Monthly Archives: May 2019

Back to the turbo trainer (nearly) and, for something completely different, cricket

The Pavilion at The Oval cricket ground, South London

One of the (many) things I’m bad at is taking time to recover from illness or injury. Partly it’s just that I like exercise but it’s also fear that delay means I won’t be ready for the next challenge, whatever that might be.

Of course, that’s daft. Fretting about it won’t help and training too soon is likely to be entirely counter-productive and actually slow down the whole process.

Admittedly, having torn the right calf on Saturday, cycling on Sunday and going for two long walks (two long limps) over the weekend might not have been wise but the ride was short and gentle and I don’t get the chance to walk with both of our sons too often so I wasn’t going to turn those down.

Since then I’ve tried to be better. It was Bournemouth on Wednesday (no running) and from there straight to London in the evening to be ready to go to the cricket on Thursday.

Apologies to those in parts of the world that don’t have any knowledge of cricket (and to the millions who do know about it but still don’t like or understand it) – but I really like it. How can you not admire a game that can finish without any positive result at the end of 5 days of play?

This was the first game of the Cricket World Cup – a tournament of one day games, each of just 50 overs per side, meaning a match with a playing time of a mere 7 hours or so. This opening match was England v South Africa. Purists might look down on one day cricket as ‘cricket for those who don’t like cricket’ but it’s hard to know where the game would be without its shorter forms of as they are the main draws of big crowds.

Following England in just about any sport is an agony of optimism, disappointment and frustration. This time it is possibly worse than usual because of high expectations, England being the favourites for the tournament.

We batted first and posted a very decent, but not unbeatable, 311 runs for the loss of 8 wickets. The South Africans were in the hunt for the first half of their reply but faded in the face of some brilliant English fielding and catching, and were all out for 207. A very good day and a very good result against the side ranked 3rd in the world in one day cricket.

Perhaps above all else, we avoided the three words that strike despair into the heart of cricket fans – “Rain Stopped Play”.

By Friday the calf was feeling better and the Achilles seemed to be improving slowly so I was thinking I would get on the turbo trainer for the first time since early March. However, as the bike on the turbo has clipless pedals it would have meant a good deal of calf involvement – so I thought better of it. Signs of common sense, perhaps.

I don’t really understand why I’ve done so little cycling for such a long time. It was logical while I was marathon training but why so little since? I hope I haven’t fallen out of love with it.

We are visiting different friends for lunch on Saturday and Sunday which will mean a full 8 days after hurting the calf without any significant exercise. Is next week the one I start to get my act together?

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An alpine reality check … Galibier here I come?

Mt Blanc from Le Bettex last year

After a day of hobbling around with the calf pull (or as I like to think of it, ‘calf tear’ which may be the same thing but sounds more dramatic) I did my turn leading the club Sunday ride. Probably not wise as I still couldn’t walk properly but it’s an easy and short ride (this one was 13 miles, 21km) aimed at families, new cyclists and those returning to riding.

I took a mountain bike and made sure I cycled with the pedal under the arch of my right foot to avoid flexing the ankle. Very much a case of do what I say, not what I do – on Wednesday’s training session I’d been telling the school children to ride with the balls of their feet on the pedals.

It worked pretty well – except that I had to take my right foot off the pedal when going over bumps as otherwise the shock through the leg rather hurt. We had a new chap cycling with us – he’s a relatively new cyclist but looks like a really good recruit for the Saturday rides too.

After reading up on matters on the internet, I think I’ve managed a grade one (or possibly one and a half) tear to the right calf muscle as I was able to run (slowly) back to the flat after I did it on Saturday. It was a real shame (to say the least) as I’d just run a 5:05 km before it went, which is quite quick for me.

The calf is both painful and swollen – if both my calf muscles were this size normally, I’d be a proud man.

It’s all a bit stressful – I never seem to injure myself cycling (subject to the very occasional falling off) but the running has given me 6 months of painful Achilles tendons every morning, an unhappy knee ligament and now a pulled muscle. The answer looks like stopping the running and going back to the cycling … but I enjoyed the Marathon last month, I do like running – and want to do another marathon. What should I do?

With our sons home over the weekend they helped in the garden and, once I had progressed from hobbling to limping (and with me wearing a very fetching green surgery-strength compression sock) we went for a couple of great (slow) walks before they went back to London on Monday.

