Saturday, 25 August 2012

long ride ramblings

You know when you go to a gig, and the band kicks off into some instrumental jams and everyone's into it for about  minutes, then it gets really pants really fast? I imagine that's how it feels to read another blog in which i tell you that it's really fun riding bikes. Of course it is, i've found some great dirt roads this week, ridden down palomar twice, done my first group ride since i hurt myself, rediscovered the pleasure of pop tarts and the pain of sunburn.
And so I'm sitting here with my guitar in my hands thinking about what to write. I'm pretty sure nobody want's to hear another word about Lance Armstrong, he's like turd cycling can't flush away. let's hope this is the start of the end of the whole saga and we can put his enormous hubris behind us.

Long rides begin like the best blog posts, with no direction and no plan, they flow with the way you feel. you turn right when the light is red and you planned to go straight, and you go straight when you planned to turn because you're busy unwrapping a sandwich. You go where you hadn't planned and somehow you wind your way back to where you started, or where you needed to be.

What i like most about long rides is the way the conversation goes into the most esoteric and existential topics. i discuss things with people on rides that i would never normally talk to them about. there's none of the usual male awkwardness, we talk about relationships, baking, emotions, salad dressing, music and lunch. It always seems a shame to me to ride with someone i haven't met before and to discuss exclusively "cycling" topics. A long ride is a great chance to get to know someone, who they really are and what they really think it's a shared journey, with shared emotions   and experiences. Asking someone about tyre pressure and grip tape doesn't seem to be a great use of that experience.

Whenever you fall in with guys who ride a lot for a long ride, the topics of conversation rarely stray to bike stuff. We might talk about cycling in it's essential (platonic?) nature but not about it's manifestations. For me the long ride at some point ceases to be about cycling. I've put in some big hours alone recently and i really value the chance to pick apart my own perspectives on things, to let song lyrics roll through my brain and bounce around inside. long rides bring me the kind of existential peace with myself that i don't think i could find elsewhere, the combination of mild oxygen deprivation, solitude and just enough mental stimulus from pedalling, steering and changing gear seems to put my brain in a really productive place. I have so many great ideas on a five hour ride, and i forget so many great ideas by the time i am capable of executing them but that's ok. What exists in the moment, when you're deep inside your own thoughts doesn't always work so well in the banal, possibility constrained "normal world". there's something to be said for the beauty of things which exist only in the moment, and those moments only seem to come to me in the mountains on my own.

So having said that i wasn't going to harp on about enjoying training i have just written the literary equivalent of a crowd surfing bass solo. please don't bottle me off stage, I'll revert to type soon. I'm off on an adventure tomorrow and i'm bound to do something silly enough to tell you about.

oh and while we are on the subject of concerts, check this out http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01mbrzt/Reading_and_Leeds_Festival_2012_The_Vaccines_and_Florence__The_Machine/

Thursday, 16 August 2012

a blog about books which are about bike racing before there were blogs


As a quick change of pace toady I’m going to be waxing lyrical about reading, not riding. Given my recent period of extreme sedentaryness I’ve had plenty of time to read. And I took full advantage of it. Most of my reading was of a more academic nature but I did find time to indulge my love of cycling from the comfort of my own sofa.
You’re used to seeing the same old books doing the review rounds no doubt; some guy wrote a book telling people how to eat food (I’m not sure how we came to the situation where that was needed) another wrote a book saying he doped, yet another has a book saying he doped AND alleging that other people did the same (including the guy who wrote the book I mentioned before). Bored and confused yet? For my cycling literary adventures I chose something a little more upbeat, something that reminds me that there was a cycling before oversocks, helmet covers (or indeed helmets), PEDs and marginal gains. Something about the culture which we as cyclists share with other cyclists throughout the world, throughout history. Something of a platonic ideal of cycling if you will.
When I’m feeling in need of such a platonic pick me up I turn to cultura ciclista, a Spanish publishing house dedicated to just such books. You will not find training manuals, diet guides or doping accusations here but rather stories, and ones which will hopefully inspire you to go and ride your bike.
The two books I read were inventando el ciclismo and manana salimos, although I have read all the other boos listed on the website in different languages. The two mentioned helped me through my cycling withdrawal and helped me to remember why I love riding a bike. The adventures, mishaps discoveries and journeys. This is cycling as epic and as tragedy. The victories are won on a different scale, calculated in hours not seconds. The losses are felt on a more existential level. The books tell the story of early cyce racing through the eyes of pioneers of the sport. Inventando el ciclismo chronicles the earliest days of Pais-Brest Paris and the monster races which we don’t see in today’s professional cycling. This really is cycling as a journey and serevs as a wonderful reminder Manana salimos is the story of Jean Bobet,a  cyclist who spent his sporting career in his brothers shadow but intellectually held the yellow jersey amongst cyclists of his era. Not only is the book full of fantastic anecdotes but it paints a picture of the harsh realities of life in postwar Europe.  
I’m reliably assured that these books and others (including Fignon’s fantastic Nous ├ętions jeunes et insouciants , if you’re looking for a hero you can relate to, look no further) will soon be available via amazon.es  and before you harp off about A) not having time to read a book or b) not having any languages other than English consider that both of these are points to your detriment. If you’ve got time to read my musings there is time in your life for these fantastic stories, and another language broadens one’s world and one’s prospects. I would fins it pretty hard to exist in the USA without Spanish and travel would be a nightmare. Both texts are reasonably priced, available in paperback and make great gifts for yourself, or your non cycling other half (you know the “if you don’t like it I will” kind of gifts) so they can see how awesome cycling really is (and I mean awesome in it’s proper sense) .

