Friday, 20 March 2015

good fortune, donkeys and Karl Marx

It's been an inexorably long time since I wrote something for this page. No shortage of flights, rest days and thesis procrastination opportunities have gone unused . I could probably make excuses about AYUDA work, finishing my Phd or even writing down my thoughts in RIDE. But realistically there's still time, I just spend it working on my perfect cappuccino and seeing how many things I can balance on my Roomba whilst it clatters around my tiny home. 

Rather than boring you with the mundane details of what I've been up to, I wanted to take your time and use it to reflect on something we don't think about enough : luck. This applies to both the possible reasons you've come here: cycling and diabetes (if you've come here because you're one of my parents, your luck has run out, sorry to be the bearer of bad news). I'm both cases I think most of us are incredibly blind to our good fortune . 

I've read quite a few cyclist's autobiographies this year for the magazine and, if there's one trend, it's the consistent narrative of sacrifice , hard work and desire. Nearly every athlete claims that's what got them to the top. They fail to mention that they were already pretty close to the top when they still had stabilizers on their bikes. When you're born with a v02 max of 78, the sacrifices you make are always going to be rewarded. And that's fine, you're very fortunate. I do think thT as athletes we owe those who don't excel a little more respect than to suggest that we just "wanted it more". Realistically, anyone who gets paid to race a bike is very fortunate. And the sacrifices we make to do it (or made in many cases) are, in the grand scheme of things , minor. Even the amateur guys getting up at 5 am have to give up more than most pros in terms of sleep , social life and spending money. And even then getting up early to partake in your hobby is hardly a day down the mines is it? 

Whilst this narrative isn't intended to be dismissive or dangerous we should apply some caution to it. I see an increasing number of young cyclists making frankly irresponsible decisions based in the notion that anyone can achieve lofty goals if they are willing to give up other things. It's sad, but that's not true. I work with athletes as a coach and I think it's important to be clear with them that all i can make them is the best version of themselves they can be . And that that is a great thing to be. No amount of gluten free food , massage and foam rolling will turn a donkey into a race horse, but sometimes , there's a place for a damn fine donkey. 

The same is true in the world of diabetes , it's very easy for us to make our condition all about ourselves , to speak a narrative of sickness and suffering. In reality , we don't suffer from diabetes in the developed world , I don't suffer from diabetes. I just get pissed off by it sometimes. People do suffer from
Diabetes , people die from diabetes . I understand that some people, sometimes, in the USA, have died from hypos. But as someone living with diabetes you're still way more likely to die in your car. So instead, we should do those less fortunate than is the courtesy of acknowledging out own good fortune. None of us worked out way into being born rich. I'm always happy when young people I work with choose to test more and take a more active role i. Their blood glucose management , but I am as happy when they acknowledge the great good fortune they have to be able to make that choice. In general , I find that acknowledging the latter helps with the former. We realize that we didn't earn our right to be privileged , but that it would be asinine to waste such great good fortune.

Marx said that "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."  I agree , I think the amongst the most empowering things we can Do is be hike enough to step back from the narrative of agency and acknowledge the role of fortune . We dont have to allot everything to luck, there's a lot we can change still. But the fact that we get the chance to change our lives and those of others is, in itself, a great stroke of luck . 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

world diabetes day

November the 14th is World Diabetes day, that means that all over the world (in theory) people stop and think about Diabetes. In practice it means that those of us with the luxury of access to information and free time and energy pay attention to diabetes for about 5 minutes. Please take your 5 minutes to read this:

Diabetes is a condition which, with access to insulin and testing supplies is of little impediment to my life. I'm very lucky to be able to travel, exercise and make a fool of myself every day despite the fact that my pancreas doesn't fo everything it should. Many organizations want your money for a cure for diabetes, that's very nice and I hope that they have every success in their work.

