Saturday, 25 June 2011

Cycling at night

Just as everyone was going to bed last night, my friend Wallie and I were unloading our bikes, ready for a ride through the night around the Salisbury Plain area.  Most people think I'm mad for doing this kind of thing but actually it's kind of fun and something a little different.  For eagle eyed readers, we did something like this about a year ago and because we enjoyed that so much, we decided to do it again this year. Click here for 2010 link.

The original plan was to ride through the night and then marvel at the sun rising.  Instead we had the issue of continuous rain with no improvement being forecast.  We were tempted to postpone it but decided to have a shorter ride instead. We'll have another go on a clear night while we're still in the mid summer period, all being well.

What's different about riding at night?
The quick answer is loads of things.  I find the way I sense things will become different at night time.  Have you ever noticed those pockets of cold, damp air when you're riding through the countryside at night?  Sometimes you'll hit them in a dip, or perhaps in a wooded area.  All very atmospheric, perhaps spooky.  That also applies to the mist you'll sometimes encounter and then there's the scents you can smell - wow!  Both of us last night were struck by the beautiful smell of pine as we rode through a wooded area.  Sounds are different, as are glimpses of wildlife.

You can't see the gradient in front of you so easily, so suddenly you find yourself speeding up or slowing down but the road looks flat.  Of course it isn't but you just can't see it, but you can feel it.

Other times when we've had more visibility, the landscape takes on a different quality that can be very beautiful.

Riding with a friend also brings a certain camaraderie and pleasure in sharing the experience.  Sometimes we'd go a mile or two without chatting, just riding alongside each other savouring the ride.  We are fortunate with our natural pace being virtually the same, so we're very comfortable riding with each other - this really helps.

Isn't it dangerous?
No not at all, providing you take a few precautions and take care.  By that I mean having some decent lights, which is obvious really.  That's lights to see the road ahead and to be seen by other traffic you might come across.  Don't forget riding on dry tarmac will bounce far more light back than compared to wet roads.  LED lights these days are pretty bright and they have the advantage of not having a bulb to blow in the normal way.  Batteries last a lot longer as well.  Wallie, as I have come to know over the years, has a keen eye on being thrifty at times but sometimes this doesn't pay off.  He's lost 2 el-cheapo rear LED lights because of flimsy brackets.  So it's really important to get good lights which fit the bike well.  We both had head torches, though mine only came out later when I had a bike problem (see further below).  Again these are available with traditional bulbs or LEDs.

Worth considering whether you prefer to blend in or stand out with your clothing - both have their advantages.....

We found there were only a handful of cars around and those were easy to see coming because of their headlight beams shining from a mile away.  That gives a feeling of security in knowing there's no nasty surprises and allows you time to go single file (and for me, to get on the correct side of the road).

Hazards include wild animals.  Last year we had the odd startled badger run out in front of us.  Country lanes will inevitably have pot holes and these can be difficult to see in time, especially if you're blasting down a hill.  Another country lane hazard is gravel on downhill stretches (this is my worst) which can so easily cause a skid - a front wheel skid is almost impossible to control.  When you're going fast downhill, allow some distance and don't be blinded or dazzled by the rear light in front of you.

Other times it helps to just have some kind of understanding or communication about who goes first or hangs back when you're not riding alongside each other.  For us, this just seems to happen with the minimum of words.

"Wouldn't it be a shame if we had a puncture on a night like this?"
Yes, Wallie, it would.  It's just as well I'm not superstitious because no sooner had Wallie said that, a few yards on I felt my back wheel go over a bump differently.  And then another and then there's a continuous vibration.  I had a puncture.

Bloody Panaracer Tourguard tyres!  Shysters!  Is this bad luck or the norm?  This means I get one puncture every 350 miles nowadays.  This is not good.

Getting it changed was fairly straightforward but interesting to note that out of the handful of cars that went passed, no body stopped to ask if we were okay. The nearest we got to that was a Police car slowing down for a look and then carrying on, presumably we didn't look too dodgy.  Times like this are a reminder of why it is vital to carry one or two spare inner tubes, plastic tyre levers, a pump and maybe one or two other tools.  It was also a time for my LED headlight to prove invaluable and for me, a pair of glasses.

