Monthly Archives: May 2018

Marrakech (but no express and no Graham Nash)


Bougainvillea (?) in the hotel gardens

Just back from a week in Marrakech. I’m of an age which means that I can’t hear the word ‘Marrakech’ without thinking of the song (first recorded 50 years ago this year – can you believe that Graham Nash is 76?).

Sadly, we flew rather than took the train, nobody smelled the garden in my hair (OK, that’s not so sad) and, as a non-smoker, I didn’t blow smoke rings from the corners of my mou, mou, mou, mou, mouth.

Perhaps that’s just the effect of the passing of 50 years for you.

– – – – – – –

It was not our usual sort of holiday. Normally we’d go for a villa with a pool, hire a car and be rather anti-social. We’d provide for ourselves during the day, eat out at night and while Mrs O likes to soak up the sun, I tend to read, swim, walk and run.

This time we wanted some sun earlier in the year (well, one of us did) so we headed further south – in Morocco it seemed more sensible to opt for a hotel.

Marrakech airport is very impressive but the first thing that struck me when we arrived in the early evening was that everyone – security men, people on passport control, cleaners – seemed to be eating. I was wondering if we’d come to the obesity capital of the world until it dawned on me that it was Ramadan when the faithful are not allowed to eat or drink between sunrise and sunset and that they were taking the first opportunity to put that right. Sadly, the arrivals were bringing more than enough obesity to go round.

The road in from the airport is equally impressive – wide and well surfaced with a separate lane for bikes and motorbikes (which seem to be almost exclusively 50cc/moped types). It was very difficult to discern the traffic laws as it appeared to be complete chaos (I was not even tempted to hire a bike). I came to the conclusion that either:

a) There are many rules, but nobody observes any of them, or

b) There is only one rule which is ‘there are no rules’.

We’d been to Morocco before – pre marriage – so that puts it over 31 years ago. It might not have been my greatest holiday moment as it turned out that I booked us into a bit of a businessman’s hotel in Tangiers – with a brothel on the second floor!

This time there was no brothel, so far as I know.

We were staying at an all inclusive hotel with 257 rooms and lots of other people, generally even older than me.

The hotel was very good, the staff welcoming (and very numerous) and the food and drink beyond expectations. However, although the ‘all inclusive’ is extremely convenient it’s a terrible temptation to eat and drink more than necessary. At home, I probably don’t eat before early afternoon – here I’d had breakfast and lunch by then and carried on to an evening meal bigger than I’d normally have.


Gratuitous cactus picture

The pool was excellent, but surrounded by a hundred people doing nothing but lying on sun loungers (day 2 repeat, day 3 repeat, etc, etc). On the first day I was the only person actually swimming, with perhaps another two standing in the pool cooling off and a child on an inflatable.

Other groups were sitting in the shade – it’s really weird seeing groups of people sitting around a table, silent, but with each completely intent on a mobile phone. What are they doing? Social media?, web surfing?, texting (the person sitting next to them)?, Netflix? I do worry for the art of conversation.

And the tattoos …..

Clearly, I’m getting even older than I’d realised.

In addition to the swimming, we ran most days (there was a 0.9km path around the inside perimeter of the well-tended grounds and I ran over 21 miles in all) and I visited the gym – I saw one other  person running and two others in the gym. I read two books (and should have taken a third) and generally relaxed. Even the eating and drinking settled down – I gained just about a kilo (just over 2pounds).


The perimeter track – unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me when I passed a small tortoise crossing it one morning. Don’t know the name of the cactus on the left but I think it’s what we call ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ in the UK

So, a very different experience – a really enjoyable holiday but it hasn’t changed my mind about my preference for a villa with a pool.

I’m not saying our approach is better or worse – but, boy, is it different! And on the basis of ‘majority rule’, I guess we must be the weird ones.

– – – – – – –

Thinking about the cycle training while away from it, I think I’ve realised why I keep going for the turbo in preference to the road. I believe it boils down to impatience.

