really know. We’re all probably expecting some amazing things, and quite rightly, but exactly what those will be and will unfold over the next 12 days.
One thing is for sure, the athletes participating throughout the games will have been given direction as well as purpose just through the existence of their events. This is something that 20 years ago their predecessors would never have had.
If all goes accordingly, we the general population, will have a much broader knowledge of what ‘disabled’ life entails. Many of our
perceptions will be challenged and many prejudices blown away. It’s going to be another rollercoaster!!
Another Year Older.
16th August, 2012.
It was my birthday last week. No need for congratulations, unless of course you’re surprised that I made it this far (which, for those of you that know me well may well be understandable). It’s not an unusual occurrence, at least not to me. Annually I take a look at myself and where I am and wonder if I’m doing the right thing…
I’m 42 years old now and I still train as hard as ever. I might not have the same fast twitch I used to, but my reasons for training have changed.
As a rugby player in winter and a cricketer (wicket-keeper/batsman) during the summer, my goals were always generally orientated toward speed and power. Having the strength to last a season without (a major) injury with 16 or 17 stone piling in to you, or over you (or sometimes, around me!). Fast feet were always important, to avoid being hit hard by someone a couple of stone heavier than me. In summer the skill would be transferred as speed between the wickets and movement behind the stumps.
These days my direction and motivation has changed. Oh yes, I’m still motivated – and motivation is the key. We all need to train for something, a goal, an end game, our own individual driving force.
Nowadays, I mostly ride my bike. You’ve probably realised that. But I’m still an ex-rugby player at heart and I’ll never lose that side of my training. Time and experience has taught me that there is so much more to being strong than shifting big weights, squatting masses, bench pressing a ton. In day to day life, as with a lot of movements and skills, the majority of movement is performed on one leg or with one arm, or at least with a challenge to our balance or with our centre of gravity on the move. These movements cause imbalances and if one of those imbalances becomes to great , then an injury will occur.
So the reasons why we train are most certainly to control our weight, to be more toned, to be stronger or faster than your opposite number. But also we train to prevent injury, both long and short term. Therefore we have a longer sporting career, or so we can train with less interruptions (for injury) and consequently progress towards our goals more quickly.
Why train if you can’t improve? One thing is for certain, you’re not improving if you keep getting injured.
If not now, then when?
8th August, 2012.
These are the words of Hillel the Elder, an influential Jewish leader around 110BC. Why on earth have I picked this out… Well, this quote was adopted by Greg Searle back in Barcelona, 1992 when he won Gold at the age of 20 (and is the title of his book) 20 years ago almost to the day.
You’re probably well aware that he won a bronze in the Coxed eights’ in the first week of the London Olympics, 20 years after that gold – it’s a great story.
Although it is a great story, it’s not the story I’m interested in on this occasion – it’s the sentiment. All this tale of success, retirement, followed by successful comeback, proves is that it is applicable at every level.
It’s applicable if you weigh 6 stone more than you want. It’s applicable if you’re not being picked for the team you want to play for. It’s applicable if you’re not winning the races you’re entering. It’s applicable if you’re running a business and not reaching who you want to reach.
In all of those examples the protagonists will talk about change. That may be diet, training, activities, gym membership, or product services. Whatever the scenario, change will have been considered.
We will all have seen in these Olympics that to win a gold medal it takes an enormous amount of planning, preparation, training, self-sacrifice – amounts beyond most of our comprehension. But there have also been occasions where even this won’t be enough, this will only put you in the same place as the opposition, not ahead of them.
There have been occasions (and probably will be others) where it has taken something extra-ordinary to win. It has needed the athlete to step out of a place where they are comfortable in order to gain success. Success will depend on whether their or their opponent’s training has prepared them for that.
