Monthly Archives: January 2020

Turbo, turbo, turbo, gym and a dead laptop.

The last nine weeks in a nutshell: Barbados, Christmas, New Year, skiing, sprained Medial Collateral Ligament. Great (other than the MCL) but not exactly the training I needed.

However, all the holidays were all really enjoyable so perhaps the mental side of the (non)training has gone well and I now feel ready to get down to some hard(er) work. That’s no bad thing as the White Horse Challenge sportive is in April and the 50km ultra marathon follows in early July.

Skiing obviously involves a certain amount of exercise but it would be better if I walked up the slopes before skiing down – and I have no intention of doing that. Worse, staying in the French Alps involves eating a lot of bread and potatoes, which I usually tend to avoid, and even more cheese than usual. Being on holiday also means drinking on weekdays which I don’t normally do.

Accordingly, on Monday morning I was about 69kg – 2 and a bit kg over par (152 pounds, nearly 5 pounds over target). Reasonably encouraging.

I decided that I would not run until February to give the knee just a few more days for recovery so Monday evening it was back to the turbo – 22.02km in 45 minutes @29.13kph (13.7 miles @18mph). It was hard work and both knees were a little unhappy. I guess the skiing gave them both a bit of a work out – otherwise I can’t think why the right knee was protesting. Perhaps it’s just coming out in sympathy.

Another 45 minutes on Tuesday – 23.54km @ 31.4kph (14.6 miles @ 19.5mph), and 45 minutes again on Wednesday – 22.62km @ 30.16kph (14 miles @ 18.75mph).

Gym on Thursday morning for quite a tough 50 minutes, with most of the weights back to normal (but 5kg off leg curls and extensions).

No reaction from the knee but I gave the turbo a miss in the evening.

The other thing this week has been my wife’s laptop which died just before we went skiing. It turned out to be a real fatality – a completely defunct hard drive. We’d been talking about replacing it but hadn’t done anything until it was too late.

Of course, it then became clear that it hadn’t been backed up to the external hard drive for several months – and our ‘One Drive’ storage was full (and had been for a while) so that wasn’t helpful either. In a flash of inspiration I remembered that we’d taken a ‘cloud’ subscription when we bought it all those years ago (6 or more). Even more strangely I could find the links and the password so many happy hours were spent on Thursday downloading ridiculous amounts of data – mainly photos onto a new machine.

A very close call flirting with disaster which would, of course, have been all my fault. No sessions on Friday as the new laptop had not behaved properly in its recovery of the files from the cloud so another happy day on that.

First week back in harness – three turbo sessions and one in the gym in 5 days. Gently does it.

Next week is a bit important for me as I find out if the knee has recovered enough to start getting to a place where I can begin the ultra training programme in March.

All going downhill from here?

One of my favourite places – Les Carroz d’Araches, in the Haute Savoie, France

If there is a list of things not to do just after hurting a knee ligament, I expect skiing is towards the top of it. So, 4 weeks after spraining mine, I went skiing.

The drive to the Alps was trouble-free (but 13 elapsed hours which is a bit of a pain in general, and a bit ache-inducing for the knee). We could fly but we were being joined by our sons and one of their girlfriends so we drove and took a car load of our and their stuff while they were able to fly, a couple of days later, with just hand luggage.

I was reasonably sure that the knee was going to be OK to ski on – it’s just that I was equally sure that if I fell and twisted it, I was in for a very painful experience.

I considered loosening the binding on my left ski so it would come off more easily if I did fall – but it occurred to me that loosening the binding made it more likely that I might fall in the first place, so I didn’t.

Losing a ski because you fall is one thing, falling because your ski comes off feels much worse.

Of course, the falling over bit would not be a big issue for an expert skier – but nobody has ever accused me of being that. I am a reasonable skier for a 64 year-old Englishman who didn’t learn to ski until he was almost 30 – but that does not set the bar very high.

For me the conversation is more likely to go ‘why do you ski so fast?’ to which the correct answer is ‘because I’m not good enough to ski any slower’.