If I’m just going out for a ride, I don’t mind all the faffing about to get ready: the kit, the helmet, getting the bike down from its rack, checking the tyre pressures, getting food and drink, setting up the Garmin, etc.

However, if I’m just going out to clock up the training miles, I just want it over as quickly as possible and that points clearly to the turbo. Kit, a quick check on the rear tyre pressure and away I go.

Can I change my approach and turn training rides into something more enjoyable, rather than just a way of clocking up the distance?

3 day training block Distance Week Distance
1 150km (93m) 1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m) 2 407km (252m)
3 160km (100 m) 3 319km (242m)
4 249km (155m) 4 Run 21+m swim & gym


One size fits all … or not



Giant in more ways than one?

I’ve realised why, after last Sunday’s ride, I was less than keen on riding the Giant TCR2 out to the alps as planned.

Its a triple and although I liked the smaller gap between any two chainrings, the gear changing wasn’t set up very well. Interestingly, the Rose with its compact and a biggest cog of 32 on the back gives me a lowest gear a tiny bit lower than the Giant with its 30 on the front and 28 on the rear.

The Giant is about 1kg heavier than the Rose but, mainly, it felt too big, especially the reach to the handlebars. When I finished I measured the distance between the centre of the handlebars and front tip of the saddle on the Rose – 51 cm. I did the same for the Giant – 56cm!

I’d got used to the Giant in the 5 years it was my main bike – when I bought the Rose I was between two frame sizes.

I contacted Rose in Germany and their representative in the UK to ask for advice on which size to buy. The Germans came back and said the smaller one – the UK rep said the larger one. I went for the smaller one.

I could immediately tell it was smaller and actually bought a longer stem to reproduce more of the Giant’s geometry but never got around to fitting it as, by then, I’d got used to the Rose as it was. Surprising what you can get used to.


A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet

So I’m not surprised that the Giant is bigger … but 10% on that measure?

I’m surprised that neither has caused me any discomfort or injury – perhaps I’ve shrunk over the years between the two bikes.

The question is which is right (or more right). I’ll check the distance between front of saddles and steerer to see if I’m right in thinking that it’s mainly down to the length of the stem (I notice that the Giant’s is a 130mm).

Perhaps I need a bike fit.

Turbo torture and towel trickery


Clanfield – the motorcyclists were on a treasure hunt, luckily I could give them one of the answers

OK, perhaps my two days off the bike should have been rest days – instead I ran on both Monday and Tuesday, even if it was only for a total of 16km (10 miles). The result was that my legs still ached on Wednesday morning when I was due to start my fourth three day training block – it was also cool and breezy so yet again I deferred to the late afternoon and the turbo.

It’s a bit worrying, the way I’m going more for the turbo than the road. I don’t really understand it as the turbo is boring and very intense and it’s hard to get in the bigger milage I need. Whatever it is I’d better snap out of it – but at least I did some gardening and tidying as a penance.

It may be nothing more than laziness in that it’s easier to get changed and onto the turbo and it takes less time to clock up the distances (mainly because the turbo reads so generously). On the other hand, I push hard, without any breaks, on the turbo and finish bathed in sweat so perhaps ‘laziness’ isn’t quite the right word.

I do worry that I might kill some of the joy of cycling with so much on the turbo – but at least it seems to be character forming and a real test of determination.

The turbo session late in the afternoon was as hard as usual and a bit further than normal – 82km in 1:54 @ 43.1kph (51 miles @ 26.7mph).

Looking at the trip computer can be dispiriting when it seems to be going particularly slowly. Today, on the ‘watched pot never boils’ principle, I put a towel over the screen and tried to forget about it. I’d done over 59km by the first time I looked at the distance, which felt much more motivational. I’d just be happier if my legs would stop aching and my nasal system would clear.

On Thursday I was happier as the legs were, at least, aching less. The achilles tendon aches must have been due to the running and the quads and hamstrings were recovering despite Wednesday’s efforts.

Domestic obligations meant – yet again – it was the turbo in the late afternoon, 85km in 1:57:20 @ 43.4kph (53 miles @ 27mph). The towel trick worked well again – 72km first time I looked!