The books are available on http://www.cultura-ciclista.com/ or @culturaciclista on twitter or via the facebook page by the same name 

Monday, 13 August 2012

weekend wonderfulness

It's Sunday night, my skin feels prickly from sunburn, I've drunk more water than i ever thought possible and still feel thirsty. I haven't seen a bloodsugar above 180 all day and I'm hungry. Nothing beats the feeling of a good, hard couple of days on the bike. Just being outside for a solid 11 hours over two days in the sun and the wind makes me feel so much more alive. Exercise really is the cure for most things that ail you; i feel happier, sleep better, have better sugar control and eat more regularly. 

What I've missed most about riding is the journey. cycling is unique in that it's as much travel as sport, as my team's name suggests we are as much travelers as athletes. I love the things i see and the people i meet out on the road. Just this weekend i ran into friends i haven't seen for over 18 months, met people riding their first 100 mile ride. Rode with a kid who was rocking a pink dinosaur horn and bumped into someone at a BBQ who i'd met on the road two years before and remembered me thanks to the little box on my arm. That's a lot of people to come into and out of my world (and then back into it) in a 48 hour period. The great thing is we all share the pleasure of riding, the joy of being outside, of covering ground and of feeling tired, hungry and accomplished afterwards. 

I'm not going fast at the moment, but i still feel the same. I've missed being hungry, I've missed being tired. Not  exhausted but a little burn when i go up flights of stairs, and a solid eight hours of shut eye every night along with a good nap in between lunch and working. I've been busy when i haven't been riding and i have achieved a lot, but the feeling of having drained yourself makes sleep and food more desirable, working on the computer more tolerable and life entirely more enjoyable.

What's more i'm planning a road trip to do what makes me happy most. Head out on a poorly planned and completely unbudgeted trip to somewhere incredibly beautiful to ride my bike a lot, to sleep on sofas and under the stars, meet new people, eat new food and ride new roads. Maybe i'll bump into some people who are reading this, i hope to be able to share my experiences with all of you. It's been too long since my last adventure. 

Right now i feel like i did as a kid, going on rides with no power goals, no time goals, no intervals. just going out and riding and then when i'm tired i sit down, have a sandwich and ride home. I've bonked like a complete novice, smiled like a loon at the feeling of going 50mph and the wind brushing past my face, I've cursed at punctures and  unzipped my jersey to bear my snow white chest to the californai sun. I don't really care if i am not going fast or winning races, i'm having great fun riding my bike. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

spreading the good news

Have you ever shouted boomshakala in a public place? i have.

I just got a call from my doctor, he says i can ride again tomorrow. Not in groups and no racing but i can ride my bike. I am so excited, like i've just got a furby when all the other kids got books and knitted jumpers.  Now admittedly i'm sure i won't be shredding right when i get back on the bike.in fact i imagine i'll be suffering on a quite monumental scale but at this point after six weeks away from my bike i just want to be outside, i just want to be moving, to be feeling the wind brushing past my cheeks (which i can now shave without worrying about the sea water chafing them). I can't wait to be properly hungry and properly tired again and to be able to eat carbs without feeling like crap right after. I'm excited to visit my old routes, maybe the plants are less green after 6 weeks without rain, maybe the singletrack is cracked and dusty. maybe the rivers are drier and the rabbits which were babies are bigger. that's all to be discovered, all things i've missed.

