Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas yoga and swimming recovery

I have spent 2 days feeling like an old person. After swimming I drowned my green lungs in a small, Italian beer before being annihilated at Scrabble. On Monday TSK drove us home then I wilted under the duvet whilst he went out for a ride. On Tuesday I wilted under the duvet whilst TSK went out for another ride.  Like an old person, though, I did have a trip to the dentist and the doctor, just for some company... and fillings.

And I started a new knitting project.

After a prolonged day of knitting and sleeping we retreated to the Chinese takeaway for Christmas indulgence of a different kind. As I stood in the queue my legs started itching to move and I actually had to go out and pace up and down the street to feel better. Perhaps the illness is turning around. Sadly, after big food and TV the coughing was back. Not productive cough because you feel like it but annoying, tickly cough because you need to coughing.

I took it to bed and floundered. Literally until i finally suppressed it enough to sleep and woke at 8:30 with a bad back. Clearly been lying in the same position for 8 hours to avoid stirring the lungs.

I couldn't face another day lay on the sofa / bed / chair / floor so packed my swim stuff after breakfast and headed for the one place I have been comfortable doing any exercise this holiday - a nice chlorinated pool.

I didn't feel like it but I felt like doing nothing even less. Once in I started to wait for my body temperature to adapt but then concluded that the best approach was to let rip.

I had planned to do 12 lap sets, increasing on Sundays 300m sets by 33/25 times. I didn't know how much that was but it felt like it might be doable. First time around it was enjoyable. I hit 12 laps before I knew it and had to make myself rest. The next set I focused on pointing my toes since I noticed I wasn't doing it. Also if there's a time to use my legs in swimming it really has to be the time when I am unable to get out on the bike.

It made a difference - mainly that my breathing went to pot - but I was looking at my watch after 6 laps which (phew) turned out to be 8 as the next lap slid over to 10 and the 12 was done.

On the last set I kept count. I was tiring towards the end of the set but hey, I felt like I had more left in me. It was fine though. It's about consistency now and I want to be able to go again tomorrow - whether it's a swim or my beloved turbo.

I swam one more length to the end of the pool for my swan dive - pushing the boat out and flying in the face of fear that my sinuses would explode (they didn't).

With all that excess energy I decided to do my yoga at the gym instead of facing the prospect of my chilly loft when I got home.

Much to my dismay (ahem) the Sheffield Eagles rugby club were doing a spin session and I had to use all of my yogic strength to ignore their whoops and grunts as their coach led them through a gruelling spin set. However no amount of concentration could prevent me breaking out into a wide grin when they all started singing along with Justin Beiber's "Love Yourself". I was pretty impressed with the harmonies on 18 guys with legs the size of your average tree-trunk.

I mused over the yogic precept to 'speak no cruel words' and how difficult that is when the gymnasium offers such prime fodder.

The rugby team went home and I finished my set in peace, taking an indulgent moment to walk out without having touched a single machine. I also gave inner kudos to the man twice the size of me who joined me on the mat for a brief time to demonstrate his far superior flexibility.

The workout fired me up and felt much more beneficial than yesterday's slob-fest. I did shopping, household stuff I have been putting off forever and I felt like I earned this time, sitting on the sofa feeling fine.

Trepid Explorer, off to enjoy doing the dishes.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Closing out 2015 early

It's nearly the end of the year. We are supposed to take stock aren't we? Out with the old, in with the new. New Years resolutions. I should be ready for one last indulgence then a new year, new me.


I did a tiny bit of indulging before Christmas.  I had one night out during which I realised that I like my colleagues a lot - even enough to stay out drinking till 1:30 am with them... but after that I was tired.  I picked up a cold which has now manifested into a lovely green chest infection and I am done with over- indulging.  Christmas for me has been a time of getting together with family, a fairly modest meal with my mum and dad and another one with the Rodgers clan before retiring gracefully into a coughing heap of flegm and relaxation from which I see little return over the next week.  I am, in a word, fooked.

It's greedy to imagine that any new me will continue.  I have had a new me all year. Courtesy of our lovely nhs service who perceptively diagnosed that for 24 years, the contraceptive pill has been ruining my health. Having escaped out of the other end of a near-miss illness I have been improving in ever-lasting cycles, not sure entirely how long it will last.  Turns out, until Christmas.

The cold has charmed its way into my chest and left it rumbling like a cauldron overflowing with the green stuff. Amazingly it is the first time I have been ill all winter which makes me happy, although I could have done with it holding off until after Ripley cyclocross and the nationals, quite nicely if you pretty please. But it's not worth me sweating it, I am ill and that is that. Please don't tell me I will be well rested because I just came out of a rest period. I am just going to be weedy and aerobically screwed when I come out of this. I think the national championship race is going to be about me finishing which, for the first time ever, will be an improvement on last year when my calf muscle locked into a tiny ball like a baby hedgehog and refused to come out, leaving me with a 1st time ever DNF.

So, looking forward short term is no fun. Looking forward longer term is indecisive still. It is difficult to get excited about committing to a long term goal while feeling like death on toast, when short, involuntary whimpers emit from my throat when I move. But a long distance bike rally in Southern Europe is somewhat driving my ambitions once I can get off the sofa.

I have read and explored more deeply into my yoga practice this year and am hungry to develop. Clarity, focus and meanings sneak into everyday corners of my life where before there was an empty void.

This is why I won't be looking forward in 2016. Last year I trained without planning it and I can't see next year being that much different.  I set out with two goals in mind - to have fun and to keep doing it.  I ended up within a whisker of an age grouper's place on team GB and incredibly proud of myself for doing so.  The cyclo-cross season has gone equally well with fifth and sixth place finishes in national events and I still feel there's so much more I have to offer... if I can just shake the flu.

So here it is, my one bout of belly-button gazing for 2015...

Remember when it used to snow in England in winter?  Well, Glyn Hopkins came out for a play in the snow with me.
After dining out on English snow we went to Austria for some more.
I think I hibernated in March but we had some nice sky.
As the days got lighter in April, I was on site in Kent and Bird-watching became a side-effect of my running addiction.