Looking to the mountains

The annual cycling trip out to the alps is starting to loom large on the horizon. This year we are incorporating a night away from the apartment to open up some new climbs. My vote has gone in for the Col du Galibier and Col du Télégraphe duo. It’s a combined climb of 1859 metres over the course of 34.5km (6100 feet in 21.5 miles).

I think Galibier is the 6th highest climb in the alps and features a monument to Henri Desgrange, the man responsible for the creation of Le Tour, so it has to be done. The two Cols together are only just over a fifth of my ‘everest’ climb so how hard can it be … (I rather wish I hadn’t said that).

It’s made me realise that, since the Rotterdam Marathon in early April, I’ve cycled 5 times: 1×13 miles; 1×20 miles; 2x50miles; and 1x70miles. To put in an entry for the understatement of the month, it’s probably not enough!

Backside to saddle time – once the calf is up to it.

Row, run, cycle – but taking time to smell the roses

Chelsea Flower Show

After Monday’s London run I gardened on Tuesday. Having cut a whole 3 seconds off my 2000m rowing time at my 2nd attempt, at the gym on Wednesday my 3rd attempt took another 28 seconds off (now down to 8m 42s), although still not feeling 100%.

I suppose that’s encouraging but if I’d known it was going so well I might have eased off a bit to keep something in hand for the next attempt. I assume the improvement is just a bit of familiarity with the equipment so perhaps next time will just be consolidation.

I’m still wondering whether the gym will add much to my cycling. I’ve always taken the view that cycling must use all the muscles needed for cycling – but the gym is a nice social diversion from other training (if I were ever to get back to doing some) and, with my focus on the legs and core, it can’t be doing any harm … can it?

In the afternoon I was at a local junior school helping to give cycle training to some 11 year olds. They could all ride but we were also assessing them with a view to taking them out on the road at the start of next term. It was enjoyable and all the children were pretty good on the bikes – although the bikes were a rather motley bunch in terms of style and road worthiness!

Back to Bournemouth on Thursday, continuing to clear the garage and garden. With a fleeting visit, no running (I didn’t even go to the beach to check that the sea is still there) – but back to the gym on Friday morning – I did the 500m rowing machine sprint for the second time and at 1 minute 57 seconds I took 2 seconds off my first time at the distance. My gym companion thinks the machine I used this time is the harder of the two – I’ll check next week.

After the gym, it was up to London for the Chelsea Flower Show. We tend to go every few years to get some inspiration for the garden – but fail to implement much (if any) of it. Still, it’s a good day out. This year was very enjoyable in good weather – even though it was a bit too crowded for my liking. Great show and artisan gardens and outstanding exhibits in the Great Pavilion. I’m not sure if I’m inspired or intimidated – probably both.

Back to Oxfordshire on Saturday after a run early in the morning (about 4.3miles – 7km). It went well to the half way point but then my recent right calf niggle became a current right calf pull. I finished the run at a hobble and well over a minute per km slower than the first half. How do I train for, and run, a marathon in April with no muscle issues, only pull one on a reasonably gentle 4 mile run the following month? It hurts a lot – but at least that takes my mind off the Achilles tendons.

We drove back to Oxfordshire later with our sons who came back for the Bank Holiday weekend which is good compensation for the calf.

  Indoor rowing  
Attempt No. 500 metres 2000 metres
1 1minute 59 seconds 9 minutes 13 seconds
2 1:57 9:10
3   8:42

Run, run, gym, run, gym, run, run (good job I’m running less and cycling more) and ‘Strictly come Wimbledon’

Back to the Bournemouth promenade

No matter how foolish, it seems that I can’t resist running when in London or Bournemouth. After last Saturday’s run in London, it was another 5km (3.1miles) along the Bournemouth seafront on Monday morning in bright sunny weather and a cool breeze.

Last week the knee had been improving but I managed to set that back a bit with the London run – and running in Bournemouth didn’t help either. I decided not to run for the rest of the week and see how the knee recovers. Needless to say, the ATs are pretty rubbish.

I went to the gym on Tuesday, having missed it last week. I tried the 2000m rowing again – a whole 3 seconds faster at 9:10! I assume it will help with the muscles in my back, shoulders and legs – it’s a very hard exercise but it’s another thing to play with that shouldn’t hurt my Achilles’.

