Saturday, 30 April 2011

Royal Wedding antidote

What could be more English than a beautiful countryside lane like this?

Yesterday it seemed almost the whole country stopped for the Royal Wedding.  I did too but I managed to get out while it was all still going on.  I got out on my bike for what seemed the very best Royal Wedding antidote with roads that were mostly traffic free, deserted.  Occasional glimpses of people involved bunting, flags going up and other cyclists.  What bliss!

Every cyclist I came across was friendly once again today and the sheer sight of cyclists out numbering cars was a rare delight.  I rode for just over 50 miles, much on quiet lanes and I took the above photo as an example.  I also revelled in the soft hazy sunshine - probably my favourite lighting for midday.  The ride itself seemed fairly easy going with a tail wind in the first half and I averaged just over 15mph.  By the time I got home the average had dropped to 14mph.

If this was a semi serious training ride, there are a few things of note:
  • Water - I need about 500mls per hour in these conditions (moderate riding, 18 degrees)
  • My heart rate was probably around 140 - 150 beats per minute.  For me, nice for prolonged aerobic exercise.
  • Refuelling.  This is the tricky bit, potentially.  In the past I have found it really hard to re-start after a lunch break, so I decided to try a light snack and see if it suited me, in a 20 minute break.  It worked fine.  I'm sure that skipping a proper break and rest (and eating on the go) is counter productive now.  Although my cheese sandwich and an apple were easy to digest, I still felt a tad full to start with and rather stiff, I soon loosened up.  So that was worth doing.
  • Previously I have said I'm starting to really like hills, well, that continues as I recognise the value in training through working my heartbeat and stamina up.  I'm using higher gears now I'm getting a bit fitter but it's always nice to know that 26T chainring is there should I ever need it.
  • Going down hill has scared me a few times on unfamiliar roads.  Gravel and grit on minor roads are the main hazards, along with holes and rough surfaces.  Yesterday towards home I hit 37mph on a well known hill with no problems.
  • Strong head winds have also been a pet hate in the past but less so nowadays; while not good for brisk miles it's a good way to think more deeply.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Goals to aim for - update

Here's a quick update of how I'm doing with the goals I set myself on 2nd April:

1. Detox myself
I had a caffeine free trial, just to see what it was like.  The first few hours were "noticeable" and then I carried on for a few days with no tea or coffee - but there was an exception.  The exception was a weak mug of tea, in bed, each morning.  I felt fine.

Now drastically cutting back on caffeine does not constitute a detox at all.  Since then I have been continued being virtually vegetarian and it feels a natural progression as I take better care.  Why should I become a vegetarian?  That sounds like a good future blog post.  We already eat quite a lot of organic food and wherever possible buy Fairtrade.  I have done some very basic research on detoxing and it's a little confusing.  I just wanted to flush out some of those E numbers which have probably built up over time; a bit like having all that plaque removed by a dental hygienist.  I came across the Grapefruit detox diet and I'm just not sure!  Will report back later on this.

2. Weigh 10 stone
Updating on this is easier.  This morning I weighed in at 10st 5.5lbs but I know my weight does fluctuate from day to day according to what exercise I've done and of course, what I've scoffed. This means my BMI is 22.2 and that's OK I believe.  So, I've lost 4.5lbs, almost half way.

3. Run a marathon
I haven't got one in mind yet but I guess a specific one would give me something to aim for.  On Easter Monday I ran about 9.5 miles and felt as if I could go further, especially if it was less hilly.  Last year I did three half marathons and this seems a logical next step (though possibly irrational instead).

4. Cycle 100 miles in a day
Yesterday I did about 55 miles and my legs ached a bit today, so not quite up to the century as yet but hopefully I will over the next couple of months.  The biggest barrier is finding the time and not neglecting my family too much.

5. Read the Bible everyday on my own
I'm not doing very well with this!  We read together every day around the breakfast table; just a few verses and sometimes we'll talk about it before dashing off to school, work etc.  I had in mind reading myself at the end of the day but other things sometime get in the way (particularly falling asleep!) so a different strategy is needed.  Nevertheless when I do read, I'm enjoying Proverbs once again.  As with many parts of the Bible, no matter how many times we've read a book or a chapter, there's always something new.

