Month: <span>March 2021</span>

n+1

As with most of my hobbies, I tend to fling myself into them wholeheartedly from the get go. I’m the guy who signs up to the forums, does copious research on the internet, takes notes as he goes, learns as much as he can as fast as possible, and then goes and buys the gear. The topic doesn’t really matter as long as it’s something I’m interested in; as a teenager a friend got me into fly fishing and so (as this pre-dates the internet) I got the books and magazines, talked to the owner of the tackle store, and got the best rod and reel I could afford, and enjoyed a couple of (mostly unsuccessful) years wading into the River Leven and casting away to my hearts content.

Looking back I know I spent a lot of my pocket money on that hobby, hundreds of pounds just to get all the things I thought I needed only to find out that I didn’t need them at all. Fishing can be a very expensive hobby (can’t they all) but the basic satisfaction of standing in the river, the quiet burbling of the water as it flowed around me, and the simple setup I started with remains a fond memory.

I’ve dabbled with other hobbies, been through the DSLR camera stage, with multiple lens and filters and goodness knows what else, and today I solely use my iPhone because the best camera you have is the one you have with you.

More recently my hobbies have had a more serious bent and have largely been based around my fitness. Driven by my advancing years and expanding waistline, not to mention a much keener sense of self that has developed over the past few years; I now have an established (almost) daily meditation practice, I’ve managed to get back to running again and, thanks to lockdown, I realised just how much I enjoy cycling. It’s something I’ve mentioned here before, the simple joy of freewheeling down a hill bringing that instant return to a truly child-like state (with all the OHMYGODWHATIFICRASH background noise of being adult, of course). And man, oh man, if ever there was a ‘hobby’ ripe for geeking out on, cycling might just be at the pinnacle.

Not being a millionaire, I’m a league away from the top of the range carbon road bikes (unless anyone has £10k to spare?) but with some research I found a ‘budget’ road bike with a good set of components, lots of great reviews from seasoned cyclists and trade websites, and so the geekery begins….

This can be as simple as looking at any accessories your bike came with – mine came with lights but they are more ‘to be seen’ than ‘to see with’ and so I’ve upgraded them. Same for the bell (although I went for style over substance and I’m already regretting that a little, a quiet bell isn’t much use), and I’ve already changed to clipless pedals over the standard flat pedals provided. With a dark blue bike with very subtle orange accents, I’ve also gotten two bright orange bottle cages, and two orange end caps (the bits at the end of the handlebars, oh yes, there is nothing you can’t customise on a bike!), just to make it look a bit smarter.

Then there are the practical things you’ll need, inner tubes should you get a puncture and a pump, or perhaps it’s time to look at CO2 canisters which are faster (a real consideration if you are fixing a puncture on a rainy day). You’ll need tyre levers too, and it’s probably wise to have a small multi-tool just in case something works its way loose. Ohh and where are you going to carry all this? Do I get a handlebar bag? Or perhaps an on-frame bag? Or one that mounts under the saddle? Or maybe a carrier that I can throw in one of the bottle cages for shorter rides??

What’s next? Ohh yes, clothes! Yup, I’ve joined the ranks of lycra wankers. Why? Because it’s the best thing to wear if you are on a bike for more than an hour, because you need padded shorts and something that won’t chafe. And yes cycling tops are specifically useful too because you can’t really have pockets in your shorts, so those pockets at the back of the top are super useful, holding a lightweight waterproof (hey, it’s Scotland, even on the sunniest days it still might rain an hour later), my phone, and a few snacks to keep me going.

Ohhh snacks, a banana is fine, but maybe it’s time to look into gels, and is that just water in your bottle or is it an electrolyte replacing, caffeinated combo to make sure you don’t run out of energy?

For the safety conscious among you, yes I wear a helmet, and the rest of my ensemble includes cycling gloves, and cycling shoes (that clip into the pedals), and glasses with interchangeable lens (including clear ones which stop your eyes drying out too much on dull windy days). And yes, all of these little things make a difference, I’ve got the research to prove it.

And so it goes.

Truth be told there isn’t really much I need to add and the only thing I’m considering next is a proper bike fitting – a couple of hours with an expert making sure my seat height, handlebar height and position are correct – and this is only because in September I’m tackling Etape Caledonia and will need to do a fair amount of training for that, so I’d rather not open myself up to niggles and injuries just because my seat isn’t quite at the right height.

After that, who knows? With bikes still being largely mechanical and easy to upgrade there are all sorts of things to consider. Do I want to upgrade the chainrings to something with a wider range? Will a new saddle make a difference to my comfort on the bike, would it help me go faster? I have not, yet, gotten a bicycle computer, nor have I added power meter pedals as that seems a little OTT, and anyway the next key component should really be the tyres, or maybe the entire wheels could be lighter and faster. There really are so many things to consider.

My geek is well and truly on, it’s true. The more I read the more I wonder if changing THAT thing will be worth it for me or whether it’s only really the pros that would even notice. There is an entire subset of cycling geeks obsessed with the weight of their bikes, with each single component examined for any potential gains that could be made. It’s the kind of thing the Sky/Ineos team do, look for the smallest gains everywhere and by the time you add them all up you’ve made a leap forward.

I’m not quite there yet, although this all does feel a little different to my past deep dives into various hobbies. At the simplest level I have a bike, I know how to ride it, and all I really need to do is get out on it for as often, and as far, as possible. Everything else really is just noise, something you realise when you are cycling and all you need to do is focus on the road ahead. To that end the instant enjoyment is what I think will make this a longer lasting hobby, and in time I may even start to consider myself a cyclist.