Know where you're going
Last year we had Wallie's green lane diversion (anything to avoid an A road!) which was "fun".  This year's diversion was planned and involved pushing our bikes over a foot bridge to avoid a ford about 15 feet wide and goodness knows how deep.  This was okay this year, Wallie knew where we were going!

Just imagine being in a strange area and having to put your reading glasses on every few minutes to check a route.  Then it rains.  Paper maps and water do not mix very well.  Besides, it's easy to get cold with frequent map-check stops; better to keep pressing on if you can.

Fuel for cycling
Night riding is all very well and you might be enjoying yourself but your body is used to being asleep at this time, not huffing and puffing up hills for several hours.  Important to start off with a "full tank" and of course carbohydrates is the fuel of choice; a slow burn source of energy.  To keep us going we had some bananas and Blackfriars' flapjacks (cut in half size doses).  One of those every 60-90 mins with a drink of Lucozade or plain water is about right.
Stopping for a snack on a convenient bench - white spots are raindrops caught by the flash
It really is important to keep eating and keep moving to avoid getting cold.  Feeling cold also slows your reactions which you can't afford to allow.  Besides, just stopping, turning off your lights and then just listening to the countryside, is sometimes a wonderful thing to do!

I could "wax lyrical" about this forever but I'll just step back here.  If you're tempted to try a rural bike ride, I can recommend it!  Pick a nice dry, still and calm night for the best experience.  Be open minded, allow your senses to wallow in all the new things you'll experience.

Just to conclude:

Your kit

  • Bike checked in daylight before.
  • Take at least 2 spare inner tubes (plus a pump and tools). Be sure you can fix a puncture at night time
  • Good bright lights with new batteries (as primary light source or back-up for a dynamo).  Consider 2 front and 2 rear.
  • Map, glasses, headlight
  • Mobile phone for emergencies
  • Identification

Your clothing

  • Yellow reflective jacket is best. Ideally waterproof and breathable
  • Gloves (maybe mitts) even in the summer it can get really cold at night
  • Decide on shorts or trousers


  • Tell someone where you're going if your alone
  • Spare car key, if applicable
  • Ride quietly - do not get people worried as you pass their houses at night
  • Food - be prepared to hit the "wall" in the small hours.  Take it easy, have something to eat and drink.
  • A camera.  In spite of these really uninspiring shots, there are some great opportunities - especially at dawn 
  • Check out local cycling clubs or CTC groups for an organised ride
  • Remember you'll need to catch up on the missed sleep, so plan for that and avoid driving if possible
  • Allow your senses to wallow in a whole new experience!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Recovery 5

Strange as it seems, I was really looking forward to the Doctor's appointment today.

I explained the hand problem.  He had a prod.  I said it's worse in the cold and much better after a dose of Ibuprofen.  He pulled my little finger about and said "Mmmmmm".

"You've got Digital something Neuralgia".

"What's that?" I asked

"Damage to the nerve itself, jolly painful.  It'll take maybe a year to heal"


"Yes, Ibuprofen for a month and you can wear some gloves when you're cycling".

"So I can cycle then?"

"Yes providing it doesn't hurt you too much"

I changed the subject.

"Doctor, I've run some Half Marathons and I'm thinking about a full Marathon, is that okay with you?"

"Yes of course it is but thank you for asking.  Just train up gradually"

I was still well inside my allotted 10 minutes and I considered whether it was viable to engage in a sport-health conversation.  I looked at him to weigh up if he could be a runner.  Fairly unlikely, though he might have been years ago.  I decided not to, time to go.

So that's brilliant news.  Cycling and Ibuprofen is okay for the next 6 months.  So I'm going to start cycling again now.  Just as well really, my friend Wallie and I are having another all night ride in a few days time.  You might like to take a look at last year's ride click here.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Recovery 4

Following on from some blog posts in March 2011 where I talked about my injured hand, sadly I'm still not completely healed.  There's also been a certain amount of denial on my part.

It all started at the end of January when I was out running, early on a Sunday morning.  I had a fall, caused simply by tripping up on some rough ground which was frozen rock hard.  I landed by squashing my hand under my chest, so the little finger side hit the ground first followed by hand hand curving in on itself.  Hope you can picture that.  Following two trips to the hospital, one x-ray and a follow up visit to my Doctor's surgery, the general opinion was I had damaged some ligaments or tendons and these would take longer to heal than bones.  The Doctor did make a half comment, suggesting the Hospital where I had the x-ray carried out wouldn't necessarily spot a broken bone in a complex structure like the hand.