There have also been occasions where athletes or teams have seen the need for something special, and have gone for it. In so doing they may well have ended up with less than they ‘deserved’, but I can pretty much guarantee that given the same set of circumstances again they would do the same again with no regrets. They will know that, when given a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ they gave it everything – they may well have failed, but who wouldn’t give everything for a chance of a gold medal?
What’s this got to do with our everyday lives!? ‘If not now, then when?’ – Ask yourself why you want to wait until after the Olympics to start going to the gym? Or, wait until after ‘Y’s’ birthday to give up smoking? Why wait until September (or January) to start jogging again, or going to yoga again? If you can answer these with good reasons, then that’s fair enough. If you can only hear the same old excuses, then get yourself out there. There are plenty of classes/groups/facilities available that cover every level of fitness (and co-ordination!) and are available to everyone (don’t use cost as an excuse!).
Today is the best day for you to change something – not tomorrow.
The Olympics are here!
31st July, 2012.
They are here and here with aplomb. Cycling seemed to dominate the first weekend, so before the stadia and Olympic Park takes the limelight it was the chance for the Surrey countryside and the iconic sights of Ye Olde London Towne to show their wares. What a spectacular show it was!
Cycling the UK at the moment is on a steep upward curve. A number of World Champions on the track (velodrome) both male and female, a World Champion on the road in Mark Cavendish, a Grand Tour Champion in Bradley Wiggins with Chris Froome right on his wheel and a silver medal in the Olympic Women’s Road Race are only the recent highlights of what our athletes have achieved.
On a lower level the numbers of cyclists on the road are on the rise and have been for a while. Cycling to work is now more socially acceptable and indeed less fearful. Viewing figures are up, both on TV and on the road at domestic events. The huge crowds on the roadsides last weekend for both the men’s and the women’s races show just how popular the sport has become in the UK.
But is the sport in such a healthy state globally? On Saturday the gold medal in the men’s race was won by a Ukrainian. Obviously this was a huge disappointment for Team GB and everyone who had got used to Mark Cavendish winning and was slightly taking that for granted (including me). But fair play to Vinokourov, he’s an attacking rider by nature and saw an opportunity which he took and made it stick.
But he has a history. In 2007 he was discovered to have doped his blood and made illicit blood transfusions – he immediately retired. Consequentially he had to answer no questions and face no sanctions. He would also have not been tested once retired. Once 2 years had passed, he made a comeback. This is by far his biggest win in his 2nd career. A week before he tried to do the same thing on the last stage of The Tour De France in Paris. On this occasion, the peloton of 140 odd (a few more than in the Olympics) weren’t going to let it happen.
Lance Armstrong, a name synonymous with success (and charity) seems to be in some real trouble. He has a hearing in front of the USADA in early August to answer what would appear to be some fairly damning evidence concerning doping in the TdF.
A number of ‘back room’ staff from that US Postal team have already been up before the hearing to answer this evidence and have suffered some fairly hefty sanctions – one doctor being banned from cycling for life. It is not inconceivable that Armstrong could be stripped of all 7 titles.
Alberto Contador, the most dominant Grand Tour rider of more recent years, comes back from his ban (for Clenbuterol consumption) in August in time for his native Tour of Spain (La Vuelta), whilst one of the Schleck brothers tested positive for a diuretic (used as a masking agent) during the this year’s TdF.
So the sport isn’t full of saints by any means, but chemical enhancement has been a way of life in this sport for as long as it’s been going. But there are now many people changing the way people within the sport think and act – so have a little faith. There are still some drug takers, but far from being de rigeur these days. It is a tough, tough sport and there are no prisoners taken out there. Day in, day out whatever is thrown at the riders, the sport still demands as do us spectators!
So we may have a disappointing result here and there, but just bear in mind that there are so many variables out there that not even Dave Brailsford can control – but will do his damnedest to make sure his riders are clean.
30th July, 2012.
A few of you are still blissfully unaware, but I have managed to bore most of you... with the fact that I have recently been out to The Pyrenees to see some friends but also to see some of the Tour De France.