All that running put me in good stead for the surprisingly sunny Whinlatter Extreme Duathlon in April where an 18 mile MTB warm up was suddenly a real thing.
In May, the weather took a turn for the worse and whilst away with Norton Wheelers we took a beating in the hills in the pouring rain before retreating to the sanctity (if you can call it that) of High Force, before indulging in a rest-day of shopping and driving... what a pair of old biddies?
In May we said an emotional (two fingers salute) goodbye to the Vanu and hello to the tipi...

...which we used to its full effect.
The roads in Wales were kind to me for the Triathlon season
In July we experienced similar fair weather for excursions on bike, foot and in wetsuit around the Scottish Highlands.

August saw a visit from royalty
and I had the opportunity to race the Tri relays with this motley crew before the big race in September - the Bala Triathlon - took me to some proper mountain scenery after an indulgent few days of luxurious recovery.
My last happy rides with Phoenix before she retired from competitive cyclo-cross
At the end of September, I was very proud to make it onto the podium for the 3 Peaks cyclo-cross for all the wrong reasons.  My dad, riding his 40th race should have been decorated with some kind of medal so far as most of us were concerned.  However, the race organisers chose to ignore such an accomplishment and instead were forced to award us the second father-daughter prize, narrowly beating an 85 year old and his 50 year old daughter.
In October, Dirty Beast made it into my life.  
And a new programme of evening cyclo-cross and mountain bike rides started to make things happen in the racing world.
including the advent of husband-racing in our family.  Rapha, providing a brilliant event for us both to enjoy.

Yet in amongst the cyclo-cross, we took some time out and did a bit of roofbox-tipi-stove (this has totally become a thing) camping in the Lake District.
November also took us to the South East twice in two weeks to catch up with this fella in the dirty...
...and slightly cleaner, with his new wife in early December.
December, is not recognisable as such.

As I've written above, December has seen me faltering, clinging on to the last edges of the will to train, compete and repeat.  Recovery is getting slower, enthusiasm waning.  A symptom of my disease or it's cause? Who knows?  My running has suffered, my swimming clings on to the feathery edges of possible.  It is like I am suffering March's downfall early.  Maybe by coming out of it early, I'll be stronger next year but since we're not looking forwards, we are only concerned with today, let's not fret that.

Today I swam.  I swam a hearty 20 lengths of a 50m pool in rounds of 300m which, considering I've been swimming 200m rounds, I am happy with.  I was not entirely annihilated by the youth of Guildford, in fact I held my own in the fast lane.  My breathing held up OK, given that I didn't need to use my nose and no-one seemed to mind the orca-style distress calls which occasionally uttered from my lungs so eloquently, so involuntary. 

So, I return to finish this post with a renewed air of invincibility and jam-packed with insane ideas for 2016.
A happy new year to everyone.  I plan to spend mine nursing my breathing system, resting my body still further and hoping, above all hopes, that some muscle has grown out of the turkey dinner consumed heartily on Friday night.

Here's to springing Januarys

Friday, December 18, 2015

Birthday runnings

Proud of my run yesterday.

Not because it was long, or fast or complete - I only made 2 of the 7 hills before realising a grave administrative error, finding myself off-route and retracing my steps home - via a muddy trail and this photo...

Because I enjoyed it and it was at my pace.  As the first run in some time, first of many (heard that before?), it did what I wanted of it.

Got me back on track.

Left me in a state where I am able to ride to work today and swim tonight.

Gave me hope.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Swim Number 2

Swim number 2 was notable because of its weirdness, its nonconformity and a valuable lesson in just getting on with it.

Starting with small gains, after a full week of rest I managed to walk to swimming this week. If I count that as the run I would also like to be able to do on a Saturday in 10 weeks time then yay... but this is Bradford week so we are resting so it is a walk.

Half way there I realised I forgot my swimming watch.  It crossed my mind to go back but decided I could count to 6 often enough to survive without.

The pool was rigged for children's class when I arrived with only 2 lanes set aside for swimmers but only 4 people in. The shallow end was then partly closed for the little ones leaving swimmers about 25m to swim in. This was going to be interesting for my times but then I had no idea how long the length was and no swim watch anyway. I reminded myself it was too early to worry about times.

At least this session I didn't have to worry about pace. The bipper stuck at 55 and I had to flip between slowing to make it and pushing myself to keep up towards the end of the set.

The first 6 lengths were OK and I decided to make it sets of 8. I can count to 4 reasonably reliably. Being on a short length,  I figured 5 sets would see me through to 40 which would be less than last week so like a rest really. Unfortunately I forgot I only planned to do 750m or 30 lengths and I still had to battle with the turn around at the shallow end.

The only way to tackle the turn around was to paddle in a semicircle under the water with my right arm while stroking above the surface with my left. After I did that 3 times I resorted to an elaborate figure of 8 turnaround so my left arm could have a go. Much swearing, spluttering and protest from the less dextrous arm.

The last 8 were so damn hard. It's been a long swim break. My arch dive under water was celebratory in nature. It should have been a shorter swim but it wasn't and, paddling pool aside, I really enjoyed it. I stood in the shower for a long time.

Unfortunately I then went and did a hard yoga set before walking home, stopping in the appliance store to order a new washing machine.  Finally, after a 1:45pm lunch, I fell asleep on the sofa and woke up at 3:45.

It was kind of a rest day.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Withdrawing in a good way

I went into town today.  A lot of people want my money - for not a lot in return.

Christmas shopping did not come easily to me.  I eventually went into Nero one last time before chasing TSK away.  I posted on Twitter and there was advertising for a brand that I don't even remember now.  It really pissed me off.

So I took this photo in the Peace Gardens and posted it on Instagram (which seems safe for now) and promised myself to take a photo every day.

I continued to hot foot away from town, stopping in at one indie store on my way home, then giving a couple of bananas to a homeless guy on my way out of Sainsburys which felt better.

I got home, a place which has also been disturbing me and set about reconfiguring the living room.  It's a little scary but it's pretty sound changes.  I'm still getting used to it but I think I like it.

