Tag Archives: Health/Fitness

Weighty Matters

Over the next few months, I will drone on endlessly on this website, on Twitter & on Facebook about this piece of cycling equipment or that. I will debate the merits of widget A over that of widget B to the extent that when I do finally make a decision, widget 2.0 will be on the market. I do, of course, speak from the experience of having done similar things in the run up to cycling the Eurovelo 5 from the UK to southern Italy. My cycling along the Eurovelo 8 scheduled for summer 2013 will see an identical process put in motion. It will come as no surprise that weight is a big factor when choosing cycling equipment as everything you take with you, you have to carry on the bike. I remember very well trying to decide the merits of tents and sleeping bags based upon how much they weighed; forget everything else, weight is the key issue. Or is it?

When I arrived at Abbey Wood camp-site in the east of London on the first evening of my Eurovelo 5 trip, I fell into conversation with a middle-aged chap from South Africa. he was sceptical as to whether I would eventually make it all the way to Brindisi in southern Italy and his parting comment was that ‘…at least you’ll come back a different shape’. As I later wrote in the book, he was of course eluding to the fact that I hadn’t quite managed to change myself into a lean, mean cycling machine prior to departure. Not that I was some obese bloke who wobbled on the bike like a jelly in an earthquake but I was a little ‘stocky’. I think I still am. I know I still am.

I could probably do with losing 20 kilograms. Sorry, I need to lose 20 kilograms. My tent on the trip to Italy – a Vango Helium 100 – weighed 1.19 kilograms and I had spent hours anguishing over that. I would have been far better off taking a more roomy, comfortable tent and making up the difference by losing a few pounds. The same comment could be applied to the camping mat, the sleeping bag, the maps, the clothing… the everything! I could have taken double the amount of equipment had I been 20 kilograms lighter and I would have still been lugging the same amount of weight over the Alps. Not that I would have done so of course; the aim would have been to lose the weight and simply reduce effort required to cycle.

Which brings us back to the Eurovelo 8 and my preparation. Do I minimise the weight of my equipment, minimise my own weight… or try to do both. My preference is for the latter. So, tomorrow marks 9 months before my planned departure on the 1st July (more news on that particular point next weekend by the way). My target date for the loss of my 20 kilos is the 1st April (ha! Fools’ Day!) which will then allow me another 3 months to fine tune my body into the lean, mean cycling machine that I perhaps dream of being. I can but try.

I weighed myself this morning – the first time in probably over a year – and was not horrified by what I saw below me on the dial (which I am proud to say I could see clearly; there was even a clear gap of air between stomach and dial I’ll have you know!). This was a good start. Now down to shedding the 20 kilograms.

Buoyed by the report from the scales, I tweeted that I had done something this morning that I hadn’t done for over a year and could anyone guess? After a few responses I did need to clarify that it was cycling-related. The incentive for the first correct answer was a copy of Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie but there weren’t any. The following are the (at times comical, at times bizarre) wrong ones. Some of the suggestions are worth considering (both cycling-related and not…);

- Turned on the central heating

- Not get up in the night for a wee

- Been for a run

- Cleaned the oven

- Backed up my phone

- Dusted

- Cleaned out the kitchen cupboards

- Watched golf

- Pumped up your bike tyres

- Been to the gym

- Spoken Greek

- Put up your tent

- Cleaned your bike

- Looked on the map and thought bugger that I’m off to Disneyland

- Shaved your legs

- Put mudguards on

- Had a wax

- Had a bath

- Looked at your route

- Fitted lights to your bike and gone for an early morning cycle using them

- Lie in

- Greased your Brooks 

- Got on the turbo

- Mountain riding

- Got up early on a Sunday

- Changed your brake pads

- Walk to the shops nursing a hangover for a copy of The Observer and an almond Magnum

- Bought new maps & travel guides for the ‘lit review’

- Fell off

- Puncture

- No, wait! wheelie!

- Fixed a puncture

- Overtook a donkey down a hill

And my favourite…

- Going a full 12 hours without retweeting a brilliant review for Good Vibrations

Many of those say much more about what the tweeter does on a Sunday morning rather than me…

Joining The Gym: Simples!

Whatever my next “adventure”, whether it be in winter or summer, 2011, 2012 or beyond, I need to be a bit fitter than I was for the last one. I wasn’t at the peak of fitness when I set off for Brindisi on the 18th July but by the time I arrived, despite the volume of food that I ate, I felt OK. Nothing more than “OK” however. How wonderful it would have been to set off as a lean, mean, cycling machine and arrive, 3,200 kilometres later feeling even better!

In addition, since arriving back in the UK at the end of August, I have just eaten, drunk and generally let myself go. Perhaps it was always going to be the case that after all that exertion. Apart from cycling to work (and I was far too quick to ask my friend Jo for a lift last term), I have done no exercise. Two months of slobbing around. It has to change, so this morning I did the sensible thing; I rejoined the gym!