Somehow the image below seems relevant.  Rachel found a rotting apple which had found its way in to the garage.  Amazing how a rotting apple still contains a viable seed which springs into life....

6. Stretch everyday
This is what I have failed the most on out of all my goals.  I reckon, from past experience, the best time to stretch is after a run.

7.  Floss my teeth everyday
Apart from just 1 or maybe 2 days, I have managed this!  Furthermore, I am getting increasingly thorough.

Why am I aiming for these goals?
 There's a number of reasons; they're all about being faithful and seeking to do the right thing.  Not wanting to be a grumpy old man in a nursing home with too many regrets for not doing things while I had the chance.  Sure I have regrets, I could have done this or that differently but these things are becoming more important.  

The driver behind these things?
I don't always handle stress easily, particularly at work.  Running especially is an outlet; a kind of pressure release valve.  Sometimes people tell me I expect too much of myself or are too hard on myself.  They might be right but that's the way I am so these are steps to keep things in perspective and function better.  I need to do it, not only for my sake but also for my family.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Cycling to school

For a while now Becky and I have been looking out for a good day to cycle to the 9.5 miles school and today it all came together.

I rode with her as it's simply not right to send a 12 year old on that route for the first time on her own and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Planning it started yesterday with Becky needing to figure out all the details.  Arriving by 8.30am (or before) meant that she'd need to leave at a particular time and so she planned what time we had breakfast, got up and went to bed the night before along with what to wear, what the weather would be like and so on.  Just as well as it was flippin' cold and I was grateful I had my woolly gloves on - you could even see your breath and such a contrast to a week ago.

I'm so proud of her as she felt great when we got there, she said it was like a little adventure and was pleased she'd done it.

The route we took was the flattest but that did involve a few miles on a busy A road, which was a drag.  I rode behind her, slightly further out into the road with my rear Cateye flashing away.  Then through some country lanes and undoubtedly annoying those 4x4 BMW, Audi, Volvo drivers (of which there are many gleaming examples around here).  I've found myself reassuring her a few times recently that as cyclists we have as much right to use the road as anyone else, though we do need to be considerate towards other people but not to be bullied by impatient drivers having to wait just a few seconds before they can over take us.

It's a brilliant sense of achievement for her.  Although she's ridden further distances before, it is the satisfaction of making it to school under her own steam for once.  Nobody else cycles to that school apart from one or two who live locally and occasionally cycle there.

So well done Becky - I'm so proud of you!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Cyclists are friendly afterall!

One of today's sights: a crop of Rape Seed growing near Soulbury
I had a fantastic ride today, about 52 miles all in beautiful clear sunshine.

Following on from the blog post earlier today about cyclists and runners not always being very friendly, I decided to make a mental note of the reactions I had.  While I encountered just a handful of fellow cyclists today, I am proud to report that everyone was very friendly and there are a couple of noteworthy folk to tell you about.

The first was in the National Trust Ashridge Estate, always a nice place to cycle.  I passed a lady riding gently along on a 3 speed bike.  Both the bike and it's rider seemed to be getting on a bit but extremely friendly.  As I passed I said my usual "Morning" in a cheery voice.  I was rather outdone with a "Good morning" that was so tuneful it was as if she was singing it to me.  It certainly made me smile.

The second cheery cyclist was a man called Mike, who I encountered at Soulbury.  At first I overtook him and said hello, or something like that as I went passed him.  He was friendly enough in his reply and again I smiled to myself.  Just a little further along the road he caught me up and we started chatting.  We exchanged a brief outline of where we'd been, how much we like riding and so on.  He was so pleasant and easy going I remarked on how he'd restored my faith in other cyclists.  Obviously he was a little puzzled with this and so I explained my previous blog gripe and he could identify with that and added he always would greet another cyclist - I believe him.  So, Mike, thank you for restoring my faith in other cyclists and thank you for those all-too-short few miles we rode along with each other.