It is still painful and I'm not sure what is wrong, so I have an appointment tomorrow at the Doctor's surgery.  I'm managed to get an appointment with another Doctor there, one that I've never seen before and who I hope will be a little more interested.

I am now recognising that cycling does aggravate my hand, as does a number of routine ordinary tasks (the worst is drying my hand with a towel - agony).  Consequently I've not cycled for the last two weeks.  I really do miss riding and have withdrawal symptoms kicking in.

So I'll hopefully give an update tomorrow evening.   I'm not sure how interested or concerned the Doctor will be, so I'll consider what the best approach ought to be other than "Good evening Doctor, my hand hurts, I'm not sure what is wrong but please can you fix it?".  We hear a lot about NHS reforms, GP Commissioning Consortia against a history of falling standards and rising costs.   I don't think treating me will assist in the achievement of any public health target (I have learnt much about this fascinating subject over the last year from a professional standpoint with offender health needs), nor am I suffering a chronic debilitating disease.

I am astonished that this injured hand of mine has stopped me achieving what I wanted to do this year.  In February and March even my running was affected but not so now.  I'm disappointed that I've not been able to train for some day-long rides (100+ miles) as I know this is otherwise very achievable.  Once again it is, for me, a matter of trust.  Though I don't necessarily understand the reasoning for this set-back, I must believe it is for the right reason.  I still enjoy running and for slightly different reasons.  I also find myself looking at things more easily from a longer term perspective.  My hand WILL heal; 2011 is just one year.  I trust I will be blessed with many more years to come where I can enjoy cycling more in the future.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Thank God I'm alive!

Me - after my run and high on endorphins

Just back from a run.  Wow.  This is the first run after the St Albans Half Marathon which was just a few days ago.  I feel fantastic and thank God I am alive!

I went out at 8.15pm for about an hour on my Hilly Route number 2.  There had been some rain in the air which was gradually clearing so the air was humid and yet fresh.  I love these summer showers, with soft gentle refreshing rain.  I noticed a few pockets of cold air when I was in the countryside which added to the atmosphere.  Three quarters of the way around, I was running along the edge of an escarpment with distant views over towards the setting sun.  It was awesome seeing the mixture of heavy clouds stretching far into the distance.  Wow it was good.

So, how was I running, after the Half on Sunday?  The answer is better than I thought, I was expecting to be a bit stiff (which I was until I was on top of the first hill) but instead I had a good running form.  My strides were longer, I ran lightly along a footpath, almost tip toeing as I danced along, snaking the edge of a field with the wet grass brushing against my legs.  Further on I was on another footpath where the undergrowth had shot up so high over the last week or two.  Wet leaves were brushing as high as my waist and I was covered in grass seeds.  I had a couple of sprints, forcing myself to take longer strides until it started to hurt, then easing back.

Somehow all the thoughts from the day at work vanished through the run.  I went out replaying the two meetings I'd been in today.  Neither were too tricky but it was good to mentally leave them behind on the trails and hills.

Coming home, along our road I sprinted as fast as I could, turned the corner with just a few yards to our house and eased back to a gentle jog, still panting on for a few seconds more.  Please can I say again, for anyone unsure of running, it works wonders both physically and mentally - try it.  If you're out of shape, don't worry.  Start gradually and slowly build up.  I feel so uplifted once again.  So thank you; another uplifting and wonderful run.  Thank you.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

St Albans Half Marathon 2011

My friend Paul in Birmingham says I'm crazy for running a half marathon.  He'd probably think I'm totally bonkers for actually enjoying it....

You'll know from my previous posts that I'd been really looking forward to the race, even though I knew I could have trained a little more for it.  So why was I standing there, shivering in the rain  feeling full of anticipation?  Surely any sane person would be at home in the dry?  Rachel and the girls would be getting ready for church and why wouldn't I want to be doing exactly the same?    This race is meant to be one with pleasant weather and instead it was pretty miserable.

It turned out to be a wonderful race.  Why? Read on, I'll tell you.