A good skier flows down a piste, embracing it, rather like water. Me, I rather wrestle it to death.

We took a day off on the Monday after Sunday’s dive out there and sorted out the apartment – but then had two glorious days skiing under clear blue skies. The snow was a bit thin on lower slopes but was in very good condition. We collected our sons (and a girlfriend) from Geneva on the Wednesday evening and had two more great days skiing on the Thursday and Friday. On Friday we were even the first on the slopes – although I’m not terribly keen on having to set an alarm when on holiday (or when not on holiday, come to think of it).

It snowed Friday afternoon and evening, which made Saturday’s skiing spectacular – although the weekend was rather chilly and a bit busier. After years of the misery of fitting snow chains I got winter tyres for the new car. Although they weren’t needed all the time, they worked fine when they were.

Older son and girlfriend also skied on Monday morning and then we took the three of them back to the airport for afternoon flights. For them, 4 and a half days skiing for just 3 days off work – an efficient use of their holiday entitlements.

We drove home on the following Saturday, after a few more excellent days on the slopes.

I skied reasonably sensibly and managed to have no falls – they say if you don’t fall, you’re not skiing hard enough, but I can live with that.

The knee worked OK and must have been helped by the knee brace but ached on and off throughout the holiday – especially if I tried to be more aggressive on the slopes – but without ever really hurting. One good thing about wearing a knee brace – it introduces a new highlight of the day ….. taking it off when you finish.

So, now back to training for this year’s cycling and running, injury permitting – but from what sort of fitness base will I be starting?

Another four books read during the holiday:

The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan (a fairly simple but entirely charming book, well worth a read)

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummings (an enjoyable crime/murder/thriller)

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (a very enjoyable and different novel with some fascinating insights)

Dark Water – Robert Bryndza (a pretty decent thriller, in my opinion)

Once or twice a day?

Stop sniggering at the back. Prompted by going to the gym Thursday morning and using the turbo in the evening, this is about whether two exercise sessions in a day is a good idea.

I expect I’ll look it up on the internet at some stage but no doubt there will be contradictory advice, so I thought I might actually form my own view first – like we all used to before the web was invented.

Starting from the assumption that exercise is good for us, I suppose it seems logical that exercising twice a day must be better as it means more of it (genius thinking so far). Pro athletes are more than likely to do more than one training session a day, so it must have some credibility. Done properly and safely, exercise can help with the heart, lungs, circulation, muscle, bone, flexibility, mood, balance, agility and many more – and I’m keen to sign up for improvements in all of those.

Ultra marathon training plans seem to incorporate back to back long runs at weekends ‘to get used to running on tired legs’. I’d assumed that was more of a mental conditioning thing but I wonder if it helps with the legs as well?

With weight training I’ve often seen it said that the last couple of reps before muscle exhaustion are the most valuable – I wonder if multiple sessions in a day has an echo of that too?

I’m sure there is some science here somewhere – but do I need to understand it to benefit from it?

For many people time will be a big factor – work rather gets in the way but if you exercise early to energise the morning, a stressful job would probably mean that you’d benefit from exercise in the evening to flush the stress out of your system?

For me, that working stuff is a thing of the past (although having time to train is the only thing I have in common with pro athletes). Not only do I have the time but, to be honest, I could probably do with more really beneficial stuff like exercise to spend it on.

On the downside, the biggest (aside from yet more smelly kit to wash) seems to be risk of injury. I can understand that and I’m aware that, in my mid 60s, I’m probably more prone to injury. However, it’s not like I’m doing incredibly long sessions at the brink of my capacity – my weight training is on machines, my running is at a modest speed, and I’m (almost) old enough not to be stupid. Injuries are something to be very aware of – I’ve had enough of them already.

One other thing I keep hearing is the risk of ‘overtraining’. I understand overtraining as a precursor to injury – but I’m not sure what it is by way of a risk in its own right. Is it just mental tiredness and general fatigue?

