Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Moving House

My waffle is moving... from now on, you'll be able to find blog posts here:


Yes, it seems incredibly vain to have my own domain. Suitably, I'll explain in a later blog post but, for now, go have a look. You can read about Mistakes not to make on the Iditarod Trail.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I just had a "nice" ride tonight. Nice people, relaxed pace, nice time.

I'm not so sure about mountain biking being nice. At its best, it should be about fire in your belly, blood pounding in your head, and a dance through the trail. Or, it should be about epic places and worn out legs pushing worn out tyres around on a trail that goes to the horizon.

But nice seems like a hobby, not a passion. Nice has its place, but doesn't scratch the itch.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Training Actuality

Not been blogging much, but I have been training much.

Getting my head down and doing some substantial rides in The Chilterns, riding to work every day, shed-based turbo training, and running a bit.

The good news is that I've caught up on Fighting Talk podcasts while in the shed. Unfortunately, that means 1 hour a week of brilliant podcast and the rest on not quite so brilliant podcasts. Ho-hum, my power output on the bike is creeping upwards and it does seem to have genuine real-world speed benefits. Not to mention the easy bike cleaning side of things.

These are testing times for mountain biking round here. Getting up in the dark, finishing a ride in the dark. Everything is filthy and wet. But these are the conditions that make British mountain bikers tough. When you spend eye-popping effort dragging yourself up a muddy hill, only to get your ass handed to you by wet roots on the way down, and then go home and hose your shoes off, there is no answer but to laugh.

I have noticed a worrying trend recently, and I know I've been guilty of it in the past: descending into myself when it gets really foul. Retreating inside yourself and letting your body take care of keeping the bike moving is a somewhat viable tactic for shorter rides. But I really can't keep letting myself do it if I want stay well day-after-day. It leads to not eating enough, not drinking enough, ignoring cold when it would be more prudent to add more clothing. All kinds of ills. I need to embrace the world and work with it, not just scurry around the hills until I can go home to get warm and dry. That, more than 10W extra power, is my main goal in the run-up to Christmas. All I need is some bad weather to play in, and I don't think that'll be a problem.

No photos as the moment as I lost my camera on the Divide. Instead, a couple of interesting altitude profiles (ft on the y-axis, miles on the x-axis). First, a recent run:

Yes, that's down to The Thames, and then along it. Looks quite hilly until you see the scale!

And then a recent training ride:

And people say we don't have hills in the south.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Training Philosophy

Entering back into training, and I'm thinking about it. About how much is enough, and what I'm really aiming for.

I seem to do less than other people with similar goals. I seem to do too much to have any time outside training. I seem to do enough to get by and go the places I want to go when the event rolls around.

But what is it that I'm aiming for at this point? Can I ever put my finger on a single goal and say, "When I can do that, I will be ready"? The answer is no. I might think that doing regular 12 hour rides every weekend is about where it's at, but I didn't get that far before the Tour Divide. I only got up to 10 hours.

What I had instead of the 12 hour rides was more important. What I had was belief. Belief that I would finish under anything other than the most extreme circumstances. It wasn't gung-ho over-confidence, but an underlying sense that I had physical resources to draw on and a knowledge of my body.

For these multi-day things, I think it comes down to the trail moulding you. My aim is to shape myself into something like what the trail needs me to be. To also be flexible enough to adapt myself to its mould when I'm out there.

That is the goal of my training. At all sports, I lope. I don't sprint. But I keep loping. Tonight's run was 10km in about 45 minutes. Little bits of pain in my legs to begin with. Toast wanting to come back up part way through. But at ease in the last 5 minutes. In the rain and encroaching darkness, that's what I'm looking for.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Must eat fewer pies

I am a bit over racing weight at the moment. In fact, until his drug habit was revealed, I was feeling like the MTB Ricky Hatton. It's the luxury of only doing one big race a year - I can lay off for a while and do other stuff.

But I'm back on the training now. Unfortunately, my cranks weren't ready for it:

That's not really what you want to happen on a solo night ride, but I wasn't hurt when they broke so I managed to get plenty more practise with the one-leg drills riding home.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Full Circle

Way back in 2000, I was sitting on a train out of central Birmingham. I saw a free newspaper and, flicking through, I saw an advert: "Ride from London to Paris for the NDCS".

Back then, I was did no sport. I was crazy about music, my friends were all crazy about music, and I even played in a band. When I read that advert, I wished that I could do something like that ride. I had recently finished my degree and was trying to take a positive attitude to life. It was the commitment to positivity that made me question my immediate reaction: Why wish I could do it? Why couldn't I do it?

Soon after, I had signed up to do the ride and bought what I thought was a nice bike. I couldn't understand why the shop had tried to convince me to buy the lighter one. The lighter one was a bit cheaper, but it didn't have a suspension fork and the steering felt too fast. The shop said it was better, but I wanted stability and that suspension looked cool.