At 10am, rather than hear the starting gun go off, word spread the start was delayed by 20 minutes.  Apparently there was an Elf & Safety issue somewhere on the course.  Grrrr more standing shivering in the rain.  Before long there were loads of fellow men having their last pre-race pee against some nearby undergrowth and I decided to gently jog around to keep warm in the pouring rain. Spectators were retreating under umbrellas.

Then, at about 10.20am we were off.  All the chatting stopped, we wished each other good luck.  The pack was quite tight.  Much heavy breathing going on around me, some huffing and puffing rather a lot.  It wasn't until I'd gone passed the 2 mile sign that I was starting to feel warm and less stiff.  I knew I was being over taken many times and I remember there was a fellow runner who tried to say a few words of encouragement to me, thinking I was going to be struggling up a nearby hill.  That reminds me, everyone seems to think the course is really hilly.  It isn't, just undulating Hertfordshire countryside, nothing too steep or long.  It's often on these hills where people flag, generally the ones who have previously shot passed me.  I decided to try counting my steps as someone in the pre-race huddle had suggested.  "One two three, one two three" and so on.  Yes, that would help for a really steep hill but not necessary yet.

I really enjoyed the course as I couldn't remember it from last year, though there were a few bits I half recognised.

Helpfully there were mile signs and I was trying to work out my speed by looking at my stopwatch as I passed these and in particular, what would be my finishing time?  After a while I figure it might be 1.50.  Not too bad but I must go faster.  And so I did.  At the half way point I started passing other runners, some that had already over taken me!  The rain, by the way, was lovely.  Beautifully cleansing and refreshing - I loved it!

I got to mile 11 and made a real effort to maintain my pace and then there was a young kid with a bowl of jelly beans!  Wow what a hero!  I grabbed a couple (including the last blackcurrant one left!) and plodded on.  As I entered the park I knew the end was close and so I went as fast as I could to the end.  It was great crossing what I thought was the finishing line with people waving and cheering me and a bunch of other runners.  I clocked the time, DAMN a minute later than I wanted so I sprinted further to pass under it.  Then I realised the difference in the gun / chip time and then knew I'd be alright.

So, 2 minutes faster than last year - 1.42.  That's OK but what next?  Gotta go faster and further.

Oh, you Marshalls - you were great!  Many thanks also go to the good folk at the numerous water stations.

I didn't hang around afterwards.  I got cold quickly so I legged it back to my car.

Are you getting the drift of this?  With such 'orrible weather there is every reason to loathe this race but instead it was fantastic.  That wonderful feeling of satisfaction, pain, elation, joy and more pain came flooding in.  I was soaking wet, freezing cold but I loved it!  I had been on a journey with nearly 2000 other runners who were both companions and yet competitors and there to be beaten, just as I was for those in front of me.  It was an emotional and mental journey, as well as one of a physical journey.  It was putting my mind into a different way of thinking, to run, to enjoy it, to be strategic, to be tactical and run as fast as I could.

My result meant I was just in the first Quarter.  Not too bad for a novice 49 year old but I must do better, as any Type A personality should do.  So pleased I did it and I can't wait for the next race!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

St Albans Half Marathon results 2011

I'm like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting for the results to come in - just can't wait.

Well done everyone for such a great event today.  Even the late start and having to stand shivering in the rain didn't seem to matter once we were all underway - it gave many the opportunity to chat to some fellow runners before we all set off.  Well done ARO Runners from Harpenden.

Here's the link:

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Running at dawn - what a privilege

This morning I woke at 4.25am.  At 4.30am I was sitting on our front doorstep putting my running shoes on - simply couldn't do anything else.

There was much birdsong in the air, along with a cool freshness from what must have been a recent shower.  I ran quietly through the nearby streets onto a green lane that begged me to run along.  After a mile, I turned back to run along the edge of a field and then back home.  Just a couple of miles.

I saw nobody else.  No dog walkers, cars, newspaper boys or heard any sign of life, just nature stirring for the day ahead.  I was there, just gliding through, quietly, softly on my own.  It was priceless.

Sitting here back home at the dining room table, I've just finished a coffee.  Although it's a little cool and I'm still in my running gear, I have the French door open so I can hear the birds and smell the fresh air, looking out onto our garden - all beautifully wet, lush and green.  I have it for myself - what a privilege. As much as I love all of the different seasons here in England, I do, just for now, wish it could be like this all year 'round.