Lunch break near Wendover Woods

Cycling repair kit

I am trying to get the balance right here in terms of what I should take, just in case there's some kind of problem while I'm out riding.  My normal default approach is to be too light on these things but for now, here's my emergency kit, which is tucked into my compact Carradice Overlander saddle bag.

  • yellow waterproof jacket (if rain is possible)
  • Specialized spare inner tube (free offer from Evans Cycles)
  • Slime Scab puncture repair patches
  • 4 & 5mm allen keys
  • Park Tool tyre levers x2
  • mobile phone (small and very cheap basic Nokia)
  • glasses (I'm long sighted and will need them for any repairs) in a hard case
  • ID
  • small LED headlamp, ideal for any repairs at night
  • latex gloves, handy for not getting oil all over my fingers and then putting normal gloves back on
  • money
  • energy bar
  • frame fit Zefal pump
  • Ordnance Survey map

Runners and Cyclists - friendly or rude?

Perhaps like me, you might have pondered this kind of thing if you've been out running or pedalling yourself already.

Whenever I spot another cyclist or runner I always make some kind of a friendly gesture: perhaps a "hi there!" or a nod, maybe a nod or whatever seems right at the time.  Sometimes the other person will make the first move and I'll always respond in a friendly kind of way.

And yet, I am often astonished at the response.  The range is quite remarkable and ranges from an enthusiastic greeting coming back through to, well, just a blank look or even not to even bother to look across the road.  Perhaps it's a micro version of life, with there being such a wide spectrum of people.  Of course, I do recognise that running and cycling are great ways to just get out there and be on your own without having to bother with other people and all the complications that can bring but it doesn't hurt, does it, to just give some kind of acknowledgement?

I've also wondered what could lie behind this indifference.  Is it some thing I've done wrong?  Do people think I'm some kind of a weird person who is sending a greeting across the road with some dodgy motive?  Perhaps it's because I'm not in the right gang with the right gear?  What would happen if I was in the middle of nowhere trying to repair my bike, or got injured in some way.  You'd like to think someone would stop and offer some kind of assistance.

There are probably some factors that might influence this whole thing.  Some of these could be:

  • What kind of bike you're riding: MTB, road, tourer, hybrid etc
  • How you're dressed: scruffy, casual, Lycra, fashionable team kit etc.
  • Time of day
  • Local cultures
  • Location
  • Age
and so on.....

For now I am not sure there's any common thread.  For myself, I'm just going to carry on with those smiles, nods etc regardless.  Today I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity of a few hours cycling, I'm going to make a mental note of the response from each cyclist I spot!

Friday, 22 April 2011

A little update, a few niggles and some blessings....

Quick update

Lots happening at work, some tensions, stress and all slightly compounded by the bank holiday disruptions.  Some differences of opinion at work over some developmental things but I think I'll win through in spite of being out ranked.  Having a couple of rides during the week and a 7.5 mile quiet run before breakfast yesterday has helped enormously. It really makes all the difference.  I've said before, I do not handle stress very well and having a run or a ride makes all the difference between succeeding and resigning.


You might remember at the end of January I had a fall awhile out running and injured my left hand.  While some recovery has taken place (the soft tissue damage) it is still painful at times when I do some things.  Even simple day to day things like washing my hands with soap and drying them with a towel hurts like anything - but in two small distinct points.  It is aggravated slightly by cycling but not too bad.  I think in spite of what the hospital says, I may have a bone fractured in a couple of places afterall and I'm mindful of going back once more.

Last Saturday I had another fall while I was out running.  It was a similar occurrence in that I just tripped and didn't react quickly enough.  Luckily this time I landed on lots of different bits of my body, each taking some of my weight (both knees, shoulder, head and my left hand).  So that's causing increased pain but could be much worse.

Next was my eye colliding with a tiny fly a few weeks ago, seems to happen quite often in the evenings these days.  I still think there must be a tiny particle stuck in there somewhere.