As a young(er) person I spent a lot of time travelling, if I had been born in another part of the world, my life would have been very different. Life expectancy with type one diabetes is 8 - 12 months in Mali. That's less than most cancers and even HIV in many places. Again Diabetes is a condition which is entirely treatable with access to insulin and supplies.

There is only one barrier between my reality and a very different one where i die at 18 years old. That barrier is access to medication, I have it and many don't but without it I'd be long gone. 3 companies make insulins, they all continue to practice olligopolisticaly in order to maintain a high and inaccessible price for insulin. As a result of this people die, every day.

you probably bought a poppy for armistice day, several rubber bracelets for something or other and a handful of pink things in October. I don't want you to light up any buildings in a funny colour or run 10k dressed in a silly costume or even wear a little ribbon. I just want you to engage with 100 campaign and to care about  the incredibly unjust pricing of medications in today's world. I say it a lot but nobody should be poor because they're sick or sick because they're poor. Please take a second longer to think about this, to exercise your empathy and to think about life on the other side of the access divide. Cures are great, but let's work with what we have first and make sure we share it with everyone who needs it before we create another inaccessible medication for a privileged few.   #wdd2014 #diabetes #wdd

Monday, 14 July 2014

Bastille day and a brief story

 It's Bastille day. A few years ago it was also Bastille day when I decided to race in France even though i'd had my ribs broken by an angry cow three days before.

 I rode to the race because it was only 30k away (but i forgot to factor in the Pyrenees so I only just made it). Then i took sleeping pills instead of the paracetamol i thought i had bought. Then we all crashed into a dog, French people flicked lit cigarette butts at me whenever i poked my nose off the front.

 I won a bottle of wine,  i got a flat riding home and arrived in Lourdes in the dark with no battery left in my front light. I drank the wine.

 I sometimes wonder how i have managed to continue being alive.

Friday, 4 July 2014


(please be kind to my spelling, I wrote this with two digits in between two sleepless nights and two rather voluminous Brazilians on an aeroplane between two countries)
On Saturday I rode for 5 hours, first with a group then with my thoughts then with my friend and finally with a pretty high blood lactate level. On Sunday I rode  hours on dirt with another friend. By the 5 hour point on Sunday I was certainly treading on thin ice, I was out of water and my head was thumping, i'd thrown up in my mouth and even benign singletrack was beyond me as I rode the brakes hard.

Descending on a dirt track I saw a puddle, I was so cracked I wanted desperately to roll in it. The first house we came across was the first door I've ever knocked on that far from anywhere, I was expecting a torrent of abuse at worst  d a hose at best. Instead, the lady who came out to meet my salt encrusted self collapsed over my bars on her porch rushed inside to bring us iced water and huge slices of watermelon. After expressing our thanks we rolled to the top of the last hill with our jerseys open and salt and sand caked on our cheeks. We stopped at a store with a swinging sign and a large array of chewing tobacco and animal feed. We drank pop and ate ice cream sandwiches and smiled and laughed and let melted ice cream mix with the sweat on our arms and didn't care.

In the 21st century so few of our pleasures are uncomplicated. Delicious food has too many calories, beer means we can't drive (or dance) safely, clothes come from sweatshops and electronics aren't much better. Even deciding how we want to indulge ourselves is hard: apple or PC? Which of the18 types of ice cream do I want? What I love bout riding my bike is the purity and simplicity. I ride until my body decides there is no more riding in it and then rest until its ready to ride again. I love he lack of gut and the purity of pleasure it provides. Sitting on  a strangers porch eating watermelon was one of the purest moments of joy I can remember because, for that moment nothing else mattered. There was no guilt and no thought that anything else could be preferable. With a glass of water and a piece of fruit I was totally content.