And if it wasn't for tomorrow's race, I would have carried on for miles but I had to resist the temptation.  I hope I haven't caused myself any problems for tomorrow, surely a short gentle run will be Okay.

ARO Sports update

This afternoon I stopped in Harpenden to go into my favourite running shop only to find it was closed and empty.  According to a neighbouring shop, they've had to leave as times were difficult.

That's a real shame, if you've read my review (March 2011) you'll know it had a lot going for it in terms of personal attention and service.  As good as some mail order companies are, they don't do a Gait Analysis to help you choose the right shoes or give you the advice, local information and all those useful snippets of advice.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Running in the rain

In preparation for this Sunday's St Albans Half Marathon, I had my long run last weekend and I'm now enjoying just a short run most days before breakfast.  These short runs are about 3 or 4 miles; a nice easy pace perhaps with a 50 yard sprint at some point for the fun of it.  I'm feeling fairly loose and supple when I run at the moment which I'm sure is helped by frequent running, rather than distance.  I haven't been stretching much lately and my weight is around 10st 5lbs (feels about right but I might drop a bit further after the Half Marathon).

When I went running on Wednesday, there were just a few spots of rain in the air and it seemed quite pleasant; certainly refreshing.  While I was running along a near by trail, I could feel the long wet grass brushing against my legs and it seemed nice.  Gradually the rain got heavier and was in full flow when I got home.  It was fantastic!  I was wet, who cares?

This now is opening up a whole new running possibility in my mind.  Sometimes in the past I have planned to go for a run early in the next morning, only to find it is wet and I end up not going, yielding to the temptation of that extra cup of tea in bed.  Now I'm starting to see it differently.

There seems to be a certain beauty that's there which I haven't realised before.  I've enjoyed running through mist  before, which seems to have its own magical quality when the sun is trying to shine through.  So maybe there's something I've got to try out just to see what one of my more usual 6 or 7 mile hilly runs are like in the rain.  Then there's the different kinds of rain to consider and I bet they're all great in different ways - from the gentle drizzle through to the monsoon-like downpour.

I just can't wait!

Monday, 6 June 2011

St Albans Half Marathon - training underway

It's really good having a target once again, now less than a week before the race in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

A few days ago I went for an early morning run lasting about 90 minutes.  This was an easy paced run involving a few hills.  Felt fine and wanted to do a bit more but I did manage to get a blister.  Getting a blister is rare for me and usually a sign of taking smaller steps which in turn is probably caused by tiredness.

This morning I went for a faster Tempo run - this is where I warm up slowly with a gentle jog for about 5-10 minutes.  Then a brisk pace for 20 minutes before returning to a gentle jog in the last few minutes.  This is completely different and much harder than Interval running I find  It is Interval training which gets me really out of breath but feels great.  Temp running just wears me out but I know it's good training.

I always worry I am not in a good shape.  It's tempting to over do it in the final days before a race but I don't want to risk an injury.  So I'll have a few short runs over the next few days to keep loosened up.....

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A tribute to my family

Just a brief departure from my usual ramblings, as I wanted to thank my family for their support in my quest to keep fit.

I know I disappear from the house for runs and rides, I know they patiently listen to me recounting those outings.  They don't complain too much about sweaty tops and socks fermenting in the wash basket.  They put up with my little pep talks concerning the need for a nutritious diet and the perils of junk food.  They tolerated my Thorn Audax moving into the hall when I first got it (though since relegated to the garage).

I'm thankful and blessed in having such a supportive family.  Thank you so much; it makes all the difference.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Thorn Audax Mk3 - my first 1,000 miles

Please be mindful that I bought just the frameset from Thorn Cycles / SJS Cycles and had it built up at a Local Bike Shop (LBS).  The LBS used some components that may differ from the complete bikes supplied by Thorn but it is a long similar lines.

Before I go into all the details, I'd like to say that this is a really great bike and without doubt a good choice for me.  Secondly I'm really disappointed in myself for not being able to clock up more miles in the last 5 months.  If you're a regular reader you'll know how an injured hand caused me to stop riding for several weeks and it still prevents me from riding as much as I should.  That's the challenge: it's a fantastic bike that begs to be ridden and yet I know I have to allow my hand to heal properly.