A few weeks ago I hurt my left foot a little (chasing B&H around while I was wearing my super stiff cycling shoes).  I pulled a muscle and it's aggravated by my NEW running shoes and not my old ones.  Hmmmm I need to give that some thought and maybe a return trip to Aro Sports in Harpenden when I'm next in that area.

Through all of these niggles, my denial of middle age is being challenged but I'M NOT GIVING IN!


It's Easter time and for me in my quiet thoughts it has been a real reminder of what Easter is about.  We know why, as Christians, why Jesus came and was crucified there on that cross, paying the price for my sinful ways.  We have the reality of Easter Sunday to look forward to as a further reminder of Jesus overcoming death and rising again in Glory.

As I left the office yesterday, I popped into the office next to mine where Rodney and Sonia sit.  They're both Christians and we just chatted for a few minutes.  As we left we all said "God Bless" exactly together, not planned, it just came out that way.  We each looked at each other then and just smiled.  It really was amazing timing!

Also, this Easter time I feel really blessed by this lovely weather.  Someone suggested on the radio that this is, of course, the summer of 2011 and it'll finish soon for good.  I don't believe that because we simply don't know.  But for now I'm just enjoying the warmth of the sun against my face, what a lovely feeling.  I love the blossom in all the hedges and that soft hazy pastel sunlight.  I love the odd sneeze from hay fever, reminding me of those bright yellow fields.

I went to have my eyes tested on Tuesday morning, on my way into work at Spec Savers once again.  The result is there's no change in my prescription and my eyes show very good health.  That's great to know and certainly counts as another blessing.

Some of my friends rib me about "you lot in the public sector with all those holidays" but I'm not complaining at all though I reckon many enjoy a higher private sector salary!  What with Easter, the Royal wedding and the Spring Bank holiday, it's a nice break from work and some time with my family.

I wanted to say something about this, my blog, and I'm counting it as a blessing.  Just as I was building up some kind of a following and many hits were coming from search engines favouring me with the first or second page, last weekend I needed to change the URL address without any warning.  When I did that I mailed the new address to a handful of friends who kindly responded (thanks everyone) by clicking the new link and then it all went flat with no more than 1 or 2 hits per day.  I was resigned to really having to be patient and start all over again.  Then yesterday over 30 hits from all around the world!  Now that doesn't mean I'm anywhere near where I was but it's an encouraging start.  So thank you for reading this far.  I'm going to make a real effort to record my progress in an engaging way, so please do come again!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference dried fruit - news

You may already know that I am a real fan of Sainsbury's Taste the Difference dried fruit.  They sell dried apricots, figs and prunes in this delicious range and some featured in previous blog posts

I was a little disappointed last week when I tried to buy some more, only to find they'd vanished from the shelves and the gaps had been closed by something else.  So, I decided to try out the Sainsbury's "contact us" feature on their website.  Within a day or so they phoned having looked into the matter.

They explained there had been supply difficulties which have been resolved and for me not to worry, they'll all be back on the shelves in the first week of May.  Quite a quick and decent response; I'm pleasantly surprised.

In the meantime, I bought a pack of their ordinary Ready to Eat dried figs, in a silver foil package.  Almost as nice, cheaper but contain potassium sorbate.  Is potassium sorbate good or bad for me?  Well there are a number of websites around, each with slightly differing views but I thought this one is worth posting to link to, just click here.

While I was thinking of possible title to this blog, I toyed with the idea of "Well done Sainsburys" and I found another link with this title which amused me.  Clealry Sainbury's not reading their own website contacts....
again, just click here

Sunday, 17 April 2011

What do you think about while cycling?

Asking what you think about might seem a daft question but it's been on my mind earlier today as I had a lovely opportunity to clock up a few more miles.  Really it's a question I've asked myself as I seem to gain much from cycling, both physically and mentally.  So, here goes:

  • I look around me and often enjoy the scenery.  We're fortunate as it takes hardly any time to be in the country lanes, mostly away from cars.  I love the different seasons.
  • I marvel at the wonderful world that's been created for us to live in and often reflect on us messing it up.
  • If there is a meeting or impending conversation coming up, I often rehearse what I'm going to say.  Doing it on two wheels is better than waking up at 3am and doing it!  I then think of different responses to the different things that could be said (it can get quite complicated after a while!).
  • I think of adventurous things I'd like to do or places I'd like to visit (by bike, of course)
  • I reflect on things that have happened recently, as a way of "processing" them in my mind
  • I think about my bike and listen to it - the tyres on the road, the chain whizzing around.  Am I in the right gear, or maybe twisting the chain too much (large chainring to large sprocket, what horror!)?
  • I wonder where that road might go.  Have I got time to find out?