So it was a mountain bike-shaped-object that I propped up against the wall of the lab. And it was the same bike-shaped-object that prompted a fellow student to invite me mountain biking.

We went to Coed-Y-Brenin. Packing the bike into the car, I deflated my tyres to get them past the brake blocks. When we got there, I thought my friend looked ridiculous in his purple cycling jacket and tights. I thought that there couldn't be that big a difference between his suspension fork and mine. They looked pretty similar. I thought that the Race Face sticker on his bike was pretty funny... What a stupid name.

It was raining, but we set off into with me dressed in heavy cotton clothes. I could not believe how tough this was. My head span and the stupid gears wouldn't change, especially when I was pedalling hard and really needed them. I wanted to take short cuts, but my friend wasn't having it. We'd driven for hours to get here.

When the impossible climbing was over, we turned to riding along terrifyingly thin trails. Everything was pointy rocks, and built up so that I felt like I'd stumbled into Kickstart. It wasn't so bad - if I kept looking right down at my tyre, I could make sure it was on-line but stuff kept surprising me as I hit it. Then, at the end of the narrow bit, the track dropped down vertically to a gravel road. I just hit the brakes hard. "You can't ride that on a bike", I said. When my friend rode it and it looked much less vertical, but I pushed down to be on the safe side.

The rain just kept coming, and my clothes were heavy with it. My trousers kept catching on the saddle. Somehow, though, this was the most fun I'd had in years.

More downhill narrow stuff, and there was a serious guy behind me. He started shouting abuse at me and I wanted to get out of the way, but I was braking as hard as I could manage and just hanging on. I wished I wasn't holding him up.

We let a load of people past before my friend and I made our way down to the end of the trail. It ended with a confusing maze of roots. Every one looked slippery, but my perspective had changed since we set out. People could ride bikes on this stuff. So I tried.

And I failed. The pointy bar-ends caught me on the inside of my thigh as I crashed over them. I was OK-ish. It hurt to walk, and I needed a cup of tea, but I would be OK.

Before London to Paris came around, I had dumped the bike-shaped-object and laid down £500 on a Specialized. Again, it felt like it had twitchy handling, but I realised that it was a good thing. It was precision, and soon it was natural.

I kept riding off-road and trying to learn about this sport. Crashing on every ride, making friends to ride with, and generally having a fine old time. I couldn't believe how fast my mind had to work on the bike, and how much technique there was to all this.

So, I rode out of London as a "mountain biker". I arrived in Paris with another new idea of what bikes could do and how they could bring people together.

10 years later, and just last weekend I travelled from London to Paris again. This time working as a guide with a fair bit of cycling experience behind me. And I had the privilege to see people exceeding their expectations and extending their boundaries. I had the pleasure of Northern France and their farmer's hay-sculpture.

It's good to look back and seen how transforming cycling has been for me. To remember how many things seem natural now, but were alien then. I'm lucky to have the chance to share people's discovery of cycling. I just try to share the enthusiasm without all the crap we think is necessary. And it's great.

Weirdly, I'll soon be going back to Birmingham for the kind of music that drove my life back then. Swan, Godflesh, and Napalm Death all together at the Supersonic Festival. Moving forward, but not forgetting where I came from (until beer intervenes).

Saturday, August 07, 2010

I'm crap at pedalling

It's that in-between time now where I don't have any big adventures sufficiently close to have to be training. Usually, this means a bit more time away from bikes and spending what biking time I have playing about - trying to improve technique and just have fun. Essentially, falling off a lot.

Weirdly, it hasn't been like that this time. A combination of Emily being away, and me working from home has resulted in all-day-eating and my mind being stuck in a very small rut. The answer? Keeping up with somewhat big miles until Emily is back :)

Technique-wise, I have been looking at my pedalling, though. I've always suspected it wasn't good but I finally took Adam's suggestion and tried some 1-legged time on the turbo-trainer. It was even worse than I'd imagined. With one leg against the resistance of the machine, I could feel how little of the time I was actually driving the pedal. I jerked and clanked against the cleats. My left leg was way weaker than my right. I felt like a cheap puppet being operated by a drunk.

Turbo-training in the shed... yes the puddle is sweat!

And that's how I pedal... terribly.

It's easy to take for granted that there is no technique to the pedalling part of mountain biking. With all the corners and the mud and the stuff to jump over. The only comparison I can make is to swimming. I can spot a poor swimmer, even if they're moving quicker than average, by their lack of economy. You can see lots of unnecessary movement and splashing rather than efficient forward motion. So swimmers go and do drills. In the last couple of years, I've even done some of these drills. And suddenly it challenged the individual parts of my stroke, bringing improvements when I put things back together.

I don't expect such a dramatic change from pedalling drills, but the thought of "free speed" is mighty appealing. Maybe I don't just have to mash up and down on those pedals like a dumb singlespeeder. Turbo training, riding without a camelbak, tubeless tyres. What next road bikes, gears, and leg shaving? No!