The third of the block was … you’d never guess … on the turbo. A lovely day but too busy to get out. This retirement lark is not all sitting around drinking coffee.

It was harder than ever, hot, intense and relentless. I really wanted to stop at 50km but talked myself into going to 60km. As it was, it improved a bit and I got to 82km in 1:51:35 @ 44.1kph (51 miles @ 27.4mph).

So, the fourth 3 day training block for the 500 mile ride out to the alps was 55% up on last week’s (reduced) number and back to the level of the week before that. Fairly happy and legs not aching (though still blowing pleasing amounts of muck out of my nose).

Saturday was great – excellent weather, a rest day from the cycling, and Mrs O went over to a friend’s to watch the wedding while I maintained a Royal Wedding free zone.


Clanfield again

On Sunday I got out on the bike – on the road – the antidote to the turbo trainer … and it restored much of my faith in cycling. Fuelled by a cup of coffee before I went out and a small banana half way round I meandered along a nowhere sort of route for 100.4km in 3:39 @ 27.5kph (62 miles @ 17mph). I took the Giant that I’m planning to ride out to the alps but am wondering if I should take the Rose anyway …. decisions, decisions.

I stopped to help a German cyclist who had a cut in his rear tyre. I had a Savlon wipe in a small foil sachet with me and he used the foil wrapper to go between tube and tyre as a ‘get me home’ fix. I hope it got him home.

The riding without carbs seems to be helping with the weight – now around 65kg (143lbs).

3 day training block Distance Week Distance
1 150km (93m) 1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m) 2 341km (212m)
3 160km (100m) 3 349km (217m)
4  249km (155m)

In praise of fitness (up to a point)


The bike goes faster – but these might feature more later in the year

I started the week with a slightly less sore throat but some even more sore muscles. I decided on a couple of days off the bike but ran with Mrs O on Monday.

Our younger son completed the Brighton Marathon last year in a very good 4hr 06min on a blisteringly hot day.  He’s now talking about running another with a view to beating the 4 hour mark. It’s my fault of course – I ran the London Marathon in 1998 and 1999 and got in (just) under the 4 hours both times.

Provisionally he has earmarked the Rotterdam Marathon in April next year as it’s  pretty flat and generally regarded as a fast course. I have a mad idea that I might do it with him. I’m lighter now than I was back in the late 1990s – but, not surprisingly, 20 years older.

For a few years I’ve run with Mrs O and we now tend to do 6km at a bit over 7min/km (11.3 min/mile). Sadly, a sub 4 hour pace needs 5 min 38 sec/km (9 min 9 sec per mile) so I thought I’d better see what pace I can run at to either encourage me – or tell me not to contemplate it.

Nothing hurt quite so much on Tuesday morning so I ran again by myself to see if I still have any running legs. I did 10km (6.2 miles) in 57:34 which is 7 seconds per km off 4 hour marathon pace. Not bad enough to completely discourage me but perhaps the running goes to the back burner until after the alps in the summer …

The next three day riding block will be on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. In the interim, I’ve been thinking about fitness.

If fitness is all about being mentally, physically an emotionally in good shape, with strength, health and flexibility, you can sign me up for it any day.

Extreme fitness, on the other hand, seems to be a different proposition.

The few occasions I’ve been pretty fit (for a man of my then age) were in the lead up to the two London Marathons, L’Étape in 2013, the Cinglé in 2015 and Everesting last year – and on each of those I’ve looked gaunt, been tired and susceptible to colds and coughs, and ached.

Only in that wonderful final week of tapering off (I’m much better at the tapering off than I am at the training itself) immediately before the event did I feel like I was reasonably strong, healthy and full of energy.

It’s all on a bit of a knife edge as heavy training (and this is relative, of course, as my ‘heavy’ training is nothing like a proper athlete’s) takes the body to its extremes – witness the number of top athletes who break down in training or big competitions.