I'm sure I would be much better at winning bicycle races and lots of other things if I was more accepting of shades of gray but I love the black and white agony and ecstasy which I get from riding in my bike.  I love being totally exhausted and totally content and I don't think id give that up for more chances to stand on boxes. Its the same reason I love not for profit and the same reason

Friday, 20 June 2014

updates from the 'states

it has been an irredeemably long tie since i wrote on here, i'm sorry about that. I've been otherwise engaged posing in lycra with needles and being mistaken for a colonial by the "special" people at Morgan Hill. I also completed another lap around the sun, resulting in my family sending me items which might be useful in the life they would like me to live. Case in point this rather classy razor which comes with the inference that i should never again rock the Jesus look. And yes, that is a real badger hair brush (i actually participated in a Badger conservation project when i was 11 and spent far too long in a sleeping bag counting baby badgers when i should have been playing video games or watching violent movies like a real kid).

(If you don't want to read the soapboxy bit you may want to skip the next part) 

As always I have been busy with 100 campaign ( and Pascua Yaqui ( work. We've been trying hard to find a bike and equipment sponsor for the latter (any help appreciated, a certain major US firm led us down the garden path and then shut the gate on us). Both of these projects are what gives me the energy to keep going out and training, racing, tweeting and blogging. they put a smile on my face every day and really are the most rewarding things i do. For those of you interested in helping we will be riding El Tour together gaain this year. Please feel free to express interest in joining us (jstout at ayudainc dot net ) for a week of bikes 'betes (some beer) and lots and lots of happy thoughts to get you through the winter.

 It also makes me incredibly angry to think that people STILL average just 7-12 months post diagnosis before they die of diabetes related complications in Mali, this is totally abhorrent and unecessary. It also makes me pretty darn angry that after years of working to remedy this without taking a penny from the pharma companies who CREATE the problem in the first place, I see that the golden child of the US pharmaceutical industry has hopped on the bandwagon as it gathers speed. Whilst we welcome support and awareness of the situation I don't really believe that it's possible for one to act to change a system when one relies on that system for one's not insubstantial paycheck.  Oh and that education and empowerment line, yeah I think i  know where that came from....

keep checking the 100 campaign facebook and website as we are working on some cool updates soon for which we will need your help and your beautiful faces but not your money. So there's no excuse not to support us!

I have also been engaging with people on the internet about the fact that it seems to be ok for people in the USA to keep fu**ing killing each other in places of education and for the only form of action that society takes to be flying their flags a bit lower for a week or so until the next group of innocent young people gets massacred. if you follow me on twitter you've likely seen my weekly gun rant, i am sorry if that upsets you but i teach at a university. Someone walked into my lecture late the other week and half the class ducked, that upsets me, a lot. I'll save my rage for another platform, or for the next person who quotes the US constitution at me like it came down from heaven on the back of an angel, (if so I am guessing that angel was white as the constitution is pretty clear on the role and status of black people in the "land of the free).

the not so angry bit, cycling and coffee
OK, deep breath. I have also spending a totally ridiculous amount of time trying to perfect my espresso game. I quite like my new coffee machine (it's a gaggia baby classic), i find it to be a lot like cycling. you change something tiny and the result is huge, you balance all the many variables and strive for perfect output, and most of the time the result is just dark and bitter but there's always just enough lingering sweetness and the hint of something truly wonderful, so you keep trying.

 and yes, that is indeed a large mason jar full of energy gels. Judge me 

Also much like cycling, coffee has different disciplines and skillsets. Excelling at espresso doesn't make you a pourover guru and making good microfoam doesn't give you much cred in the world of roasting and blending. Thus far i have found latte art to be the equivalent of North Shore MTB in that it is entirely beyond my capacities .

Obviously coffee plays a pretty big role IN cycling, i think about 30% of my rides involve some form of caffeine intake and the amount of instagramming i do from birdrock is shamefully hipster. I really appreciate the difference between bad coffee and good coffee. To me, it's a lot like bike riding or life in general, a quality espresso beats out a 20oz gas station mug of hot brown water. Consistency and quality inputs are rewarded and as you keep trying you always get better. But you can overdo it as well, just like the old pedaling.