The next few weeks will be hard, every ride will hurt but every ride i will get stronger, make gains and progress. I'll be behind the guys i was ahead of before, but i'll catch them, and then i'll drop them. I'm lucky, the same process that healed a broken spine in six weeks bounces back from hard riding and comes back stronger, better. Now, more than ever i have realised that what i enjoy about ths sport is not just the competition, it's nice to win but i don't get to do it that often any more. It's the journey, the process. The pilgrims on the camino de santiago whom i stayed with last year wished each other buen camino every day "good travel" or maybe "good roads" now, more than ever i feel that way abotu riding my bike. the joy is in the journey in taking your body and moulding it, shaping it pushing it and letting it bounce back. I just don't get that kind of fulfillment from much else, that feeling of building something and those positive feedback responses.

I have learned a lot about myself and about my body by not riding as well. I've never struggled with my blood sugars so much because i've never been sedentary, not since i can recall. But that was a positive experience, i can help people now, the process of transitioning from high to low basal and low to high insulin sensitivity will be another new one for me and another learning curve i can help people walk.

i want to write more but i have a beer to drink and a chain to clean

Friday, 3 August 2012

Medal winning mentalities and smiling your way to success

this week has been fun, my pelvis is healing at a frankly Olympian speed and i can now sit on the bike for 45 minutes and put out 225 soul crushing watts for that time. The nice thing is, it feels like i'm riding at 225, not like i'm bleeding out of my eyeballs doing 380. I hope this translates into something approaching comfort when i start riding outside again, which will be soon, i hope.

Fortunatley i have had the olympics to watch whilst convalescing this week, I always enjoy the games (who doesn't?) they're the only time when I can really shout at a tv showing someone doing dressage without feeling slightly self conscious and there is something so fulfilling about cracking a beer and pontificating with your mates about women's heavyweight judo when none of you have the faintest clue what on earth is going on. I enjoy the pagentry of the ceremonies as well, it tells us a lot about how nations see themselves. I wrote an article on the Barcelona 1936 games (journal of olympic history if you're interested) and ever since then i can't help but go a bit meta on olympic symbolism. Given that the London i grew up with was more like this and less like this it was nice to see a reflection of what makes up British identity (even if i had to see that through the lens of the Numbskull Broadcasting Corporation who didn't know who Tim Berners-Lee was) especially when that identity isn't all about football, people who happen to be related to people who happen to live in Buckingham Palace or some constructed imagery which wasn't even true at the time it is supposed to reference. These things have their place, but they aren't, to me anyway, salient pillars of identity.

what IS and what I was really proud to see highlighted was the national health service, state run health care is one of the things i miss most about home. Put simply it seems to me to be the hall mark of developing a post industrial society. it shows a level of mutual respect and value and I cannot think of a more compeling use of public funds. I just finished talking to my little sister, she is about to take her med school finals. She's working on a paed ward in which she was telling me that there is an electronic toy jeep the surgery jeep. Any children having non emergency surgery get to drive the jeep from the ward to the theater, theother kids see them and get excited about the prospect. Parents on the ward apparently find it breaks a lot of the tension to see their little kid careering and crashing his or her way to the anesthetic. What a brilliant idea.

There's also someone called a play specialist who is in charge of explaining procedures to children in a way they will understand, making them comfortable and making the ward a fun environment. I think it's not only youngsters who would benefit from this, although admittedly if they had to explain all my injuries in the last 5 years on a teddy bear, i wouldn't envy the bear!

There's something we can all learn here, beign sick and getting better isn't just about science it's about spirit. I try to do the same thing with diabetes, make it fun, make it cool don't make it all about needles and numbers. At the end of the day, when someone is sick we wish them to "feel better" but we so often approach medicine in a way that makes people feel worse. Obviously you're not going to feel good if you're up to your eyeballs in medical debt, or if you can't go to hospital at all because you lack insurance and i think you can all guess how i feel about the US system but i don't feel like going on a rant today. I'll just say that a unique benefit of a state funded system is that it allows investment in holistic practices such as those i have described above because of the scale of the system and because the idea is to save drug costs, not fund drug reps' new lexus payments.

Interestingly this idea of holistic happiness producing better outcomes brings us back to the track. Victoria Pendleton, despite being the most talented track sprinter of her generation, struggles hugely with self confidence and in her case, what makes her fast is making herself relaxed and happy. So many people could learn from this, i see people every day distracting themselves form their low self esteem by working ferociously at jobs they don't enjoy and don't find fulfilling.

So, when you see Vicky P or anyone else standing on the podium or you see your own challenges in life confronting you, be they gold medal finals or just a tough week at work or perhaps some health issues remeber to take some time for yourself and heal up your soul as well as your body.