TSK is going to get a surprise when he comes home.  (I'm posting this to soften the blow!).

My next project? Moving the yoga studio out of the loft and into the heated part of the house!

After I finished moving the living room around I sat down to eat my dinner and do a few little bits of christmas shopping on line.  I completed my British Cycling survey which seemed to be very keen to know about how much money I spend on cycling.

The final question was, "Outside of cycling which Brand name best describes you?"

I typed, "I have no idea what to say to this."  Hit send, and closed my computer.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

North of England champs 2015

The kind of race where you get in the bath after and you don't want to stand up again but you have to because if not, you will go to work on Monday with a permatattoo where the fine mud penetrated the fabric of your shorts and stained your legs and bum brown like you had the most horrible accident, and the reason you're in the bath is the bruised welt on your ankle that you're desperately trying to mobilise or shrink before it completely seizes up.

This is cyclo cross.

You should have seen the other guy.

I did quite well today acshully.

North of England Championships 2015 - Heaton Park, Manchester

Whatever I was on this weekend, I need to bottle it.

I had a half-day on Friday.  Not at work, that was 11 hours long, a day and a half.  No, I rode to work but Andrew came out and picked me up in the car.  By the time I was ready to come home it was blowing a gale and I had armfulls of stuff to bring home.

On Saturday I had a relaxing day (so to speak) and then went swimming - an easy set to get back into it.  I was ready to race on Sunday and as the fourth storm in as many weeks subsided, I knew the rain would see it become my kind of course.  I was looking forwards to it as long as the wind dropped as expected.

Right on time with the weather forecast I finished changing my clothes and eating pre-race nutrition and made the decision to leave my rain coat behind.

None of us got a lap in before the start.  The races had already started to bunch together as bikes fell victim to the conditions and riders made the long walk of shame to the finish line with broken chains and derailleurs.  It was a long walk.  The lap was taking  14 minutes to ride.

I gridded behind Alison Kinloch.  I'm pretty sure I do better off a second row grid it regulates my over-exuberant starts to something my lungs can cope with and saves me sinking too deeply into oxygen debt which I spend the rest of the race recovering from.

Again I couldnt' hang on to the front wheels and Juliet Horrocks and I got tangled up with riders switching lines willy-nilly.  We fought our way around the open field - the flattest part of the course and onto the finishing straight for the first time.

The course then dipped onto a small hillside only around 5-10 m high and zigzagged up and down.  I found my self the tasty filling in a Horrocks / Mellor sandwich that was being squeezed around a tree so, rather than get embroiled in balancing on my bike, I jumped off, sprinted between the two then got back on when clear.

One descent then a hop over some uphill hurdles and I jumped back on again in the only place I thought I might have wanted to choose to run.  I slithered cross the off-camber hill and rode out of it again, catching up two old team mates, Alan Shuttleworth and Roy Blow, both with 2 minutes lead on me in the vet 50s race.  After a bit of banter with Alan I had to learn about what was coming in the woods which I hadn't even looked at yet.

Thankfully I had left 30 psi in my tyres and didn't have to worry too much about tree roots.  I passed two more women on a steep running climb - knowing I would need to get off but riding as much as I could before I did.  I had the strength and DB (the bike) had the grip for us to ride out of the woods and past the pits where TSK gave me strict instructions to stick with the two rivals who came back past me.

I did as I was told and we hit a series of short up and down slopes along a bank no more than 1 m high.  I rode what I could (mostly to rest my legs on the downhills) and ran the remainder.  We were all together at the end though I did get past one rider who jumped on too soon.  The other rode out ahead on a better line.

The open field slowed me down again but by the time we had reached the hillside I was fighting back and I faintly thought that (for once) my breathing felt less laboured than the other person.  Slight differences in decision-making put me ahead of coming into the woods and with every hint of an attack I managed to find a bit of extra strength to block a gap.  I fought it all the way through the woods and we were together again going up and down the woody bank.  A few times the other rider passed me on every downhill, when she got in my way I used it as an excuse to get my breath back.

I was gutted for Alison Kinloch who I passed running through the field with some mechanical issues.  She would have been in second place and was now scratching around with me.  She was also a long way from a fresh bike.

Onto the final lap and as we hit the off-camber section of the hillside I made the decision to ride what my competition was running.  I know I could ride it along the tape but that was where she was.  I had to ride 6-8 inches higher and as I drew along side my brain realised, "shit, you're committed, you've got to ride this".  It was either going to work an save me energy or it was going to go horribly wrong and cost me a place - maybe two.

Somehow it worked.  I held my line, the wheels stuck to the mud and I sailed past.  Already on my bike, I was instantly faster onto the field past the pits and into the woods.  Shit there were three of us.  Shit this was going to hurt.

The younger rider shot past me.  A really good effort from her but I could hear her breathing.  Then the runner came past me on the first of the uphill slopes.

I freewheeled the downhill and was above her, running around the tree.  I jumped on again, picked a line and stamped on it.  Past one.

I took as much speed as possible off a road crossing and carried the momentum onto the next descent before shouldering the bike on what I anticipated to be a long run. The climb and mud-bath after it had become less and less rideable all race and my competition decided to try riding it.  I left her to grind to a halt and swear as she climbed off her bike again.  In the meantime I sprinted as fast as I could, had a short ride before another planned dismount and only really got back on again when I knew that things were absolutely going to roll past under my tyres.

From there, it was riding as fast as physically possible.  If either of them had been anywhere near me they could have had a chance of catching me on the flat open field.  I had already burned a match or two running in the mud.  However, the only person to pass me was an early finisher, lapping me in the men's race.  Still, I didn't dare slow up or look behind me.

I crossed the line bloody exhausted and a little bemused as to what had just happened.  Most people I usually race with were some way behind though I put this down to the fact that neither Juliet or Rachel Mellor have raced for a while.  I couldn't actually think of many people in front of me.

Dad was super excited.  In the end there were only three veteran women ahead of me and I was ninth woman overall.