Oh and talking of pedaling i have entered some bicycling contests with mixed success

Monday, 28 April 2014

baja bike racing, being nice and better breakfasts

it' been a month. Sorry about that. In my defense I've submitted a chapter of my thesis, done some writing in other places  and pedaled around a bit. I've still been twittering and 'gramming away like nobody's business but sometimes it's cathartic to sit down and share something longer than 140 characters.

So in no particular order here's what I've been up to (is this the point when everyone who isn't my mother stops reading?) : I have entered some bike races, mostly in Baja but with a smattering of (arriba?) California thrown in a well. I managed to distinguish myself in one by falling over, getting angry, catching up, getting angrier when nobody would work in the 30+mph wind (yes it WAS that strong), heading off on my own to try and find co-operative souls. Finding the break uncooperative i headed off on my own again to pursue the leaders and managed to find all but two of them. Thus i managed to make it onto the box for the first time this year, to spend a large majority of the 150k in the wind, to earn Tecate, tacos and a fistful of pesos and of course to get my trophy taken to pieces by the overzealous border guard who thought the sweat, dust, spandex and excessive tamale consumption i was exhibiting were all part of an elaborate ruse. He never actually noticed the fact i DID have syringes, vials and prescription meds in my pocket.
i was standing up here 
and trying not to laugh as these guys played "total eclipse of the heart" in Spanish and all i could think of was this 

(this is the point when my mother stops reading as nobody wants to read my race stories). I've also been experimenting with the Vb6 diet. basically i avoid animal products before 6pm. I like this approach for a number of reasons, not least because it treats food as a pleasure and not a faith. I think labelling oneself by diet is indicative of a less than optimal relationship with food. I try and avoid animal products for most of the day, not because i think that people who don't are the spawn of Satan but because i hope that it help in some way to reduce my environmental impact. If i slip up i'm not going to cry about and feel like i have failed, i'd have eaten animal products later that day anyway. But i have made a commitment to try and so I do try. It seems pretty easy so far. I make a big museli mix of oats and chia and flax seed and all kinds of dried fruit with almond or coconut milk for breakfast. When i am riding i lean on trail mix and peanut butter based sandwiches a lot. I let myself have honey as well because, frankly, agave can bugger off, it's just overpriced hipster HFCS. lunch is easy, hummus, veggies, bread, salad, beans ( i try and avoid too much in the way of soy) , pretzels and raisins have become my go to low snack when teaching and then when i get home i have a nice piece of fish or meat and some yogurt ( i don't need any MORE broken bones!).                                                

powered by peanut butter! 

I have had pretty good control eating like this, not BECAUSE vegan food is better for diabetes or health but mainly because i check the labels on things, don't just grab cookies from the corner of the office and i know what i'm eating. I know everyone will jump down my throat for saying it but i don't feel that i could get out of my own way on a bike without some animal protein each day. Maybe i could if i had the time/ energy to calculate all my macronutrients but the whole point is to eat food that's good for the planet and good for my body and my mind and logging food is far from the latter.
I have a totally healthy relationship with chocolate.....

Writing and researching an article on eating disorders in cyclists has really opened my eyes to how lucky i am to be able to enjoy and appreciate food for what it is which is one of life's great pleasures. It's also taught me that for so many people food is something to be feared. many people who you've heard of have reached out to me to talk. Some anonymously others openly. At this stage I'll just say that it's an issue we should all be aware of and that so many eating disorders stem from low self esteem. The best thing we can do to help people through what is becoming an endemic situation is to let them know we value them as people not just as race winners. I look on twitter and see so much negativity these days, perhaps we could all commit to complementing someone, especially someone who might not be on the receiving end of lots of compliments that day (i.e. not the guy who just won LBL but the dude who went as hard as he could to make it to 50k to go and then got shelled like these peanuts i am munching on) .