I digress, back to the bike.  Here's a review which I hope will be of use to anyone interested in this kind of bike.  It's worth bearing in mind that there are a number of alternatives which I'm sure will have their merits; the light touring bike seems to be popular these days, though probably terms such as "sportive", "audax" or "training bike" may have more street cred with some cyclists.

The frameset
The frameset, the heart of the bike, is where it all springs from and I reckon it's worth spending an appropriate amount of money to get this right from the outset.  Please click here for Thorn Cycles for all the technical details.  It is supplied complete with a headset and a seat post which contribute to this being good value.  Before I rode the bike I looked over the frame.  It was flawless.

I like many of the thoughtful touches.  There are a number of braze-ons which are all very worthwhile:

  • Pump peg on the seat stay
  • Two sets of bottle cages
  • Four point fixing for a rear pannier rack
  • Low rider fixing points on the front forks
  • Slotted cable guides
  • Mudguard eyes
I was impressed to find the mudguard mounting is threaded; not just for the eyes for the stays but also on the bridging tubes on the seat and chain stay tubes - this is nice as well as functional in avoiding the use of those nasty mudguard clips.  Again, a lesser bike manufacturer could economise there and you'd never think to ask about this in the shop (well, I wouldn't!).

I appreciated the small bottle of touch-up paint and I've already had to use this.  I have also found the gear cable casing rubs against the head tube (just because of the natural curve) and so I've used a little gaffer tape to stop any more paint wear.

It handles beautifully overall.  It has a nice lively sporty feel compared to my 1984 Dawes Galaxy.  Also it's nice and stiff, useful when stomping down hard on the pedals.  And yet it's not too sporty either; it's stable on fast down hill swoops (I've hit 38mph a few times) and yet has that steel frame springiness to make long rides less jarring.

I'm pretty sure this is the same as what is offered by Thorn as a complete bike.  Deore chainset with 48, 38 and 26T chainrings, combined with a 9 speed cluster of 12-26T.  The mechs are Shimano XT at the front and Deore at the rear.  The shifters are the bar end type, indexed for the rear only.  The chain is a 9 speed KMC with a quick link.

The performance is impressive.  It changes so fast and smoothly (compared to what I was used to) and remains the case.  It has retained perfect adjustment with only the need to tension the rear cable once.  The range of gears is lovely, though in practice I've not had much need to use the 26T chainring but it's nice to know it's there.  I'm sure there will come a time when I appreciate it being there.

The choice of shifters was something I dithered about.  I got put off STI shifters because of their complexity against the long term simplicity of the bar end alternative.  They work fine though it still does not seem a completely natural place for shifters to be.  The STI ones seemed really comfortable when I tried them.  Perhaps for this comfort reason, I might go for those if ever I need to replace the bike in the future.

I have the same 32h Mavic Open Sport rims.  After the initial bedding in period they were trued and have remained perfectly true for hundreds of miles (including a few bumpy trails, fully loaded).  The Miche hubs are different and a suggested upgrade by my LBS.  These are fully sealed cartridge bearings, replaceable of course.  They're light, ultra smooth and reckoned to be better than the Shimano equivalents.

The Panaracer Tourguard tyres are fine with nice handling and grip.  They're not heavy and I'm confident they're a good choice.  I have, however, had two punctures but looking at the offending glass and thorn I think they can be forgiven.
The tyres are perfect on the rims and at 28c they're a sensible size for all round use.  I doubt if there's much scope for wider tyres though,

As for wear, you can see just a little wear in the picture but that's after 1000+ miles on the rear.  So therefore I guess there's another 3000 miles.  You can get cheaper tyres but it's just not worth it over that number of miles.

Contact points
The LBS used Cinelli bars and stem with the sizes based on those in the brochure, with the offer of changing them free of charge if the need arose.  No such need cropped up and they're fine, though a little wider than what I was used to.  These though are, I'm sure, the correct width.

The pedals are the Shimano clip less, carried forward from my old bike.  They're fine apart from being single sided.  Even though they cost, from memory, £35ish, and have done thousands of miles, they're still smooth, in perfect adjustment and therefore good value.  I hate the Specialized shoes but that's a subject for another time.