For a while we watched the men race into the dusk, before retreating to Sheffield to wash bikes and people before bed time.

The North of England champs is one of my favourite events and this year it was really special.  A good placing combined with a battle with two women 20 years younger than me and a little bit of home-turf glory.

"First Swim Back" Kicks Off Deliberations

The "first swim back" is bloggable.  Eventually after a few swims, all of the lengths merge into one endless churn of white and blue tiles sliding by the face.  Of accidental punches and kicks, breathed-in water and drenching recovery showers.

I have swum twice now this winter although yesterday's swim marks a change - a move into Triathlon training again, the "start of the season".  There will be another... and another...

I didn't feel like doing anything.  I put laundry on, read a book, got my stuff together then decided to sit with the laundry as my washing machine's bearings are failing and I don't want it to burn the house down so I washed two of my bikes and waited.

Finally, at swim time, I didn't even feel like the walk over to the pool in the howling gales that have whipped the UK so I jumped in the car and drove there.  5 minutes, not 30 minutes later, I was signing in and attempting to get a 20p change out of a fiver from a surly desk clerk who made me wait for a cash-buyer so she could "get into the till".  It would've been faster to walk back to the car and a supply of 3 x 20ps.  Oh well, you have to forget something at your first trip back.

I sat for a long time on the side of the pool, faffing with my hat and my bipper (which I reduced to beep at 50 strokes per minute), still not interested in getting into the cold water.  Relieved that when I finally did, it was only my shoulders that felt the cold. The pool was generally OK but they were trying to cool it down and at the end of every lap, a stream of chilled water washed over my hands at the turn-around.  A little disconcerting and made it difficult to rest at the end of laps, in the stream of icy fluid.  Quite authentic open water training though.

I churned out 6 laps (around 200m) to warm up then adjusted my bipper back up to 54 spm.  Another 6 laps.

The 30seconds rest at the end of every 6 laps was welcome and gradually crept up to 1 minute in the end.  I have lost all of my swimming endurance.  I promised myself I'd only do 30 laps today and set about working out what that is in real money now that I am swimming in a 33m long pool instead of a 25m long pool.  About 40 lengths.  That will do.  I normally "come back" to 45 lengths and didn't want to push myself too hard.  This is, after all, about getting a good, easy base.

I put the bipper up to 56spm and quickly got out of breath trying to stick to it.  Finally, I had found my starting number.  No need to up the speed just yet.  I settled on 55 spm for the next lap which felt slow at the beginning but I had to work at in the middle and at the end of the 6 laps, I just forgot about it... I need to work on that.

It was getting near the end of my session already - in fact I had only one set of 6 laps to go.  I felt like doing more when I set off.  The 55spm bipper was just right.  Perhaps I could do 10 more!? After 5 though, I could feel it and glided down to the bottom of the pool.  Went to stop my watch and realised I had hit the magic 30 laps and some (32 in the end).

Slow beginnings.  I made myself get out.

Walking down the steps to the showers, I had a bit of a wobble.  What is this sensation?  Oh yes, fatigue!  I grabbed my stuff and put the shower on full blast.  I stood for a good while, just letting the water wash over my hair and face and the heat soak into my skin and muscles.  It took me while to get a wash.

In the changing rooms I had a chat with a lady who made me think of Fly Lillypad.  She was busy with her teenage daughter and father and stressed and trying to stay healthy and, most of all was very sweary.  She made me laugh and I wished her well for her journey down to Coventry to visit her dad and hoped I would see her again.

I walked up to the car, flushed with happiness.  I roared around town for a while, doing some shopping for the weekend and changing a pin number on a new card.  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find an HSBC cash machine that isnt' behind closed doors with parking in Sheffield?

Back at home I excitedly downloaded my new swim onto my computer and set about searching for Triathlons for this year.  All of the ones I am interested in seem to have clustered in an ungainly way around the same days of the year.  I wondered about trying to qualify again for some championship races.  Interestingly, one of the qualifying races this year is on the same day as this years championships leaving the other two as the ones that all the fast people will do.  As I don't want to travel down to the South, that leaves me with Tri Liverpool.  Bizarely, my best run this year after a hard and windy bike course.  I enjoyed Tri Liverpool but mostly because of staying with Glyn in NlW, a house he no longer has.

I needed more.

I had a look at Ironman races and I had a look at Challenge Galway which was tempting but then I looked at the "city centre run route" and could think of nothing worse.  I had an internal debate with myself about whether I really do want to go long again.  Then I remembered the loss of focus to my training last year.  Sure, the lure of doing well was there, the "never say no" approach worked but did I swim enough? No.  Did I bike enough - Not really.  My running got better - that was it.

Do I like training long? Yes, actually I do.  A long run should only take 4 hours at the most.  OK.  The bike training takes up a bit more time.  I settled on a choice of two races.  I didn't have the guts to click the enter button.  I settled for a period of sustained planning and taking a little time to decide if I want to commit to this again.

Last year was fun but boy! Did I miss long training? (yes).

Thursday, December 03, 2015


Refreshing to go for a sports massage with a new person today.  Gave me a few insights into my weird physiquie.  A hip joint which is too open is thought to be caused by a hip socket which is too small for the ball joint allowing my left leg to flop lithely all over the place whilst the right one is stiff and awkward most of the time.

It doesn't help that this is the one I sit over on.  It explains why I can't stretch my left hamstring very well.  I have to really work to stretch it straight above my head.  I do have to carry on with the exercises my AXA physio has given me though.

I have some hip and pelvis strengthening exercises to do  to help me stabilise the lot.

There's a theory on my knee pain that is either slightly damaged cartilledge hooking up on ligaments as they pass and causing the wretching pain or ligament damage.  Not treatable unless it's severe but who wants surgery anyway?  The evil man (he was nice really) poked and manipulated my knee about trying to make it go ow so he could identify the point but to no avail.  This gave me great hope that I have at last worked through it.

