Sunday, 25 March 2012

Binge running

I'm one of those little and often drinkers, ie I quite often have a glass of Merlot or a pint of bitter, but rare are the times when I have a second. Mrs M, on the other hand, sometimes goes for weeks without touching a drop, but then on a night out will put enough away to down a medium-sized pony. I'm not judging that, it's just not what I like to do.

In the last couple of days, however, I seem to have taken a leaf out of her book when it comes to running. As regular readers will know, I've been off my feet in recent weeks due to grumbling tendons, ligaments and whatever other connective tissue exists in my right leg. I'm off to the physio on 2 April for a proper diagnosis, but rest did seem to have done some good recently, so on Thursday I had a test run - nothing challenging, two and half miles or so.

Apart from a bit of stiffness, unsurprising after 6 weeks of no running, everything seemed ok within reason, so on Friday night a combination of two things got me planning a longer outing for Saturday morning: the weather forecast (it's been just as superb here as most other places), and the book I'm reading at the moment: Mad Bad and Dangerous to Know, Ranulph Fiennes' autobiography. I'm not a big reader of biographies or autobiographies normally, but Mrs M recently brought back this little work of genius from a jumble sale for 20p. Reading about the privations and hardships he's endured over all his polar expeditions has been quite humbling, and inspirational in the sense of motivating me to get out there.

So yesterday morning I was out of the house for 7, and over the next 2 hours ran just under a half-marathon, but with 1,500 feet of climbing, to the top of Shutlingsloe in fact, my favourite local peak. I was stiff and sore in the last few miles, so did something I know elite athletes do quite regularly, but I'd never tried before - I had an ice bath (well, a very cold one at least). And blow me, it seems to work, because although I was a bit sore this morning, I was out there again - not quite as far at 10.5 miles, but another 1,000 feet or so of climbing. I have, therefore, on the back of no running for 6 weeks, over the course of two runs covered the distance of a marathon, but with a load of ascent chucked in too. Man, I'm going to suffer tomorrow morning - if DOMS is the athletic equivalent of a hangover from binge drinking, I suspect I'm going to have a doozy of a morning-after.

It will have been well worth it though - standing on top of Shutlingsloe at 8 am yesterday, watching the mist below me begin to be burned off by the warming sun, and so the peaks of the buildings on the Cheshire Plain emerging like periscopes, with a fantastic choon in my ears, well, it was most agreeable. I should have taken a picture on the iphone to post here - worth a thousand words and all that. Plenty of opportunities for that await though - hard to believe it's still only March. Anyway, I hope I've turned a corner this weekend, the bingeing can stop and a sensible steady intake can resume....

Monday, 19 March 2012

Double-dip Depression

You know the regular (and dull) debate about whether Britain is going to have a "double-dip" recession? (Where a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth in GDP, and a double-dip recession is whether you have two of those events separated out by one or more quarters of GDP growth. Sorry about the explanation; it's rare my economics degree comes in useful these days). Well, at the moment we seem to be avoiding that by the skin of our teeth. My training, however, is definitely having a double-dip, and whilst that's not because of my mental health, as you might be led to believe by the title of this post, it is having an effect roughly in that direction.

I'm working at home today, just like I was on Friday. That's four consecutive days at home when I could have trained. And yet, I've done nothing, zero, zip, etc. I've been looking for the reasons why, particularly in the light of the fact that several riding buddies were off doing their first century sportives this weekend.

The reasons aren't hard to find: lack of a short- or medium-term goal, no training plan. These equate to no motivation - I need to have something to aim at; mindless training or gym-going are not my bag. So why don't I just sign up for some sportives or audaxes? Two reasons: the first is that I'm off to the physio on 2nd April to get my right leg problem diagnosed and some work started on it, and I'm reluctant to both threaten the improvement I can feel in it, or start cycling training when I could be back on two feet in a fortnight. The second is "done that, been there" syndrome. Of course I haven't ridden all the available sportives, or audaxes, or even the majority, and certainly not all the interesting ones, but I just can't get excited by the thought of riding my bike 100 miles on UK roads, not even nice, picturesque, interesting ones. I did that for a good few years, and whilst the rides would still be very hard work, I can't get past that "so what" feeling.

I need something new. So, I signed up this morning to do a 300 km Audax that starts at 11 pm. Yes, that's the 11 o'clock at night time, rather than dateime.  I've never ridden through the night and into the dawn - now that sounds interesting. I'll do that in April unless the physio explicitly bans me from riding. I also saw on Countryfile last night something called 'adventure racing', which looks like a mixture of cross-country running, mountain biking, and orienteering. That looks fun too.

If I'm completely honest I also got a bit distracted over the weekend.  The house needs some work on it; all my eventing over the years has restricted the amount of time I've spent doing maintenance, and there comes a time in every man's life when he just has to re-gloss his bannisters. I also went car hunting - I will shortly have to buy one, and whilst I'm trying to not spend too much money on one, I've got a pretty restricted list of what I want, and that means travelling round a bit. Unlike other people, I enjoy it too. I would have bought one yesterday had I not been beaten to the punch by about 30 minutes.

Right - enough lunchtime wasted with this nonsense, I'm off to try to get my work done in time to at least create the possibility of pulling on some lycra later...

Monday, 12 March 2012

Speculate to accumulate

Sometimes you have to take a step backwards, sideways, downwards, or spend some money or time buying or doing things you don't really want to, just so that you can move on to a different, and with a bit of luck, better place. So it's been this week, both at work and with the cycling.

I can't go through the whole detail of what's going on at work, as I'd hoped to this week when I wrote last week's post, as negotiations with the boss are ongoing. I don't think any Lloyds colleagues read this blog, but I can't take any chances, so I must remain cryptic and obtuse for a while longer.