I often feel reflective rather than inspired as I do when I run.  I don't have particularly imaginative thoughts on two wheels but I do when I run.  I do remember things better though.  It does depend a bit on other things - the weather, traffic etc.

All in all, cycling is often very therapeutic for me; a nice way to unwind, to relax and reflect.  I've cycled quite a bit over the last week and, combined with yesterday's morning run, I'm really benefiting but also feeling a tad addicted.

Friday, 15 April 2011

New blog name

My apologies for abruptly stopping Doug's ramblings as it turned out I had inadvertently used the same title as someone else.  He'd been using the title for two more years and it seemed reasonable for me to change the name.

So, congratulations on making it here, especially if you were normally used to reading the old title.

Everything seems to have moved across OK apart from my small list of blogs which I also like to read.  Therefore I'm open to suggestions of other blogs worth following.  I suppose I like to read blogs that might give me some encouragement to carry on plodding and keeping reasonably fit.

I really used to enjoy taking a look at Fiona Outdoors.  I really like her natural writing style as she runs, cycles and more recently swimming.  She seems to have a nice way of putting things, quite funny at times, and certainly seems a very accomplished journalist.  Take a look....

So, suggestions please (via email or comments below) but remember I'm particularly after:

  • Good quality, interesting writing.  No garbage please.
  • Inspiring stories
  • Cyclists / runners like me except they are ideally ahead in achieving something
  • People I can admire and are disciplined, faithful etc
PS Oh dear, looks like the tiny amount of money I'd made from people clicking on the automated ads has disappeared in switching to the new name.  Damn damn and double damn.  

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Fantastic cycling!

I had a couple of days off in the week, hastily arranged towards the end of the previous week.  I was feeling weary through work and I could feel the stress levels starting to climb again but happily not to the danger zone.  So, amongst other things I made sure I had a ride each day.  The first was about 25 miles and around 38 miles on the second.  Today I did 32.

I'm gradually starting to feel a bit fitter with cycling in mind and I do need to build the miles up if I stand any chance of completing 100+ miles in a day before too long.

Again I chose some hilly routes and I can feel they're getting a little easier.  As you know I really like the gears on the Thorn Audax, with the close ratio sprockets at the back and triple chainset at the front,  I keep the small 26T "granny" ring in reserve for when its really steep, something like 1:4, or for when I'm really tired.  The hills are really like interval training in the running world and I feel the real benefits of this.

It's nice having time alone to think things through but it's different when cycling compared to running.  Running brings those flashes of inspiration, along with problem solving.  Of course at the end there's the incredible rush of endorphins.  Cycling tends to be a more reflective time, chewing things over as the the scenery goes by.  I'm finding I need both more and more.

This April is turning out to be a fantastic month for us, weather wise. Sometimes we've had a bit of freaky snow although squally weather is more common.  However, over the last 10 days or so we've enjoyed some high pressure which has brought lots of sun and a crisp air.  I seem to have noticed the hedgerow blossom so much more this year.  Magnolias and \cherry trees are in flower right now - both look splendid and thankfully unspoilt by any high winds.  Rape seed is just starting to appear but I think we'll have a more intense yellow in a week or two.  I know many people dislike these yellow fields but for me, they're wonderful!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

A pleasant 35 miles

Village Pond at Aldbury, Bucks

I've enjoyed my weekend calorie burning efforts.  Started Saturday morning with a run lasting 1 hour, 15 minutes over very familiar hills and tracks.  Slight problem in my left foot, along the mid section on the outside. My theory is I pulled a muscle while running around in my cycling shoes (ill fitting) the previous weekend chasing B & H in a game of cops 'n' robbers.  To alleviate it I found running on the ball of my foot worked well and even better was achieving this meant that I had to run faster!  That might sound fine but I could only keep that pace up for so long.