I feel very tough for riding out a physio session after going out for my first ever Dark Peak road run last night.  Debbie thought I was insane and I thought I missed Roy who I understand is usually the source of much waiting.  So my muscles ached tonight.  Questions I asked about how I stretch this muscle were answered with a jabbing finger in the wrong bits of fleshy stuff and a yelp from me.  Perhaps my sports massages are well out of date again.

Finally, a sound bit of advice.  I was hesitant about listening to warning advice about my yoga practice, though this was qualified with, "having done it for the past 3 years" and I was reminded that yoga is a stationary form of exercise and very different to running, cycling etc. the things that I love lots.  I have no plans to give up yoga, especially given all of the success and joy it has added to my life over the last 12 months but it is definitely time to let some more of the active sports back into my life... and by that I mean keeping up my running and getting around to that swimming thing... because there will always be room for the bike.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ipswich National Trophy

Perhaps a hard ride on a Friday night is not the best prep for cross. Too close to recover. Saturday should be a gentle warm up after a rest day Friday. Thursdays can be hard but not Friday.

So I learned a few things today. That. Also I despise East Anglia and the region appears to be using the old 2008 timing chips so I have a bruise and a blister to remember my day with. There is little rubber left to that neoprene.

Still, who cares about the National Trophy anyway? Would I have any more points today if I had done it all right? I doubt it. It wasn't my kind of day. All lungs and no skills required. I missed out on one, maybe 2 places but I doubt I could have held either. Bring on Bradford. Better than Alpe d'Huez.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday nights

Tonight's ride started too late, caught the worst of the weather and although I tried to make it shorter, I only succeeded in making it a little flatter, more exposed, into a head wind, more off-road, downhill in the worst place (the tail wind, ergo - colder) and 10% longer.

It was bloody brilliant.

I explored new lanes, found posh houses I didn't know existed.  Rode to Wentworth Castle, looked down on the hundreds of red and white lights on the M1. I avoided 90% of traffic on black Friday, despite only leaving work at 6 and as the rain lashed torrentially I was in the middle of a field on the Trans-Pennine trail, approaching Wortley, laughing at puddles.

By Oughtibridge my rain leggings started to leak which is just where I started to get blown along at 30 mph, the rain flying straight up into my eyes, soaking my gloves and chilling my already wet toes.  I toyed with the idea of riding over the hill to avoid Hillsborough on a Friday night but I was *that* tired and cold I decided to face the main road.  So I pedalled downhill as fast as I could for 8 miles before the lovely warming uphill to my house.

I thought I would be sad to retire Phoenix as a race bike but with adventures like these, I am proud that we're growing old disgracefully together.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

TSK's new bike ride

He's a kind man, my husband.  He bought a new bike so that we would have to go for a mountain bike ride together on the first beautiful winter Saturday of the arse end of 2015.  Here's how it went:

We woke to some snow and the last of the wedding rose

I brought Andrew up all the bumpy trails so he could try out his new suspension and 29er combination.

The Rivelin valley's looking beautiful in the sunshine with the snow on the fields and enough bracken still bringing colour through the whiteness.

Hairy bridge.
Whilst waiting for TSK to adjust his saddle, I discover I am now flexible enough to do a standing backbend over my saddle and repose.  Unfortunately my rucsac strap got latched around my saddle and I almost fell over when I tried to stand up.

Not laughing.

At Stanage Pole, the view was epic.

And the people were there.  Stanage Pole, conspicuous in its absence.

Looking towards Stanedge Lodge

And the way down

And a cold tiger

The scenery at the base of Stanage was stunning and we were glad to be riding the roads on fat tyres on ice.

Can't believe my glove invaded this shot but then my hands were losing it (circulation)

The stop at the Norfolk Arms was very welcome. Their mulled wine is really rather good.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bah Humbug Routes

A while ago, a truck driver pissed me off. He made eye contact with me just before deciding that was an invitation for him to cross my path. It forced me to come to a juddering hault and wait until he got out of the way before I could continue on my way to work. I had right of way.

I haven't ridden that way to work since, choosing to ride the riverside path all the way from town to MeadowHell instead. It's longer but I have been enjoying riding and there's fewer dickheads.

Today I simply forgot and was wearing the wrong gloves so time was of the essence. I rode along the busy road. Past the intersection where the curious incident with the truck occurred and approached Forgemasters for the first time in weeks. It's after the steel mills that I noticed the new bridlepath being built to supplement or perhaps replace the section of 5 wiers walk that is currently closed on my commute. I thought they were refurbishing the path but hadn't realised they were replacing or supplementing it.

It will make a good new route and I will look forward to it opening.

On to the path around MeadowHell where my dismay at having to weave round double buggies in the bike lane (because people are too ignorant not to walk in single file through a gap) was outweighed by the joy of finding the Christmas Experience at MeadowHell has not spilled over into the bike lane this year, causing an over abundance of tragically patronising signage.

My day has only been improved by the inevitable arrival of true winter, convincing most people it is time to start Christmas shopping and improve my cycling experience with the warm wintry glow of the smugness I experience while riding past queues of traffic.

Season greetings every one.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Even on a day like today...

Abigail is here.  The first UK low pressure disturbance to be named by the Met Office.  The weather over the last two days has varied between ambiguous and weird.  On Thursday night we sat in the office and listened to the wind turn the air conditioning backwards and the rain lash against the windows.

This morning dawned fine.

I set off for a run up one valley and back down the other.  This is usually a 16 mile run for me when I am doing Ironman training but today I knew it wouldn't be that far.  I hoped it would be that far but I know I am not running that well yet and I am saving myself mostly for the Yorkshire cyclo-cross tomorrow.

I had a beautiful run along the Loxley valley, feeling more motivated than usual and happy to be treading new steps.  One small altercation with some fishermen at the pond (if you don't want people to step over your stupid expensive carbon fibre pole then don't leave it across the footpath) put me in a bit of a grumpy mood but I carried on and was soon focused back on the autumn leaves, wildlife and saying hello to joggers and dog walkers coming the other way.

This Cow was wearing a timing chip.  I assume she is in some kind of eating race.