The resolve not to run for the rest of the week lasted only two days as my wife wanted company on a run on Wednesday – just 3.5km (2.2miles) in lovely weather that looks reasonably set for a while.

Later we dismantled the playhouse in the garden. It was slowly deteriorating but had been there nearly 25 years so didn’t owe us anything. I’ve never been a very sentimental person but I’m getting worse as I get older and I was sorry to see it go after all these years. Hard to see what is sentimental about a garden playhouse but it brought back memories of our younger son coming to find us to say he’d looked out of the playroom window and seen two nice men building something in the garden.

Carrying on with the theme of poor exercise judgement, Thursday was back to the gym with my normal companion. Not feeling 100% I ducked out of the 2000m on the rowing machine in favour of a 500m rowing sprint. On the basis that took me very nearly 2 minutes of pain, the 8 minute challenge for the 2000m is looking a rather long way off.

Sadly, the increasing sentimentality meant that the playhouse had been stuffed full of the boys old books, games and even some old school exercise books. With yet more proceeds of the decluttering (including my wife’s old school exercise books!), that led to a massive bonfire on Friday – very therapeutic but it’s surprisingly hard work burning thick wads of paper (I think the outer pages burn and the ash then keeps the oxygen from reaching the rest?) so it was a long but satisfying job, mixed with some gardening – rock and roll.

I was too tired to get on the turbo in the evening, so instead I watched highlights of the day’s Giro stage – it was an undulating 185km (115miles) and the winner rode it at an average of 45.1kph (28mph). Astounding!

It was up to London again on Saturday as my wife had tickets for the Strictly Come Dancing (I think it’s Dancing with the Stars in the USA) Professionals’ show. The TV show is certainly not my thing – I can (just about) take the (surprisingly and happily small) time spent on the dances themselves but the padding around them is too much to bear. My wife has many friends who love the programme but none could make the date so I was the ‘plus one’. It was an experience and they are incredibly skilled – but, as I say, not my thing.

On Sunday morning we did one of my standard 4 mile (6.5km) London runs to Hammersmith and down the Thames Path to Craven Cottage (Fulham FC’s ground).

In the afternoon we went to the re-opening of Court No1 at Wimbledon, with its new roof. I’ve seen quite a bit of tennis at Wimbledon and the Queens tournament but have rather lost interest in recent years because of slow play and incessant shrieking and grunting (Connors and Seles have a lot to answer for). At least getting there from the London flat was easy and there was good music and tennis from, McEnroe, Navratilova, Ivanisevic, Cash, Hewitt, Clijsters, Venus Williams and Jamie Murray.

I might have mentioned that I struggle not to run when staying up in London – and on Monday morning we went for another run, this time over Hammersmith Bridge and down the path on the other side of the river. We’d stayed in London because, in the afternoon, we went to meet our younger son at Heathrow, back from Peru and Bolivia. He had a great time and we can now breathe more easily.

This gun’s for hire, even if we’re just dining in the dark

Hmm, looks like a perfect day for a ride

Last week ended with a gentle run with my wife on Sunday – cold enjoyable. Monday was a Bank Holiday, a joy for most people but one of the (very few) drawbacks of being retired, no big deal for me and I ended up doing domestic stuff of little note.

It’s frustrating because I’d like to be out on the bike or running but I’m trying to get the legs sorted, and that seems to mean putting rest and stretching above pretty much everything else. Neither the knees or the Achilles’ were particularly happy after cycling on Saturday and running on Sunday but I’m still really not sure that this ‘being sensible’ lark is going to catch on.

I was off personal trainer duty on Tuesday as my wife ran with a friend. She then went to London – I resisted a visit to the gym as Thursday now promised a ride with 4 of the 5 friends who accompany me to the alps each year. Only Phil (who lives and works in Germany) was missing … no commitment some people (but as he was actually in Provence climbing Ventoux I think he’s forgiven).

Riding with friends

Early in the week, Thursday’s weather looked OK but as the day neared, the forecast deteriorated to fairly continual light rain. We set off at 9 planning to head south so Dave could pick up some more of his ‘British Cycle Quest’ clues (it’s a sort of treasure hunt for bikes without any treasure) with 402 sites to be visited around the whole of the UK. Anyone thinking of picking up the Ramsbury clue look away now ……… the plaques on the wall of the village hall are for ‘Best Kept Village’ competitions.