If you haven't been then you must put it down on your 'to do' list, next year, no question. It is an amazing spectacle. Anyway, while I was there I got some bike riding in myself - surprise, surprise.
The day before the route took The Tour over the mighty Tourmalet I chugged my way up it. Below is a video of the first part of my decent. All I'l say is try and look at the views rather than the road (like me!), oh and keep an eye for that bus after 5 mins or so, it nearly got me!
26th July, 2012.
A lot of people come and say to me; ‘Dowsey, what’s the best exercise for losing weight? Is it running? I always drop the weight when I get in to my running.’ It’s one of those questions that just can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.
We really need to look at the intensity of the exercise. What is it that you do other than ‘running’. Is it a class, spinning, bodypump etc or do you just go and do ‘some bench press, a bit of shoulder press and a few squats’, or use the resistance machines? Could it be that the intensity of your exercise on the treadmill or while you’re running is far greater then when you’re doing those resistance exercises?
Your 20 minute run on the treadmill is non-stop (as near as can be), and you may use upwards of 250/300 calories, depending on how hard you go. But you are moving continuously (pretty much!). Against a 30 minute (more?) resistance session, where you may do a set, chat, psyche yourself up, another set, something on the telly catches your eye, then the 3rd set….
Don’t get me wrong, I’m saying that to go to the gym you must be driven, focused, nothing stands in your way, I will complete this work out even if I become the most unsociable person here – but just have a think as to what your goals are and why you are there. I see people that spend in excess of 3 hours at a time in the gym, more than three times a week! Yet still these same people carry some extra weight or have never lifted any more than they are currently lifting. That to me is crazy. I can do more with a client in 20 minutes than they will do in their session. It’s all about intensity.
So, how can you raise the bar for your workouts? Here’s a few tips:-
Ø Gauge your workouts on a scale of 1-10. Do it whilst you’re working out not afterwards – ‘oh, I didn’t really get in to it today…’! Equally rate by your standards, not on the fact that your mate/buddy found it tough – did you work hard?
Ø Don’t sit/stand still. You’re trying to work off some calories, there’ll be other times to stand and chat. Simply adding in a 2 minute cycle or run between exercises will burn loads more calories and raise that metabolism. Or add an exercise in (make it a super set), eg; some press-ups after bench press.
Ø Quite simply, if you’re not losing weight, it’s not working any more. If, when you started, the weight came off but now you’ve hit a block then it’s not working and it probably won’t miraculously start working again. Make a change! Ask for some advice. Change what you’re doing otherwise nothing ever changes.
For example – if you’re trying to lose some weight and get a bit leaner, you may well have been lifting light weights and doing lots of reps, but now you’ve hit a block. No more weight will shift. Try lifting heavier weights – make sure you keep that form, your technique always comes first. Obviously the heavier weight will mean less reps, but I bet you see a change (and NO you WON’T look like Arnie or Madonna…!)
You may have been doing lots of cardio – a steady pace run for 20 minutes followed by 200 or so abs exercises. A solid 6 weeks 3 times a week and you’ve seen a lot pf progress, but now you’ve got stuck. You’re still getting tired but not getting the benefits of improvement. So, keep the 20 minute time frame but every 5th minute put in a hard effort for 1 minute. When I say hard I mean about 8 out of 10. I’ll bet you the last 5 minutes feels like an hour…
So there you have it. Keep an eye on the intensity of your workout. Try and keep distractions to a minimum – remember what your goals are! Lastly, if you find you’re workouts are going nowhere, you’re in a rut, please don’t give up – just ask a question! Remember – if you change nothing then nothing changes.
Every Tuesday evening at 7pm. Although it has been free for as long as I've run this, I do now have to make a small charge - only £5 per session! Your first session is still FREE!!! Meet inside Planet Organic, Wandsworth, Southside). It's an hour of hard work, but it gets results!
Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook!
Use my FAQs to find answers to common questions