I know myself well enough that I will make little changes and tweaks to my bike over time but I’m doing my very best not to fall into a well known cycling equation that is (semi) jokingly used in every cycling forum I’ve looked at.

The correct number of bikes for you to own is n+1. N equates to the number of bikes you own, therefore you should always be looking to acquire your next pride and joy.

Given that my new bike is still less than a year old I think I’ve got a ways to go before any n+1 thoughts. Although I’m largely going to have to ignore the fact that my (to be) in-laws are all cycling enthusiasts and will very much be prime enablers of any future bike purchases.

For now I’m more than happy with the bike I have, the joy I have using it, and the eagerness to which I look forward to my next ride. That’s the key for me, get to a place where I’m happy and comfortable and I know this hobby will become more than that, if it hasn’t already. With warmer days approaching I know I’ll be itching to go out more and more often, and my bike is always waiting patiently to whizz me along on the next adventure.

Cycling Health Personal Musings Sport

6 weeks = 42 days = 1,008 hours = 60,480 minutes = 3,628,800 seconds.

That’s how long it was from the 18th of January to the 28th of February.

I mention this with purpose as I set myself a little challenge which lasted for – can you guess? – 6 weeks, but I confess it wasn’t wholly my idea.

At the start of the year I wrote that I didn’t have any aims for 2021 and that’s still true; this year will (still) be mostly headlined by the pandemic and whilst life goes on, I’m not really looking to upset my own apple cart. What worked for me in 2020, the habits I built and which I get the most benefit from, will continue on through 2021.

However it’s fair to say that over the past couple of years I’ve had a much longer term plan forming in my mind, the type of thing that starts off as a vague notion then slowly starts to crystallise into something more solid until one day, all of a sudden, you realise you’ve already decided what it will be. This plan may, or may not, have something to do with the fact I will be leaving my forties in a few years time.

It was just over six weeks ago that, with 2021 stretching in front of us, Becca and I were chatting about some of our longer term desires as a couple, where we were hoping to end up in the next few years, and what our own individual thoughts and dreams were alongside that. While I had some vague ideas for myself and certainly knew roughly the direction I wanted to head, it was only when we started discussing our joint future that things started to take shape.

Throughout 2020 I’ve been slowly building habits that will stand me in good stead for the future, more outdoor exercise (the dogs help with that obviously), daily meditation and the like. And my general fitness levels definitely benefited from the increase in cycling mileage as well. I’d even gone for a few runs and enjoyed it more than I realised. But talking about my long (very long) term plans and trying to explain my thinking and some of the ideas I had to make them happen, well the more I talked the more impossible it seemed, and I definitely do not want to set out to try and achieve the unachievable, why set yourself up for failure like that?

So Becca made the simple suggestion to not focus that far out, and look at something in the near future. “Maybe try six weeks”, she suggested and rightly posited that it’s long enough to see progress (sometimes a month isn’t) but not so far in the future to be unimaginable. It also meant that if I started the following Monday, those six elapsed weeks would take me to the last day of February.

You know that way when someone says something that clicks in your brain and all of a sudden you have the urge to smack yourself upside the head for not thinking of it in the first place, well this was definitely one of those moments, one of those can’t see the forest for the trees moments that makes you feel both grateful to the person who thought of it, and a little peeved with yourself because it’s kinda obvious… why yes, I WILL break down my long term plan into smaller achievable goals. OF COURSE! *smacks self upside head*

Of I went to figure out what that would all mean and how it might work, and it got me thinking back to the times I’ve set myself challenges in the past, knowing how quickly I can get disheartened and how I tend to be a little unrealistic, so with that in mind I decided to give myself plenty of leeway to reduce those pressures, to remove as much of my fear of failure from the outset.

I picked up where I’d left the Couch to 5KM training plan at the tail end of last year but I decided to only run twice a week and ‘do something else’ for a third activity (turned out to be indoor cycling using a turbo trainer and Zwift). That was it, anything on top of that was a bonus, and I deliberately left my weekends free to either be active or not.

As a perfectionist, this all met my deep-seated need to ‘plan the crap out of everything’ but left room for changes to the plan as and when required; for the few days when we had bad snow and ice I only used the indoor bike, then did three runs the next week to catch back up with the plan.

And whaddya know, six weeks later I’ve finished the Couch to 5KM plan and completed my first 5KM run for over 10 years, I lost weight consistently throughout, my blood pressure is lower, and I’m giving myself a hearty pat on the back for completing the challenge I set myself. I’m also giving Becca a big hug for listening to me talk about it and nudging me in the right direction (I’m telling you, she’s a keeper!).

For the record, I did skip a few of my planned sessions, one time because I just didn’t want to do it. We also order takeaway once a week (twice one weekend), and I still eat cake too. My point is that the plan was a guide, not a schedule, and I deviated from it now and again because LIFE. Yet I navigated my way through the last six weeks happy that I was ‘just doing it’. Sometimes that’s all that matters.

Looking ahead it’s likely I’ll do the same throughout the rest of the year, break my fitness plan down into 6-week blocks, and by this Autumn, with a bit of luck, I should’ve gotten my running distance up to 10KM, and I’ll also have completed the 65KM Etape Caledonia (in Sept). And hey, if I don’t manage all of that, I’ll still have been way more active and thinking about my health more which will automatically have the effect of lowering my weight, and more importantly, my blood pressure down to much healthier levels.

Isn’t it amazing what you can do in 3,628,800 seconds = 60,480 minutes = 1,008 hours = 42 days = 6 weeks.

Health Life Personal Musings Running