The cycling, however, is a different story. I've never really worried about having the latest/best/lightest kit, as I've always been fortunate enough to be fit and light enough for it not to matter too much in the events I'm taking part in. This year is a bit different, partly because my riding steed and its bits are another year older, and partly because I know now that I just won't be getting the volume of riding in that have in times past. So I'm going to need some artificial assistance in the form of better kit.

I can't bring myself to buy a whole new bike, because the money I'd spend on a new frame would buy me pathetically disproportionately small benefits in terms of handling, weight and stiffness, matron. I'm therefore going to upgrade the one I've got. On Tuesday I did what I usually do in times like these, and called a lunchtime conference with my Principal Advisor - Bicycling Conundrums, in London village. We had a lovely hour talking wheels, saddles and stems. I haven't actually taken the plunge and bought anything yet, but the time will come. I might know what I want in terms of components, but now comes the vitally important job of ensuring that they fit from an aesthetic as well as an engineering point of view.

There's been very little riding to speak of this week, not helped by a lovely weekend in Edinburgh. Any day now I am going to have to knuckle down, but I can feel enthusiasm levels building, not least because the first signs of spring springing are becoming evident. And there's nothing like a bit of new kit for firing your enthusiasm, which means spending money; speculating to accumulate a bit of cycling performance indeed.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Change your mind

Edward de Bono once wrote that "if you can't change your mind, why have one?", and I've been doing quite a lot of mind-changing recently, some of it other people's, most of it my own. The biggest change has no place in this post, but certainly will get an airing next week, for reasons that will become apparent. Nothing like a good teaser is there? Though those closest to me know what's coming. Trailing home a long way home in second in the change-your-mind stakes is that I, regrettably and regretfully, have decided to drop out of the Shakespeare Marathon on 29th April. As I mentioned during the week, the right leg problem is proving impervious to rest, so even if it were to clear up in the next few days, I've now missed too much training to allow me to have a reasonable expectation of breaking the 3.5 hour target I'd set myself. And whilst I'm happy to do bike events without any particular target other than enjoying myself, the same isn't true of marathons - to make that pain worthwhile I need a clear sense of achievement at the end.

So, I'm going to get some physio on the leg, and hope it clears up enough to at least do the White Peak Half Marathon in May with t'eldest when, to the probable disbelief of some reading this, I will stay with her all the way round and finish at the same time as her. No, honestly.

The silver lining to the very grey cloud that is my leg (I hate having injuries) is that it's enabled me to get back on my bike again. Apart from a little discomfort in the first few minutes there doesn't seem to be any problem with 'regular' riding, so the training for August/September's event can start earlier than planned.

(Said event = http://www.pyractif.com/cycling-packages/road-c2c-max-strength.html = quite scary; a whole new world of suffering)

I knew this a couple of weeks ago, so I packed the bike in the car for the week or so in France I had recently, again as I mentioned in the week. It was a bit of a shock to the body going out on fully-fledged rides having not ridden in four months, and equally significantly, having already done 5 or 6 hours of physical work on the days I went out. I was working on taking down about 300 feet of garden fence, and putting up a new one. Man, it was hard work, combining grunt and muscle getting the new posts in, with accuracy and problem solving, not least buying all the necessary materials at a French B&Q. I loved it though; I was out in the middle of absolutely nowhere with nobody apart from Venard, the local farm dog, for company. It was crisp and cool, but the sun shone all day, and the job went smoothly. I tell you, I'm ten men now when it comes to practical stuff.  A bit like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPBP50dXcsk

And so, with limbs already aching and hands suffering the effects of misplaced hammer blows, I went out riding. We're lucky enough to be only about 11 miles from one of the highest points in Brittany.  Now that's not saying a lot, but it does have a pretty steady climb up to it from three different directions, and most impressively, it's got a sign at the top familiar to those of us who've ridden up French hills:



Yes, it's a Col!  As proved by me when we across there at Christmas. So, it's a riding magnet if you want to test out your legs. I did it twice, once from the Tredaniel direction and once from Plessala, for those who can be bothered to let at Google Maps/Earth. I knew the legs weren't great when I had to drop into the inner ring on the first ascent, but on the second I stayed in the big ring and churned, creating a price my stiff back paid next morning. No matter, it was fantastic to be back in the saddle, out in the sunshine, and in France. Riding between 4 and 6 pm on a bright Tuesday afternoon in February on very rural roads in northern France is, to my mind, about as close to existential perfection as you're likely to get. Apart from perhaps cresting the top of Tourmalet, or cruising through the Pas de Calais on a warm September morning, or....you get the idea. A theme has emerged.

The rides were topped off with a deep, hot bath, several glasses of red wine, and some admiration of my new fence. It doesn't take a lot to please me really does it? I managed another couple of rides that were bumpy in the extreme, though with no sustained climbs like the one above. I can't tell you anything else about them particularly because I was already in France by the time I noticed that my bike computer battery had packed up during the winter. So I took no map, I had no computer, although I had a mobile in my pocket because I was where I was it was useless to all intents and purposes, and no-one was expecting me home (Mrs M didn't arrive till I'd been there a few days). More joy; no data, no deadlines, no expectations, no-one to worry about. I don't think I'm cut out to be a full-time hermit, but I sure as heck like to be a part-time one every now and again. INTJ after all, I think we can assume (google MBTI if you're uninitiated).

After the complete freedom of riding the roads of Brittany, I've been back to the measured and sterile environment of my garage since I got home. Not fun, but very effective. I had planned to go out on the mountain bike today, but my badassness wasn't flourishing, so when the rain turned to snow about 8 am this morning, I changed my mind. Which brings me back to where I started....
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