Unlike pro athletes, I make all this stuff up as I go along. While I’m sure that more training is, generally, a good thing, I’m equally sure that it’s perfectly possible to get it wrong. Unlike pro athletes, I don’t have a coach or a support team to tell me when and how to train – or, I guess, just as importantly, when to stop.

What I’m going to do is try this gently. For now, I’m thinking of doing days with two sessions, a couple of times a week. I’ll try to make them different sessions, typically a session in the gym in the morning and a run or blast on the turbo in the early evening. That should give a bit of variety, a sensible rest between sessions and a total exercise time of under 2 hours.

With a focus on hydration, nutrition, stretching, rest and being sensitive to niggles and early signs of tiredness, what could go wrong?

Seems sensible?

Getting back to it all – and the magic number is 15.44

Back to the gym for the first time in 4 weeks. No one had missed me.

With four weeks of no running, cycling or gym sessions, and Christmas over-eating, the only thing that’s moved forward is my weight.

It got to an extra 7 pounds or so – not huge in empirical terms but, for a member of the slightly scrawny brethren, that is getting a bit close to 5% of bodyweight. However, if it goes on quickly it (usually) comes back off a bit quicker and I’m back heading in the right direction.

Getting back to exercise will help, and I managed another half an hour on the turbo on Tuesday for 15.44km @30.88kph (9.6 miles @19.2mph). I’m grateful that it is just the turbo for now – I’d notice the extra weight and the lack of fitness if I was trying to ride up any big hills outside.

The knee now bends, twists and takes lateral pressure without any issues so on Wednesday I ran up to the postbox in the village and back. No great distance but, more importantly, no weakness or pain in the knee – but with a certain amount of wheezing through lost fitness.

The intention is to keep to my plan of not running until February but I needed to know if it was possible now – and it is. I can’t leave it beyond February as I need to be capable of running 31 miles in the first of the 16 weeks of training starting in March.

Back to the gym on Thursday, for the first time in 4 weeks. I managed the whole routine with the usual weights (save for taking 5kg off the leg curls and extensions, and 20kg off the leg press, just to be cautious). It was tough because of the recent inactivity but no adverse reactions from the knee so all is well – and I trust that is the last time I mention it.

Doubling up on exercise for the day I did 30 minutes on the turbo in the evening – 15.44km (9.6 miles). Interestingly, exactly the same as Tuesday when I rode it in one gear lower – purely by chance, the slower cadence perfectly compensated for by further travel with each revolution.

I wonder whether one ride was better for me than the other. I’ve always thought that high cadence was harder on the cardio-vascular system and a higher gear harder on the muscles. I expect the answer as to which is better is the usual ‘It depends’.

I say ACL, you say MCL – let’s call the whole (injury) thing off

At last – no longer just a decoration

I’ve decided (from the internet so it must be right) that what I tweaked was probably not my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) but my MCL (medial collateral ligament).

The two bits of good news are that I wouldn’t have been doing anything different in terms of rehab if I’d got the information right in the first place and, secondly, that the MCL tweak is probably the lesser injury anyway.

Although they say knowledge is power, I’m not sure any of this knowledge takes me forward much – it’s a ligament, it’s in the knee joint and I gave it a tweak. I’m fortunate that I didn’t do anything severe that might have needed medical intervention – I was pretty sure it didn’t by the fact that I could complete my run after first feeling it. One thing about running (even more than cycling) is that you get used to minor niggles and tend to know when they need nothing more than a bit of rest.

Thank goodness I didn’t tear it – that’s almost certainly a surgery case and could mean months out of action.

The knee continues to improve to the point where I got on the turbo on Friday evening. The turbo doesn’t involve any twisting, turning or impact but will start re-strengthening the muscles around the knee. It felt really good to be back doing some proper exercise, even if it was only 30 minutes for 14.87 km @ 19.74kph (9.24 miles).