I was getting a little tired by the time I reached the water works but I had set myself a target of getting to Damflask Reservoir and I gave myself a break and walked up the climb to the road.

From there I had to make up a new way home.  The Garmin was showing just under 5 miles and my last run was a push at 7 so I had to start getting home.  I thought I'd had 10 in my legs by now.

Even on a day like today, I am happy I can run from my front door into this.

The problem is I hate running on roads so I spent quite some time zig zagging in and out of the Loxley valley on footpaths.  Sure a map would have made this easier but I wasn't in the mood for easy... until such time as I ran out of the enthusiasm to falter on paths and then I just gave up and stuck to the roads as a good navigational tool for getting out of the valley.

The roads spat me out in a part of Stannington I did not recognise until I was tempted by the greengrocers shop.  No, best keep going, get warm.  As the rain soaked through my gloves I had to pump my fingers to keep my hands warm.  It was a useful trick from yoga, moving and breathing that distracted me from the cold and the rain and the nutters in boy-racer cars.

Finally down the Rivelin Valley road and into Valley number 2.  A nice round 10 miles and one very wet hippo.

This week in training

I won't beat about the bush.  This week has been a bugger for work.  Not particularly unpleasant because I now have a small team of two (me and AN Other) but just busy, wanting to do the best we can.  It's been... long.

After a tough trophy race in Durham I took the day off on Monday and took the car to work.  I needed it.  The legs were definitely on go-slow.  When people hold the door for me and I make them wait...

Tuesday I felt like I needed to make up for it and because it's Polo night for TSK, I don't have to rush home - or feel like I have to rush home.  It is effectively home alone night.

I took the bike in to work via the gym and a yoga session with Chris who was incredibly apologetic for missing his class last week.  After yoga I was still riding slowly to let the legs loosen up but made it in time for the working day to start well.

We worked until 7, getting costs into a spreadsheet and calculating pipeline losses.  Transferring knowledge to the next generation of engineers is way more interesting than doing the same old same old on repeat.  Still, by 7pm I was feeling invigorated and had been snacking on pistachios and goji berries all afternoon so I set out for a ride.  Typing this whilst gales and rain rage outside is weird but on Tuesday night the weather was sublime.  Within 20 minutes of riding I had to take my waterproof jacket off and unzip my fleece to the waist to cool off.

I was still loosening off really so the pace was steady along the bridlepath.  As I negotiated my way around the Penistone Road, the pistachios started to wear off so I decided to cut my usual route ever so slightly shorter and tackle the route to the (minor) Woodhead Road slightly differently.  I took one of those lanes that you always look at and think, "I wonder where that goes" and came out at the other end at a junction that I looked at last time and thought, "I wonder where that goes".  So result all round.

Less looking at the map this time, more clean riding so the route passed much quicker, which meant the climbs passed much quicker.  I was getting pushed up the hill by the early stages of Abigail's arrival so I can't claim all the benefit.

Before I could really feel the hill I was over the top, ripping down the dark woodland road and into Grenoside and the long climb over to Oughtibridge.  The pistachios were well and truly spent.

I whipped down Jawbone hill, carefully negotiating gaps in hedgerows where the wind swept me sideways.  I was trying to hold my line but it was increasingly difficult with an ambulance sweeping past me.  Clearly the wind was affecting my ability to descend this hill faster than the vehicles usually do.

At the bottom I was out of patience and sneaked up the footpath to avoid the one way section and put myself on the last climb out of Oughtibridge and down to Wortley and Stannington where my journey ends.  I walked in the door 5 minutes ahead of TSK.

On Wednesday I had definitely got into it.  I packed my running kit, full of the intention to get away on time and go out with Dark Peak this time - something I have been intending to do for weeks and still not quite made it.  

Wednesday was our review meeting and we were all beevering away to get the proposal into some kind of shape whilst all the concerned people were in the room together.  Conversations were ongoing till late in the afternoon and the reviewer was phoning his wife at 4pm to let her know he was going to be late.  Bollocks.  The group was on a roll and I wasn't going to be the one to spoil the party.

We didn't finish particularly late for a working day - the normal 5:30 - but it's just late enough to know that you're not going to make it to running... but just early enough to think that you might.

I tried to be clever, to take a different route into the city and a different route out to catch the traffic just right.  It had the opposite effect and by the time I had to call it on running, I was already out of the way of the house.  After my elongated drive home, I wasn't in the mood for discovering I'd left my keys in my other jacket in the office.

At least I still had my running kit with me and could, therefore, get changed and go for a run.  In an attempt to stem hunger pangs I had already consumed every half-eaten energy bar that was kicking about in my car and the bottom of my rucsac. I proceeded to get changed in between every passing commuter walking down the street (not that many by 6:45) and set off for my run.

I saw no-one out there except a large crocodile of (school / scouts) children clothed in hi vis and equipped with head torches which they kept shining in my face.  I almost hip-checked one into the river but otherwise we passed without incident.

After 28 minutes I was spent.  Not incapable of running but starving hungry and starting to get wobbly.  There was no point in me going straight home, I'd still be locked out.  I sat on the bench, turned my headtorch off and thought for a while about the coming weeks.  The passage of the 'cross season, weather, impending snows, christmas celebrations, projects, running, swimming, travel.

When I started to get cool, I made the decision to keep going.  Then I still felt wobbly so I made the decision to turn around again.  Then I realised I was almost at the end of the trail so I might as well run back on a different path.

Up to Rails Road and along the A57 for a short jog where I actually thought of running back the easiest way - along the road - instead of up the bridlepath it was so quiet.  Fortunately before the path began, 8 or more cars passed and persuaded me it wasn't so quiet after all and I set off up the rocky slope.  Running was by now out of the question so I continued walking, still thinking, musing, dreaming and generally enjoying my own company.  In spirit, I sometimes still walk with my dog.

It always impresses me that sometimes students make it out here.  I know runners and cyclists pass this way in the dark quite frequently but it's always nice to see the occasional group of drunken students in "civvy" clothing - just out for a walk.  They sit on the crag and drink beer.  It gives me hope for the future.