Nevertheless I really enjoyed the run.  Mentally it set me up for the day as it normally does.  As so often happens, I think of all kinds of things (often quite creative) and then simply forget the moment I get home.  Does anyone ever run with a Dictaphone?

My bike ride this afternoon as again deliberately hilly with going UP rather than DOWN.  Mind you, it was fun and a little scary bombing down the hill into Aldbury from the Ashridge National Trust Estate.  My Cateye claimed 34mph as the maximum speed.  As stable as the Thorn Audax Mk3 is, I felt I was pushing it to the limit but I dare say others will regard this as rather tame.

All in all my ride this afternoon was 35miles and I knew I'd done it!  It shows I need to build up some miles in order to cover, say, 100+ miles in a day.  While yesterday I had that "runners high" feeling, this evening I have a quiet feeling of placidness from the miles today.

Before I forget, it was lovely being able to notice the changing seasons.  The blossom, the breezes, the April showers, the clouds and the lengthening daylight.  All is set for a great year ahead!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Goals to aim for

I've been thinking of setting myself some goals, things to aim for... maybe to achieve these during 2011.

  1. Detox myself - I'm going to look into this
  2. Weigh 10 stone - that's about 10 lbs less than where I'm starting from
  3. Run a marathon - I've secretly wanted to do this for a while but not brave enough to say it
  4. Cycle 100 miles in a day - I've done this before but not in the last 25 years
  5. Read the Bible every day, on my own - we already read as a family at breakfast time
  6. Stretch everyday - I think this is a good thing to do
  7. Floss my teeth every day - I've had 3 fillings this year and I don't want anymore

Friday, 1 April 2011

Listening to Conservative heavyweight Eric Pickles MP

Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
I've had quite an interesting week at work.

Monday - meeting with Colleagues at Headquarters.  Travel costs and Environmental Strategy
Tuesday - stand in for a Colleague at a conference in London (see below)
Wednesday - actually at my desk!
Thursday - meeting with regional Colleagues around a business development project in Cambridge (Moller Centre).  Afterwards, ran gently for an hour into Cambridge and along the river bank.  Stayed the night.  Food was delicious but too much!
Friday - continuation of Thursday.  More delicious food.  Joined by Leaders / Ultimate Decision Makers.  One dissenter, meeting was soured.  Regrouped afterwards for consolidation and licking wounds.

Oh yes, Tuesday, the Conference in London.  I was asked to go as the original plan for a Colleague to go hadn't worked.  At £350 a place and public sector finance being in straitened times, it made sense for someone to go.  Very interesting hearing about Community Based Budgets, building on the Total Place concept and I'm pleased I went.

I was amused by Edward Twiddy (HM Treasury) talking about public money being "Less money but it's more yours" in referring to the need for Whitehall to back off and interfere less.  Music to my ears.

Eric Pickles was fascinating overall.  He arrived late, came in, read his speech, answered some questions and left, almost on autopilot.  This isn't the first time I've seen a high ranking politician behave like this, no matter what party. Really, is this the way to conduct oneself or be re-elected?  Few smiles, little warmth, remote connection with the audience.  I could warm to what he was saying in following the theme of more freedom for local authorities but I think it is fair to say, he wasn't the most charismatic of speakers, really.  If the Government follow through on this approach and it's as good as it sounds, that'll be very good for local communities and as cost effective as people choose to make it.  So far, so good.  A few questions came and the last was answered by a simple "No" followed by the explanation (in his North county accent) "that was a politically motivated question", picked up his papers and stood up;  was swiftly thanked by the conference chair and left.  That, was that.

Now it's Friday evening.  Kids in bed (asleep hopefully), the washing up is done and thoughts of getting back to normal again this weekend without having to be "on-guard" at work.  Lets relax, unwind, potter, daydream, run, cycle and see what happens.