As fans of cycling we focus on the idea of a clean sport as if it is a moral end in itself but isn't a lack of doping just a means to an end? Shouldn't we be working towards a healthy, nurturing and safe cycling which doesn't leave riders at 35 with drug issues, depression or disordered eating? All of he above aren't helped by low self esteem and i think we, as fans and commentators CAN help change that culture.

SO until next time, JUST BE NICE. and make this museli, it'll help you start the day in a nice way.

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup wheat bran

1/3 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup flax seeds

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried figs (chopped up)
1/2 cup tart dried cherries / unsulphered apricots

a shake of cinnamon (you can use nutmeg, cardamom)
a pinch of salt

Mix all that in a big jar and shake it about. hen place it in a large tupperware or other sealed container and cover it by two inches with either almond milk, kefir, coconut milk, horchata (yup i've done that) or another delicious liquid and stir it to combine. You can add honey here and vanilla essence. you can also add frozen berries the night before and let them defrost.

leave it overnight and then in the morning mix with chopped up fruit, top with toasted almonds and coconut flakes. ENJOY!

obviously you can mix this up a bit, use other grains, add cocoa powder (this works well with darker dried fruit like plums and raisins), use different fruit or different liquid ( i tried milky coffee once and it was pretty good).

and finally, Marlin is the most delicious thing in the sea. so more food pictures

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

hell is other people

Well for the first time in a few months I'm airborne as a result of planned travel rather than a rolled cyclocross tyre or n ill advised attempt to "shred the gnar" on my road bike. I haven't blogged for a long time, I've been riding lots, racing a little, teaching a lot, desperately chasing money for another year of non profit work and wasting lots of time Googling potential facial hair configurations. Oh and I seem to have become deeply involved with a PhD thesis. I've also being writing about bikes elsewhere (. ).That's part of why I haven't written anything, another part is that, in all honesty I'm growing increasingly frustrated with cyclists, not cycling, just cyclists. I love riding my bike and I don't think I ever won't but the people I love riding my bike with seem to represent but a small sliver of those who don spandex and go out to do battle on the asphalt, trails and (all to often) pavements (that's sidewalks for those of you ho only speak American).

Let me expkain my quandary, I know lots of cyclists who are fast, my issue isn't one of elitism, in fact it's the opposite. So many of the guys who are fast, not really fast mind but quite fast, are also so wrapped up in their diets, power meters and intervals that they seem to suck the joy out of what is, for ll of us, a distraction from real life. When I'm riding my bike, I'm happy, I like to talk, to laugh, to have fun n to have coffee. Sometimes I like to smash myself but not to win a bike race on the internet, or a sprint to a town sign, or even to win some much coveted UCI points. I like to ride hard because nothing makes me happier than how I know i'll feel after I've totally exhausted myself. It's all internal, it's about me, how I feel and why I enjoy. Increasingly I'm eeing guys out on rides who seem to be there to project some image of themselves which is neither factual nor particularly attractive.

This all rather came to a head last week in a couple of incidents. A group of my friends from Canada were in town for a week and I met them for the weekly Wednesday world champs (if you don't stalk me on strata you won't have seen my "Wednesday focused" training regime) . it's a fast ride and for the most part safe. There are a couple of very narrow gates and tunnels where, if so inclined, one can punch out a big effort from the front and make it very, very hard to get back on if you're at the back. Approaching one such section this week I took my north of the border buddies up to the front to avoid giving a bad impression. Sadly the zoo behind us proceeded to churn like piranhas around a pepperoni as I slowed down to negotiate the gate safely. One ting led to another and someone fell off their bicycle. After clearing the danger zone I stopped, next to me Janelle Holcombe of "better a bikes than all the boys" fame also stopped. Meanwhile roughly 100 middle aged men on expensive bicycles charged forth like the Mongol hordes ignoring their fallen brethren (or perhaps relishing the infinitesimal improvement in their non existent chances of winning THE sprint). Having assessed that everyone was OK we proceeded to ride back on, at a not unrepeatable 49kph average. Unsurprisingly we passed several of the riders who had neither the compassion to stop nor the capacity to sit on a wheel in the group.