The forecast was reasonable accurate and the light rain was fairly intermittent – except for the deluge that hit us soon after we started. It was fairly cold too – no more than 10℃ (50℉) until the very end.

We stopped at a cafe for coffee but I then had to dip out a bit early as we had friends coming for supper and staying the night.

In fact, I see I rode only about 8km less than they did with only 40m less climbing. I was surprised that they didn’t go past me later on – which would have been a bit of an irony as I’d left early to get home quicker. I now find that I didn’t valiantly hold them off – it turns out that they had a second food stop (very Hobbit-like). In the end I rode 50 miles with 2762 feet of climbing (80km, 842m) – very enjoyable company but a bit cold and wet.

Of course, the idea that I’d held off the chasing pack is a nonsense – especially as the day proved to me that I’m trailing in a poor last in terms of bike-fitness. There’s a lot of work to be done if I don’t want to be tail-end Charlie in the alps.

Dining in the dark

We had an excellent evening with our friends who left on Friday morning to go to a funeral. We then left to go to a (different) funeral too – then straight off to London to the restaurant Dans Le Noir (‘In the Dark’) where we had an evening meal … in the dark! Not just dark – total blackout, the literal ‘can’t see your hand in front of your face’ blackness. It was an experience given to us by our sons for Christmas.

Whatever the theory, it was a very fine evening and a real experience. The restaurant staff are visually impaired or totally blind so to get a small taste of their world was fascinating by itself, but the food was also good and up in the bar afterwards we were treated to an introduction to sign language by a charming deaf lady.

After the meal you can also find out exactly what you’ve eaten, either by looking down the front of your shirt (actually we were splash-free) or from the menu you are then given. My taste buds are not too bad as I identified the pork belly, the savoy cabbage, the fennel, carrot, potato etc although I thought the quince was apple sauce and I couldn’t be sure that the venison wasn’t a good beef steak of some description.

A strangely challenging experience, but one we were very pleased to have had.

More London running

On Saturday morning I celebrated (nothing in particular) by having a run to Hammersmith and down the Thames Path – about 5 miles (8km) at a reasonable pace and thoroughly enjoyable.

One strange thing – around home in Oxfordshire just about every runner I pass when out running says hello. In London, they nearly all deliberately avoid even eye contact. Is that a London thing, or just a city thing?

I’ve started saying hello to everyone I pass – I might start a trend or get arrested as a wierdo.

The ‘secret’ of success? (Not my secret, probably not my success)

My guess is that they have all put in the training

I’m the first to admit that this is not the place to find earth-shattering news or insights – until now. After extensive research I can reveal ……. that challenges go better if you’ve put in the training.

Yes, I know it’s horribly obvious but it’s easy to overlook the obvious in favour of the fashionable or easy – assuming that more expensive kit or other ‘tricks’ will do the job.

Thinking about my White Horse Challenge performances it dawned on me (I’m quick like this) that my best result was in April 2017 when I’d already started training for my ‘everest’ in the July. By the time of the WHC, I’d ridden about 800km in the previous four months, including many reps of the hill to the local White Horse at Uffington.

That led to a time of 5:05 for the WHC – less than 2% off breaking the 5 hour target. In contrast, this year’s attempt was off the back of just 20 miles of riding and 6 hours on the turbo in nearly 4 months. Of course, the marathon training helped (and the marathon itself went OK thanks to the training) but it didn’t replace lost riding – no great surprise this year’s WHC didn’t go as well.

That’s got to be a bit encouraging so – if fit and healthy – I’m going to give it a real go next year to see if I can break the 5 hour barrier. Either I’ll break the barrier, or accept that I can’t, and move on.

The plan will be to ride at least 1600km (1000 miles) to include at least 40 reps up to the Uffington White Horse and lots on intervals, before the WHC in late April 2020. Longer rides and hills on the road and intensity on the turbo? Although that doesn’t sound much, with skiing and the (almost) guarantee of bad weather in January and February, I think that’s a real challenge in itself …. but will it be enough?

Perhaps a trip to the mediterranean in March or early April might help – we’ve talked about it in the past in order to do some running and cycling in better weather, but 2020 might be the year to do it. What else …….. new wheels and other bike upgrades are always tempting but real progress must be through ‘me upgrades’. In the past I’ve tried to rely on minor improvements to scrape through but perhaps I need a more radical approach to raise my level significantly.