On those rare occasions I have got to be reasonably fit, I’ve had the temptation to keep it going to avoid the effort of getting it back later. Of course, this temptation disappears as soon as the event I was training for is over and normal sloth-mode returns – but I guess that keeping a very high level of fitness going is almost impossible, and even it it were possible, it would be very unwise.

That’s probably not too surprising – even elite athletes have to peak for the most important competitions and they have the advantage of teams of coaches, nutritionists, physios etc. No doubt their base fitness levels are astronomically high compared to mine (and they are typically 30 or 40 years younger) but even they can’t maintain peak form for too long.

So it’s not just about where to get with the fitness – it’s also about the timing of when to get there. I’ve got time before the ride out to the alps but a great deal of improvement is needed, finishing with a timely peak.

End of the second week’s training – aches, pains, sweat and Kevin Keegan


This can only mean it’s been back to the turbo

After 7 days of riding out of the previous 8 I took Wednesday off to go to London for a lunch where Kevin Keegan (former footballer and captain of both Liverpool and England) was the guest speaker. He was excellent – very interesting and witty – Mrs O and our sons were there so it was great to have everyone together.

Mrs O was not overly keen on the event beforehand (not being a great football fan) but ‘King Kev’ won her over too. He was very good at having time for everyone and posed for endless photos and signed innumerable autographs. Quite a man.

I took Thursday off as well but got back on the bike Friday for the first of the third three day training block. With various things needing to be done it ended up being the turbo. Having got outside to cycle, the turbo is a much less attractive proposition and it’s hard doing big distances on it but I managed 65 km in 1:27:19 @ 44.6 kph (40 miles @ 27.7 mph).

Again my legs felt very heavy early on but they improved and finished strongly – the ride must have had a big negative split.

It’s a pattern that’s developed over the last few rides, I wonder if it’s a by product of the training – although it seems strange this time as I’d rested for the previous two days. On balance, I think I’m happy with it that way – in general, how you finish is probably more important than how you start.

I overslept on Saturday morning and woke with a sore throat and more aches. That might be another explanation for the heavy legs on the turbo. Having just started a new 3 day block, I decided to carry on with it, health permitting but to tone it down a bit on distance.

I’d promised that I’d run with Mrs O so we did our usual 6+km (just under 4 miles) which went well and in the late afternoon I was back on the turbo. With no intention to do any great distance, I went for a quicker ride and did 40km in 48:44 @ 49.2kph (25 miles @ 30.56mph).

I wish I’d been looking at the average speed as I was clocking around 60kph for the last few kms and might have been able to get to a 50kph average before collapsing. Looks like the 50kph turbo session is for another day.

I woke today with an equally sore throat and muscles that were generally even more sore. After gardening and domestic stuff I struggled to get the enthusiasm for the turbo but managed 55km in 1:19:41 @41.3kph (34.1 miles @ 25.66mph).

Out of curiosity, I weighed myself before and after the session – I lost 0.7kg (1.5 pounds) which I guess is all fluid. Remembering ‘a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter’ that’s 1.2 pints (0.682ml)!

A decent week for distance but a lighter third training block. That’s not surprising given that it was all on the turbo and I’ve not felt on top form. Given that, I’m reasonably pleased with the effort.

So, the second week of training for the ride to the alps looked like this:

3 day training block Distance Week Distance
1 150km (93m) 1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m) 2 341km (212m)
3 160km (100 m)

Next week it must be back on the road again – and more miles.

Week two training – and some random stuff


Radcot bridge over the River Thames (which, I believe, gets bigger by the time it gets to London).

The Lord of The (Chain) Rings

The weekend was good for TV – there’s a rarity – watching The Lord of The Rings, ‘The Two Towers’ on Saturday evening and ‘The Return of The King’ on Sunday – both for the umpteenth time.

I hope Peter Jackson lies awake in bed relishing the wonderful work he did to make that trilogy – but I fear that he might more likely lie awake in bed at night wondering how on earth he could also have made The Hobbit trilogy.

I’m not sure if I dreamt it but I think I remember Sam saying something to the effect ‘Yes, Mr Frodo, let’s take the ring to Mordor, but don’t ask me to cycle from Caen to the alps’.