On the return leg of the group ride, rather than slowing down for the sandy latch where the crash had occurred, the same weekday warriors launched (what I imagine they perceived to be) ferocious 300w efforts in order to emerge in front of the carnage of their own creation. Just as I had with the initial crash I held my tongue, I am happy to sit up and let the group ride off when they run red lights or act dangerously, I'm confident that I can catch them, I'm confident I don't want to. Following our miraculous survival of the tunnel of terror and fatigued from their soul crushing efforts, theusualsuspects returned to the safety of the group where one can happily turn ones compact chaining and, provided that One's helmet, wheels and frame are all sufficiently "aero" (see overpriced), remain undropped. Once we reach a hilly section these upgraded components count a little less and sadly the upgraded cake buying potential of many of the riders is fr from beneficial. But fern not, they are experts in the use of the wrong side of the road and the gutter in order to toke their mediocrity to the very front of the group (or to very near the front, lest they trigger their wind allergies) from where they cn leave cavernous gaps but rest assured tht the draft of the rest of us coming round them will be sufficient to grovel back to glorious retelling of their heroics to their long suffering families.

Witnessing one suchexploit, and enraged at the individual in question's lack of concern for the wellbeing of others or the reputation of cyclists in general I may have asked, nicely, if the gentleman would mind not splitting two wheels. His response "no, I like it here" didn't help and I asked him if his preferred location was in between two riders or off the back as the latter was where he seemed to spend mist of hus time but he neverlooked very happy in eithersetting. He responded by dribbling on his top tube a little bit and waving his bike wildly from side to side, seemingly he engaged the 11th gear on his super record groupset, the one labeled reverse. I sat behind him for a while, asking if he liked it more 5 yards off the wheel, after a while his failure to respond and now quite unnerving trail of dribble led me to seek conversation on the other side of the 100 yard gap he had created and so off I pedaled.

After the ride was over I turned around to check on my friends who had been dropped, doubtless still feeling the crash as they're strong riders. On encountering our protagonist I asked him if he was any clearer on his preferred position in the group having tried "in the way" and "off the back". At which point he proceeded to try to engage me in pugilist combat. Given that he lackedin the ability to pedal, steer or even enjoy his bicycle he was pretty easy to avoid but he continued to shout at me. I tried o explain that I didn't wan to hurt him, but that I would be very happy if he would kindly dope running red lights, chopping wheels, pushing people out of his way nd riding on the wrong side of he road. He responded that these were his choices and should I wish to "settle I" i should get off my bicycle. I pointed out hat this would settle nothing and hat he would sill be back next week and sill be dangerous. We all look bad when he makes these choices on our behalf and as a result we all have a right to ask him to reconsider. If he refuses to play by the rules of the game, we have a right not to let him ply with us any more.

I'm sure this gentleman is not the only one of his ilk, I see them every time I ride, people who have forgottenthat riding a bike is about having fun, and should be safe and enjoyable. Anything we can do to increase the safety and enjoyment of the sport, we should. If we continue to ride like hooligans anddisregard other cyclists and road user's wellbeing we cannot expect anyone to respects or our sport. If we really believe it's worth hurting someone, either by hitting them or by riding in such a way as to endanger them or by leaving them by the roadside then we really, really need to look at our priorities.

At the end of the day were all just weirdos in our underwear, nothing we do on our bikes is really of great importance. With the exception of what we do with non profit and cycling for health our riding and racing is really only important to us. We cycle for fun (even though may of us seem to find it herd to have fun whilst cycling).

Oh well, I'm off to DC to remind myself that, whilst middle aged people might want nothing more than group ride glory there are still young people who wntto change the world and make it better for others.