Then, if I’m in any fit state (with the ATs in particular) I’ll return to marathon training to have a go at a sub 4 hour run in Autumn 2020, aged 65. I’ll base this on the training plan I used for Rotterdam last month but increase the mileage and do hill and interval sessions in addition. In between, I’ll have the usual week in the alps in July but I’d also like to find a way of fitting in a trip to Ventoux to try the bicinglette and I’m struggling to see how that fits in.

This year, it’s now back to the cycling to train, first, for the week of cycling in the alps in July. The aim is to perform better than I have in the last two years which suffered from doing the ‘everest’ in 2017 and riding out there last year. There is no overt competition (of course) but when you ride up big hills with friends each day, you know where you stand in the pecking order!

Then it’s the club sportive in late July (I’ll ride it unless needed for admin duties) followed by the Prudential Ride London 100 miler in early August. If I carry off the alps OK, those should pretty much take care of themselves.

Subject to the injuries, I’ll carry on running later in the summer and try to get to a few Park Runs with an aim of getting below 25 minutes – I have no idea if that will be possible. I’ll also carry on with the gym and the rowing machine – I’d like to get under 8 minutes for 2000m but whether that is achievable is another a mystery.

I appreciate that no one should be very interested in all this – I set it out merely to cement my commitment. Well, that’s the commitment, now for the doing …

Back in the swing (of something) and club ride sweeping

Up on the Ridgeway looking down over the plain between the North Wessex Downs and the Cotswolds

I think the decision to curtail last Sunday’s sportive was a good one judging by the knees and ATs on Monday. They had a rest while mowing on Tuesday and then a gentle run (4.5km – 2.8miles) with my wife early on Wednesday before I headed down to Bournemouth for more mowing and the eternal decluttering.

This time I took a bike to leave down there (a Gary Fisher Advance mountain bike – perfectly OK but not the great man’s finest work!) and am looking forward to using it over the summer.

Gym on Thursday with Ian. I did the 2000m on the rowing machine in 9 minutes 13 seconds – but I don’t suppose that means much as I’m not sure what machine it is. It was set to ‘7’ on the resistance (simply because that’s what it was already on and it means I have some adjustment either way if I discover that I need it).

From the internet, it seems that the resistance (‘the damper setting’) is finessed by a ‘Performance Monitor’ which means that effort is measured regardless of the damper setting. All very clever but I must admit to a little nervousness when I realise that the rowing machine is cleverer than I am.

I’ll leave it on 7 for now as greater resistance, apparently, is more suitable for those of us lacking in fast twitch muscle fibres, even though it can exhaust muscles before the full cardio benefit is achieved.

I read that 8 minutes for 2000m for someone with no experience on a rowing machine is pretty good – but I doubt that was for an over-60 year old – either that or I’m just not ‘pretty good’. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as I’m only competing with myself to measure progress, not talent (which I anticipate will be sadly lacking). Next time I’ll do the rowing before I start on the weights.

The afternoon was spent following the first stage of the Tour of Yorkshire bike race on TV – Yorkshire showing its true colours by raining pretty much throughout the stage, but with the locals still rising magnificently to the challenge.

With the rest and a lot of of stretching, I was happy to do my turn today as lead/host/sweep for the club’s Saturday ‘red’ ride. It was a cool morning (5℃ which is 41℉) at outset thanks to a fresh northerly breeze but at 75km (47 miles) it looked like a reasonable outing for the decrepit body.

Although I demonstrated my usual wimpish tendencies by wearing about twice as many clothes as anyone else, it was a good ride. I took the role of sweep and rode at the back with three others – but we picked up two more (who had been with the faster group) at the roadside when one (with tubeless tyres) had a puncture that wouldn’t seal. Messy old business fitting a tube into a tubeless set-up but between us we managed it and everyone completed the ride safely.

Proper club ride sweeping! It’s odd how fulfilling it is to do that job when you can actually add something to the enjoyment of the ride for others – either by roadside rescue or by helping pull folks round by taking the lead into the wind.

The group has recently started to incorporate a coffee shop stop (we used to just stop at the roadside for snacks we brought with us – generally referred to as the ‘banana break’) and that was welcome on a day that never really warmed up.

Quite a slow ride with 870m (2850 feet) of climbing but one of those rides that you’re pleased you did, even though you might have been unsure about it at outset.