I went for a Brooks B17 saddle as I already had one on the old bike.  I just like it and appreciated being able to still get something like that.  The LBS doesn't usually stock them, "no demand" they say.  Shame. If people think a cheap squishy plastic saddle is the route to comfort, I reckon that's a mistake.  I also like taking care of the Brooks saddles with an occasional wipe of Proofhide - a kind of ritual.

These are the standard issue Shimano ones and are fine but only adequate in terms of their stopping power.  Maybe better pads would help.  They have stayed in perfect adjustment.  One other observation is that the pads are at the bottom of the slot and only JUST sufficiently far down enough to miss the tyre.  Another 1 or 2mm wouldn't go amiss.

Other bits
I had a Cateye Strada wireless computer for my birthday, a while after I got the bike.  It's great, I love it!
The Nimrod rack is too flexible and will be replaced before too long. I do like having a proper fixing plate for the rear Cateye light, so that's good.  Yep, I'm disappointed in this rack as it seems to be made with a one-size-fits-all approach which is undoubtedly useful on some bikes but not this.  It just sways from side to side too much.   The mudguards in the top photo got replaced as they were too wide for the forks and flapped around - I went for some narrower SKS mudguards with two sets of stays.  I think the original ones were Blumels Commuter type, grrrrrr. Nothing less will do and they're not expensive.

This bike is great, no doubt.  I'd buy another if it got nicked, crushed or whatever but I'd ponder some of the details once again.

As for the elusive question of whether it has that certain "something" where I feel totally in tune with it, I'd have to say "no, not quite, not yet".  That is partly due to my injured hand, naff shoes and whether STI levers would be more comfortable.  But they're only details which can be dealt with as-and-when.  This bike holds great promise and I look forward to getting my money's worth over the next 25 years.

Any comments, questions?
Just leave me a Comment below....

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Are my running shoes worn out?

Asics Gel 1150 heel after 800+ miles
I was a bit sceptical when I was told my new running shoes were only good for 500-600 miles when I bought them in ARO Sports.  Easy to think that is a sales ploy.  It isn't.

The wear you can easily see is an obvious sign, as in the above photo.  Before the wear becomes obvious there are a few other tell tale signs which are worth considering:

  • Clean the soles, look out for any damage
  • Look carefully for any tiny cracks appearing on the edge of the sole
  • Press the sole in with your thumb, does it squash more easily than when they were new?
  • How are your knees and ankles?  If they ache after a run when you're used to running a particular distance, your shoes could be the reason.

I once remember running and having knee problems which I just couldn't explain, so I went back to ARO Sports thinking I needed some inserts or something.  Not so.  I needed new shoes they said.  A little sceptical I nevertheless bought new shoes and the problem instantly disappeared.

Earlier this week, I went for an early morning run and I could only find an old pair of running shoes with the curtains still across the windows.  The following day I felt really achy with my hips complaining the most.  The reason - those old shoes.  Next day I ran the same distance on my using my newer shoes and the problem disappeared.  So it is true, running shoes like Asics, Saucony and so on are only good for 500-600 miles, maybe more if you're lucky.

DW Sports Fitness review

A while back I gave notice to the gym that I was quitting and yesterday was the last visit, hence my review.  The reason for quitting is simply a result of my hand injury and I've hardly been in the last few months.  In previous years I have put my membership on hold for the summer months, which I could have done this time but decided I could save some money instead.

For the busy reader - my review is positive....
  • Would I re-join?  Maybe, probably.  Next time, I would check out their competition more thoroughly and maintain the balance right between cost and quality
  • Value for Money?  Yes providing you make the most of what's on offer.
  • Is it any good?  Yes I reckon, definitely but I have no experience of other gyms
  • Any draw backs?  Yes but probably not too serious
The details.....