I dropped off the quarry path and set off down the trails which lead around the edge of Crookes, travelling slowly on my feet allowed me to carefully figure out the best way to Bolehills BMX track without getting too hung up on roads filled with angry and stupid motorists.  Although I had a headtorch with red and white flashy lights, I had no hi vis.  I managed the whole return journey with no more than 50m on an un-footpathed road.  Managing a run down hill but walking all of the rest.

In a timely manner, I jogged down our hill, just as TSK was texting me to say he was in.  It's a long time since I have been so close to chewing off my own arm to stay alive.  We ate dinner very late for the second night in a row and my brain chewed through both food and the complexities of my bid at work.

Everyone knew Thursday was going to be a long day so I at least made it to Yoga in the morning to give my brain a bit of time off.  I gave my grad the project to deliver himself and he decided to be out of the office on Friday so we had to get his bid ready on Thursday.  There were no excuses to be had.  I was prepared to work late Thursday, my body had nothing left to give so I might as well use my brain. After a difficult night's sleep my spine was twisted and contorted and I wondered if I'd actually be able to lie on a mat on a hard floor, never mind sit cross-legged and upright.  I managed it though and there was just the right level of twisting in the yoga practice to gradually tease out the stress and frustrations of the previous day.

I arrived at the office with a scrawled list of things that were left to do, all written between midnight and 4am.  We progressed slowly through the day then sat down to review and tick off the last items into the evening.  We printed, formatted, reprinted, picked through, calculated, almost cried, then fixed things again.  We ended the day with a quality document and all the boxes ticked.

That's it for Thursday really.  My brain was ready for reset button overnight.  I finally slept well, knowing that the proposal was in someone else's hands on Friday but Friday, as far as training is concerned was a write-off.

I headed to the loft with my laptop to do my timesheet.  Another 42 hours done by Thursday evening.  I kept the day to minimal input and broke off at 11 for a yoga session in the loft.  After lunch some minor details were taken care of but I was too tired to think and I packed my stuff away at 3pm.

Monday will be welcome as the first day in months without a fixed deadline at work.  The weekend will be even more welcome.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cyclo-cross Strategy Win

We arrived at Durham National Trophy in the dry but went to sign on in a rainstorm.  It wasn't an unexpected rainstorm but the outside facilities for Ladies' toilets was a surprise I hadn't counted for so I went back to the car to get changed whilst my bikes were assembled outside by my trusty coach, pit crew and husband.

Wriggling into a skin suit in a car isn't easy.

I managed 4/5 of a lap of the course before realising I still didn't have any pins for my numbers so, rode back to the car, cursing British Cycling all the way.  I hate the pre-race stress of Trophy races, I really do.

At 10-to start time I was chatting to the commissaire about how to get my number pinned on and about chip timing.  Of course, my pit crew was on hand to pin on my number and my coach sent me off to ride laps of the field to stay warm.  I wasn't feeling it, but did as I was told.

They started calling up the grid.  Most people were ahead of me, including Nicki Hartle who I sent forward with a slap on the ass, calling her fancy pants for being ahead on me.  Two of us ended up on the second row.  I know my place and positioned myself somewhere between and behind Alison Kinloch and Maddie Smith.  The gun went and I got the best leadout from both Yorkshire ladies.  Even the lady who has (her words) "a very slow start" shot off the line.  I tried to stay calm but when you're third off the line, it's difficult.  Everyone who should pass me did but I found myself catching up Janet Marsden from WPCC on the first technical section of running up stairs, a fell-runners descent and then a short kicker which no-one else seemed to be riding except me and "Dirty Beast", the newly appointed name for my bike.

We ripped past the pits, Andrew screaming at me to get after Nicola Davies.

Nicola Davies didn't bother me though, as I knew Janet would be back the second we were out of the technical sections and into flat out riding.  I just managed to hold her off long enough to hear Matt, the commentator, say, "It's Rodgers in fifth!".

Sure enough, after that, Janet came back past me and I almost stopped trying but, you have to.  Especially when most of Yorkshire is screaming in your ear.  Big thanks to Sue Thackaray and Rachel Mellor, I gulped in air where I could and made up a little ground on the hurdles.  At this end of the field though, hurdles don't pose much of a barrier to experienced racers and I had to dig deep to stay with Janet.  Up the climb, someone was ringing a bell at us and I used the rhythm and the studs in my toes to propel myself forwards.  Back past the pits again and the muddy, contorted corners.  I held on.

On lap 2, I heard the commentator call 3 laps to go for Amira Mellor, the leader. My lungs were completely spent from trying to make myself and my bike somehow levitate over the sticky goo.  When levitation gave out, I resorted to pounding the pedals until I had no more strength left.  Then it was a run up to the stairs - which were then only walkable.  Bike on shoulder, I held onto the fence post to turn the corner. I could hardly see, the pink mist was clouding the corner of my eyes or was it sweat?

I ran down the deep muddy descent.  Telling myself my long legs were an advantage as they stretched out to the mud ahead.  Each foot sank 4 inches deep into the mud and I had to pull it free at the end before it moved onto the next step.  Back on the bike to ride the kicker then fired past the marshals on the crossing point who were screaming clich├ęs at me like, "pound it out" and "stamp on it".  They were all helpful and I pulled faces at them, hoping in some way to express the gratitude that I could not voice.

We approached the pits.  Janet was just ahead of me.  We were winding a very different track through the corners - she took the racing line, I took the safe option and rode it wide, maximising my time on good ground.  I heard Amira shout, "rider up" behind us, indicating that she was lapping us and needed to get through smoothly.

I went wide to leave Amira enough room to come through.  Just at that moment, Janet slid over and landed on her side.  I was glad to be wide of her so I didn't hit her and just hoped Amira had managed to get through.  There was nothing else to do.  Janet was near the pits so had help if she needed it.  I stamped on it to maximise any gain I could from her misfortune and waited and waited for Amira to pass.  I doubted I could hold Janet off till the end of the race so I needed to make the most of whatever opportunity came my way.  Amira eventually slid past me.