Tour de Yorkshire

The final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire (the 4 day stage race which is a key legacy from Yorkshire’s very successful hosting of the TdF start in 2014 – we went up for that and it was magnificant) was on Sunday and saw one of the great solo breakaway wins in pro cycling.

Stephane Rossetto (Cofides) rode to victory in a solo break which lasted over 120km. Admittedly, the field was not the strongest ever seen in a pro race but second in the stage (and overall winner) was Greg Van Avermaet (2016 Olympic road race champion) with Serge Pauwels in overall third – so not at all shabby.


Second Training Block

Sunday was a really lovely day with a good 6.4km (4 mile) run in the morning with Mrs O. It was also the first day of the second block of three training days with a ride on the turbo of 65km @ 42.8kph (40.4 miles @ 26.6mph) in the evening.

Monday was a Bank holiday in the UK with more good weather so the second ride was outside. I clocked up a local loop of 50 miles @17.4mph (81km @28kph) in the low to mid 70s℉ (c.23℃).

On Tuesday I went to Dorset with Philip (the giver of very good advice in my everesting in the alps last summer) for a birthday ride with Phil (who accompanied me on my 11th repetition while everesting) who was 60 last week and is back from Germany for a few days visiting family.

We had a great ride of 100.5 km (62 miles) taken at a reasonably leisurely 21 kph (13 mph) but with over 1700m of climbing (5600 feet).

Coffee was on the Isle of Portland that we had climbed above earlier.


Lunch was in Poundbury which is an experimental ‘new town’ on the edge of Dorchester. It is built on Duchy of Cornwall land (owned by Prince Charles) with a simple basic idea of creating ‘a high-density urban quarter of Dorchester which gives priority to people, rather than cars, and where commercial buildings are mixed with residential areas, shops and leisure facilities to create a walkable community’.

It’s a pastiche of all sorts of building styles. It has been mocked as a feudal Disneyland but has proved very successful with a growing and diverse community. Certainly, lots to admire but, aesthetically, I really did not like it at all – to me it felt like a Hollywood film lot or something out of the Stepford Wives.



On the way back we stopped to look at the Cerne Abbas Giant – a 180 foot tall chalk figure of a naked man cut in the hillside. Not surprisingly it’s the site of a number of fertility rituals. At least it seems he was excited to see us!


Cerne Abbas giant – thought to be  either 1500 years old or 350 years old. I think I know where I’d put my guess.

Training so far (adjusted for the ride on Sunday which falls into week 1)

3 day Training block Distance Week Distance
1  150km (93m) 1  271km (168m)
2  246 (153m) 2  182km (113m) – in 2 days so far

Although it’s early days, this 3 consecutive day training block idea is tough. I’ve done successive days before but generally on the turbo and for shorter distances – and my turbo reads generously!

Admittedly, my first 3 day block was 4 days and as of Tuesday I’d done 7 rides in 8 days (plus a run and a gym session) – but although my legs feel tired, they do respond reasonably well once asked to perform again.

This was particularly true of Tuesday when my legs felt pretty empty from the outset but they held it together on a very hilly 100km.


Bike bags and gladrags (apologies to Rod Stewart, no tartan*)


That looks like a bike you could ride out to the alps …..? Yes, I know I should put something in the barrel – but I’m not sure it hasn’t simply rotted through.


The bike bags I plan to take with me on the ride to the alps have arrived. I decided on a third (for the top of the top tube), taking the total expenditure to an eye-watering £18.50 – the best part of $26. I know, this is getting out of hand!

They say they are waterproof but at those prices I think I’ll make sure all the stuff inside is in plastic bags.

My idea is not to mess too much with the aerodynamics but to have a couple of small bags for things that I might need to put my hands on quickly, and small items that might be harder to find in the big bag.

The bike theme is a strong ‘stealth’, open weave, carbon fibre black but, very sensibly, I have gone for bags with flashes of red.

As everyone knows, adding red to a bike makes it go faster.