  • In the gym there is a really good selection of machines including muscle building, cardio etc. Also "Easy Line" equipment which I think is for less able people , or just starting out 
  • The staff are trying hard to develop the business (most of them)
  • Equipment appears well maintained but not perfect
  • Normally fairly clean
  • They seek feedback and seem to act on it
  • Most staff are friendly
  • Climate level is about right
  • Steam room is a nice feature
  • First Aid response - once I witnessed the alarm going off as someone had had a mishap in the pool area.  There was an announcement over the tanoy system and all the staff responded at high speed.  Reassuring.
  • Good selection of classes (which I regret I haven't tried)
  • Good opening times
  • Good fitness plan and reviews (changed since I joined)
  • Pool and especially the steam room 
  • Some people find it a very sociable environment as friends go together and enjoy training together.  I don't operate like that.... I go there, do my stuff and go.  I like being an anonymous face if I want to be like that

  • Sometimes it gets really crowded (especially Monday & Tuesday evenings)
  • Public service discount not mentioned when I joined - I found out by chance later on.  Could have saved quite a lot of money
  • Bad behaviour of some customers, bad language, aggressive atmosphere in men's changing room sometimes
  • Mobile phones still get used in changing room, despite the prohibiting notice
  • Loud music which is mostly the same dribble.  Sometimes it's so loud, I have to turn my own ipod up so loud I fear ear drum damage
  • Trainer role is unclear having changed
  • Not always very clean in the showers and changing rooms towards the end of a day
  • The shower gel provided sometimes runs out
  • Signs of wear and tear not fixed quickly enough - blown light bulbs, broken locker keyrings, some gym machines

Other observations

In 2008 when I started at DW Sports I was over weight and stressed out, as you will have seen elsewhere in the blog.  There were lots of other people like me who were there already and so, although I may have felt a little self conscious there first of all, I must have blended in easily. 

In the early days I met with one of the trainers who gave me a programmes to follow, it was personalised for me and I was shown how to use the various machines and the weights, times, number of reps etc were all suggested.  I think the trainer had me sized up well as I had to work really hard then to do the exercises.  I suppose it involved a little bit of everything - cardio, resistance and so on but using a limited selection of machines.  I remember being told some of the machines were in pairs to work sets of muscles, also to warm up properly and cool down for a very gentle 5 minutes on a cross trainer.  With her approval, I would ignore that if I cycled there as it served the same purpose.  I guess it was this initial session that might have been crucial in giving me an all-round programme together with starting to understand some of the basic principles of fitness which opened the door to finding out more in the future.  So a big "thank you" for that.  I hope this still happens with the more recent changes at DW Sports.

From my initial general fitness programme, I found that it was running I like best of all (the rest follows from that) and pounding literally hundreds of miles on treadmills was very helpful.  On one level it is incredibly boring but there are advantages which I'll cover in another post sometime.  It also gave me a "people watching" opportunity where I would be mentally putting people into various groups - posers, would-be iron men, the flirters and so on.  

The group that was the most fascinating were the newbies and I could see myself amongst them in the early days.  They're in new sports clothing, fashionably modest.  Purposefully striding from one machine to another, while drinking from their sports water bottle.  Probably with a small towel and an MP3 strapped to their left arm.  The most obvious give away was them being in their 30s or 40s and over weight and moving awkwardly and with a real effort when it came to treadmill running.  They'd often do 10 minutes or so and then go onto something else, looking somewhat flushed and red faced.  I could see myself in them so easily!  And yet it must have been an encouragement for me - that was me a while ago and a chance to reflect on my progress.
    • DW Sports were very important in facilitating my progress but I only realise that now
    • You can only get something worthwhile out of a fitness club like DW Sports if you're prepared to put the hours in.  For someone who has enough time, maybe 10-20 hours a week, I reckon you could make some serious progress in 6 months to shift that surplus weight and transform yourself.  Ignore any niggles there (better still, report them), rise above them and just concentrate on getting fit, burning away those calories and flab.  Don't let any niggles be an excuse not to go and get fit!
    • I regret not making the most of the facilities - especially the classes which are free once membership is paid
    • I might re-join in the winter (instead of running and cycling on cold, dark, icy roads)
    Website link

    These are just my views as an (ex) customer.  I'm not a qualified fitness instructor and it's just based on my experience.  If you're reading this and want to get fit, it is for you to decide how best to go about this but I recommend taking proper advice as I did.  For some, it might be wise to talk to your Doctor first.

    Extra - 29th August 2011  I just wanted to add I have on a couple of occasions tried to get a response from DW Sports about this blog post - just to make sure it is factually correct and to help me avoid misleading anyone.  They have not responded which I think is a poor show and disappointing.