Saturday morning revealed no adverse reaction to the turbo session – in fact, the knee was better so I did the turbo again that evening. The aim was more for the time than to go faster but I did manage another 30 minutes for an improvement to 15.69km @ 31.38kph (9.75 miles). Interestingly, much harder on the cardiovascular system than the legs.

Again, no knee issues on Sunday morning, and I declare it healed. I could run on it now – but won’t, just to be cautious. My ultra training plan says I start in March with a 31 mile week but I might not begin running again until February in order to build up to the big finish start.

Sunday we went out for supper with friends as we and 2 other couples take it in turn to host evenings to get through the first three series of Peaky Blinders.

Monday we left early to get up to Wigan. First to pick up our sons who took the train from London, then on to the crematorium and finally to the church service. I liked doing it that way – get the potentially miserable crematorium bit over with first and finish with the much more enjoyable, uplifting, service of memorial. As it was, both services were conducted by ministers who knew my father and, clearly, held him in high esteem. I come from a family of church goers (and am the black sheep on that score) and it certainly makes a difference when the minister knew the deceased.

My sister and I did a double act for the eulogy and then it was back for a bun fight at the place where his branch of the Rotary Club had their meetings and meals. The whole thing went extremely well – I think our father would have loved the whole day, and to me that means we did him proud.

I took some pleasure from the fact that the order of service revealed that he had 17 letters in his name – and 20 ‘qualification’ letters after it.

2020 vision?


Our sons came back on the 23rd and the Christmas Eve meal with my wife’s brothers and their families was excellent. We don’t all get together very often so the effort was well worthwhile.

Christmas Day featured a huge lunch (turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, sausages, bacon, carrots, parsnips, sprouts, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, cumberland sauce) washed down by a good wine. All lovely, but there may be some truth in the old “my stomach has shrunk as a result of eating less in recent months” as I didn’t want to eat for the rest of the day.

I have to get a bit more disciplined over big meals – I am quite good at eating sensibly when it’s not there in front of me, but if someone has been kind enough to prepare it and put it on the table, my discipline disappears. I think I’m getting more minimalist as I get older. I had a great Christmas but I’m wondering if we could do it with less food, drink and fewer presents.

On Boxing Day I took our sons to watch our local team, Swindon. Although I infected them with my own affiliations from an early age, I admire my sons’ determination to support our local side. We’ve been through a lot with Swindon over the years (including three defeats of increasing severity – 1-0, 2-0 and 4-0 – in three visits to Wembley) but they are currently top of their league. Admittedly it’s the lowest of the football league structure but they played pretty well in an emphatic and thoroughly enjoyable 4-0 win.

Our older son had to go back to London on Boxing Day evening. A really good few days.

Happily, the knee is a good deal better, and has needed no medical intervention. I took the new knee brace for a long walk through the fields on Saturday. It performed well and the walk was great, apart from a moment of carelessness when I kicked a thick and unyielding clump of grass and got a sharp reminder that the knee does not like twisting or lateral movement just now.

Drinks party on Sunday (the hosts are both doctors and there were, unsurprisingly, lots of other doctors in attendance) it’s amazing how many of them had ACL issues, but mine is happily pretty trivial. Our younger son went back to London on Tuesday and we hosted a New Year’s supper for some friends.

No running or cycling for over two weeks now, throughout an outbreak of good sense. I miss them and what with Christmas too, my waistline shows the price to be paid.

… and so ends 2019. Not a bad year, I loved the Rotterdam Marathon (and our younger son breaking the 4 hour mark), I had a great time cycling out in the alps (twice) and walking in the Lake District was terrific, as always. All overshadowed by my father’s death in December, but even that came with great gratitude for a (very) long life, well lived, and a real appreciation that he did not have to suffer any long drawn-out illness or slow but inexorable decline.

2020 is the year of the ultra marathon and getting back on the bike. I can’t wait (but in a rare outbreak of good sense, I’ll take it easy while the knee heals).

Wishing everyone a great year – as my mother-in-law used to say ‘I wish you everything you would wish yourself’.