The big bag is said to be 10 litres. I assume that means it could hold 10 litres (17 pints) of fluid. It’s hard to picture how much that is in practical terms.

Of course, the weather at the time will influence what I need to take. Apart from cycling kit I’ll be wearing, I think I’ll need:

  • a second cycle kit in case I can’t wash the first, arm and leg warmers, hi viz waterproof
  • a pair of trousers, a shirt, socks, underwear, shoes and fleece for evenings
  • a credit card, passport, european health card and insurance details
  • the Garmin, a phone, a tablet (PC), chargers and a power pack
  • a minimalist medical kit
  • lights, lock, a spare tube, some patches and some tools.

I think I’ll also take a notebook with directions in case the Garmin fails and an emergency blanket/bivvy bag, for use if accommodation fails to materialise.

Is that enough – and will it fit?

I’ll start having a look to see how the packing might go.



My weight bobbled around the 154 pounds (70kg) mark for the first quarter of the year but I got it down for the sportive and it’s now comfortably around 148 pounds (67kg). Weight doesn’t feel too crucial for the ride out to the alps as that is fairly flat – but being trim won’t hurt the weeks’ cycling when I get there.

*I’m not a big Rod Stewart fan but I do like ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ (also recorded by the Stereophonics) and ‘In a broken dream’ (recorded with Python Lee Jackson).

I suppose Sir Rod is in most people’s lists of the top ten most famous living Scotsmen – even though he was born in London – along with Sean Connery and perhaps Chris Hoy, Sir Alex Ferguson (get well soon, Sir Alex), Billy Connolly, Ewan MacGregor, Jackie Stewart, Robert Carlyle, Colin Montgomerie, etc ????

I wonder how many of them live in Scotland?

Training week one – and spring has arrived (better late than never)


At last, spring. The copper breech looking ….. er ….. copperish, the apple tree with blossom (showing no ill effects from me falling out of it in March) and the lawns mowed

Happily, my training for the ride to the alps might not be as random as I’d feared it was going to be. That is thanks to Jim of Fit Recovery (one heck of a good blog – well worth reading for many reasons) who kindly came up with the advice to go for training blocks of 3 consecutive days of riding, with increasing distances.

To be honest, I prefer the ‘eat more cake’ recommendation from a tongue in cheek Tempo Cyclist (another exceptional blog, by the way) but I suppose nothing worth achieving comes without sacrifice.

The ‘training blocks’ idea makes good sense – it replicates the ride in the summer which will be 3 (or 4) days and will help educate my body to recover ready for the following day in the saddle.

After a week off following the sportive I decided to get back into it so I did the first 3 day block on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The weather was still uncertain early in the week so it was back to the turbo.

Tuesday – 50km in 1:06:14 @45.2kph (31 miles @ 28mph) with 6x1km sprints – something as simple as that made it much tougher than normal.

Wednesday – 53.6km in 1:12:17 @ 44.6kph (33.3 miles @ 27.75 mph) after going to the gym in the afternoon. I found it hard and had intended to struggle no further than 50 km but stupidly made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t stop before the end of the frame of World Championship snooker I was watching – it turned out to be a long one!

Thursday: 56.43km in 1:21:20 @ 41.6. A little slower but not too bad at the finish, after a sluggish start with tired legs.

So, 160km (100 miles) in 3 days – against a week’s target of 150km. True, it was all on the turbo but I do make sure turbo sessions are intense and relentlessly hard. Out on the roads next week.

With the promise of a cycle-free Saturday (going to London for our younger son’s birthday) I let youthful exuberance get the better of me and I was back on the turbo on Friday for another hard, quick hour: 46.48km (28.9 miles) with 5 sprints of 1km.

It might be my Spinal Tap moment – if three is good, four must be better, right?

That makes 206.5km (128 miles) for the week – in 4 days. A reasonable start but a bit sobering that those four days combined were still more than 70km (40+ miles) short of what I plan to ride on each of the 3 days in July!

Today it seemed that spring had arrived. A great day for cycling missed – but I’d give up any number of cycling days for our sons, and it was also a great day to see the younger one for his birthday.