For a while I turned myself inside out.  Around the descent, sliding sideways, controlling both wheels of the bike in a skid then handing my destiny over to the slide and pulling msyelf out of it with as much grace as possible.  We were down on to the flat and winding part of the course so I could look back easily to see where Janet was.  The last time I saw her she was placing her chain back on a chain ring.

I relaxed a little - but you can never relax much in cross and I focused on staying ahead.

I couldn't remember how many laps we'd done.  On the last major difficulty of the day I was slightly inconvenienced by the junior lady winner who crashed into a fencepost as I let her lap me.  The rest was a blur of tongue-out, slidey sideways goo.

I crossed the line screaming for glee and found the first huggable person I could - Sue, followed my pit crew coach husband Andrew, who didn't really want a snotty kiss.

Back at the car, I got changed in the car company of Joanna Rycroft from cxmag and as we're both poor and lacking in campervans, we just walked down to the river Wear for a wash.  Hannah Saville passed by the car and we acknowledged eachothers achievements with the best kind of engineer embrace - a brief nod of acknowledgement.

I was exhausted but felt like strength and vitality had made a mark on my day and for once "experience" was a bonus, not a millstone. Plus, it's always nice to get prize money.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Cyclo-cross National strategy fail.

It's Durham's National Trophy tomorrow.

I should be excited but, with a start list of only 11 vet women, I can't say I am enthralled with the prospect of the competition.  Fighting not to get lapped by Hannah who will have a 2 minute start on me is where I am setting my targets.

There's a shiny new bike in the loft with my name on it (although I haven't ordered a name sticker yet) and it will get its first muddy run tomorrow.  It's been throwing it down more or less all day so there's no spoiler alerts on the weather conditions.

I've had a tough week training.  Something in me needs to justify the new bike.  As christmas shopping picks up pace and the weather stayed foul all week, I couldn't actually face driving my car to work all week and gave myself quite a basting, doing interval training in the rain... oh and an out-of-the-blue rollers session on Monday night.

I did nothing on Wednesday and felt bad.  I had a recovery ride on Friday though that was interrupted by a sprint to tell a corsa driver he nearly killed me.  I also unpolitely advised him he might want to consider turning his hands free phone off too.

Rather than resting today, I got a load of to do list out of the way.  Purely indulgent.  Shopping.  It was "a good walk", though I let the bus take the strain on the hard bit - the uphill home.

In terms of race fitness, I feel like tomorrow is a 'B' race.  I'm training tired and haven't taken enough time to recover.  It makes sense since I've already missed two national trophies and don't intend to race at Ipswich either but it is a race and it will keep the creative juices flowing in standby for next weekend - a local Yorkshire race whereby I will be defending the FV40 category.  Something I can get my teeth into.

So peaks  for this season?

The national championships, of course.
Sheffield's cyclo-cross at Whitely Woods in two weeks time
The North of England Champs on my old stomping grounds of Heaton Park in Manchester
and of course...
Bradford - not because National Trophy but because Bradford.

Bring on the mud.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Bonfire night Sheffield.

We went to a free fireworks display last night.
From a gaggling throng of chatting adults, playing kids, merry go rounds and fire-huddlers, a single rocket said, "foomf", soared into the air and exploded, "BANG!" into a shower of golden stars. Everyone screamed. What a start.
The rest of the show continued as one would expect a pretty decent fireworks display to go on with only one other highlight. What's the best bit of every children's nativity play? The bit where it goes wrong.
As the show increased in height and intensity towards its inevitable big finish, rockets again soared up into the warm November air - 50m? 70m? 100m? Squee, boom. Squee, boom, stars, "ooooh" said the crowd.
Then Squeeeeee! The feint blaze of a high-altitude rocket skewed sideways. What was wrong with it? Projected like a damp squid, its tail dying out like a spent comet. Did someone set it off through the wet nettles? Did the box get rained on earlier. Squeeeelch. Nothing.
"ahhh" said the crowd.
The rocket only made it 20m off the ground and no one really thought it was viable then, "BOOM!"
Screaming. Laughing. As pink and golden stars bounced off the ground. Everyone was deaf. Everyone was happy.
What a night out Sheffield. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Impromptu Weekend Away

I cheated on cyclo-cross this weekend.

For some reason (an over-stuffed triathlon season which ended not long before the Three Peaks) I didn't fancy riding around a race-track in Derby for 40 minutes.  Instead, we packed the tipi in the Golf on Friday morning and by 8pm were setting up camp in Hawkshead for the weekend.

The grass was damp and made the tipi floor a tad cool but the climate was so mild we didn't even bother to get the stove out and just used sheepskin rugs to keep our toes warm.

We knew it was going to rain all morning on Saturday so we went into Kendal to seek new ski toys for TSK to enjoy winter a little bit more.

By the time we returned to camp in the afternoon, the rain had ceased and we set off to run up Carron Crag above Grizedale.
Just enough to see the approaching showers

and just enough to watch the receeding sun

For our entertainment. there were sculptures.

We reached the forest at 4pm and town at 5 as the sun turned the fading leaves and bracken a bright brown.  

We were just in time to get a shower in daylight then head to the  pub for dinner to avoid the yoof, away for their half term break. 

On Sunday, we drove for 30 minutes just to find a car park that wouldn't cost us £8 for the day.  Layby established we rode through Little Langdale over Wrynose pass where I had to stop 2/3 of the way up the climb to manually place my bike in its bottom gear - the derailleur having picked a suitably inconvenient spot to stop working.  

Over the summit, two motorbikers wished us luck for the downhill and we turned away from the option of Hardknott pass, opting instead to ride along the back side of Old Man of Coniston, with one stiff 30% climb over to Torver itself before ending the weekend away back at the car.

We got home in one go.  Almost surprised that we'd been away, done so much, lasted so long and yet was over so quick and we were home in one piece, undamaged and un-delayed.

I missed everyone but I am so glad I didn't spend the weekend in a muddy playing field in Derby.

(I have signed up for Durham).