Gyms are notoriously secretive on their websites. I challenge you to find a website of a private gym that actually tells you how much it costs to join and be a member of that gym. Impossible! The council run gym tells you, as does the University gym here in Reading but the rest of them, no! You have more chance of bumping into Cyril Smith on the treadmill next to you. And he’s now dead! So it’s always with a bit of trepidation that I have either rung or visited a gym for fear of being forced into signing something that I can’t really afford simply because I don’t want to look like a skinflint. A few years ago I went down to the David Lloyd gym in Reading – the nearest one to where I live – and was shocked to find out that, in addition to the joining fee I would have to fork out over £80 a month for the pleasure of using their facilities. I remember the woman who I spoke to actually asked me how much I was expecting to pay before she told me; what is this? A game show? “I’ll think about it and let you know” was the answer I gave and which she knew was a euphemism for “No, sorry, I can’t afford but I don’t want to admit that to you. Please end this conversation now and show me where the door is”.

I used to be a member of Cannons gym near the Madejski stadium in Reading. That was about four years ago. I joined with a friend and as we were both teachers (I think we could have been anything and still got a discount – that’s marketing for you!) we got a reduced price and it cost us about £40 each per month. Not a bad price, especially as the place had a swimming pool as well. Cannons is now Nuffield Health “Fitness & Wellbeing” and I have been toying with rejoining for some time. I phoned them on Friday and the prices were still within my price range so this morning, I went down, signed up and had my first session back in the gym. The first month is free although the “joining fee” which, lets face it is just bollocks, was £29 and the monthly cost £51 so my first month is really just at a reduced price. I could have reduced the monthly cost to a very reasonable £44 (the university gym is £33 but you have to surround yourself with young, fit people; at least at places like Nuffield Health there are plenty of old fatties around to make you look good – perhaps they are paid to be there….) but that would have meant signing on for 12 months. I’m not quite ready for that.

So I have done the most difficult bit and actually joined. The next bit is easy; keep going every Saturday and Sunday morning and, within a few months, I will have the body of an adonis. Simples!

Good Ridance To September

You may notice from the Twitter feed that I have taken the day off work; for the second time this month I have been feeling off colour.  A couple of weeks ago I croaked my way through the first few days of term and now I have picked up a bug which has been ping-ponging between my nose and throat since the end of last week with a rumbling, aching stomach to boot. I woke up this morning and phoned in sick.

What a contrast to how I felt just over a month ago on my arrival in Puglia after the 3,300 kilometres in the saddle. A month of living, eating and drinking like a rebellious teenager have resulted in me feeling bloated, ill and a little depressed. I did consciously want to let things go after the long cycle south but didn’t expect my lack of discipline to last so long, certainly not until the end of September.

Which, thank goodness, is nearly here. October arrives on Friday and I need to get back into pre-summer eating, drinking and exercising habits. I may even rejoin the gym…

 

Eurovelo 5 Catch Up

I’ve discussed much on here recently; Mark Beaumont, butterfly handlebars, commuting, Twitter, Geoff Boycott(!)… but not much of Eurovelo 5 and my plans to cycle from Reading to Brindisi kicking off on Sunday 18th July, a little over two-months away. So here is a summary of progress

  • I’m thinking of changing the route slightly (not the official one; I don’t have the authority to do that of course although as this site seems to be the nearest thing that the World has to anything remotely authoritative about the route of the Eurovelo 5, perhaps it will, in legalese, be a persuasive argument for any future amendment?). So what is the change? Miss out Brussels. Sorry Brussels. And actually (brace yourself) most of Belgium. I’ve been there before and the centre of the capital city is nice but the bit just outside the centre is a horrible urban sprawl. What’s more, the map would imply that a route that straddles the French border all the way past Belgium and Luxembourg and then heads through France to Strasbourg would make sense. I want to go to Strasbourg as I have never been before and it will be a chance to meet up with my friend Claus who lives in nearby Stuttgart and I like the idea of following the Rhine south of Strasbourg. Any thoughts on this?
  • Training is going OK but nothing more than OK; I am far from the lean, clean, cycling machine that I think I once dreamt of being but I am in good fettle if not fine fettle! I haven’t been going to the gym despite having joined the University one over Easter and becoming a regular for about three weeks. I do, however, underestimate that I do cycle every day for an hour and do a pretty mean run at weekends.
  • I still haven’t do the minutiae of planning that I want and need to do; I do at the very least want to know the accommodation options along the route if not necessarily the detailed route itself.
  • And the butterfly bars are yet to arrive :( . Once they are, they will be fitted and I will start to use Reggie Ridgeback. At the moment, he remains, un-used in my spare room, still gleaming….

Easter, Venison and Bullet Points

Nearly there. Just one more day until the second biggest reason to be a teacher starts; the Easter holidays. I know that sounds a bit cynical so apologies to those educational purists who want us all to be teachers because it is our “calling”, but we all have to be honest and the long holidays are a very big factor in our job satisfaction index and enable us to put up with our working conditions in the other thirty-nine weeks, even in leafy Henley-on-Thames where I ply my trade. Number one is, of course the summer holiday. Easter, on a relaxation scale, comes in ahead of Christmas as there is bugger all to interrupt two weeks (seventeen days this year!) of doing what you want to do…. Christmas is busy!

Even more exciting than Easter is that tomorrow is the start of April, the first month of my three-month programme of health and efficiency that will lead me to cycling nirvana. To celebrate both the Easter holidays and this momentous period of virtuosity pre-Puglia, I will be dining tonight on venison, pommes de terres and Australian Shiraz! That does sound impressive; it is actually venison sausages, mashed potatoes and a bottle of red plonk but I am looking forward to it. I really don’t care that I have another day to work; the kids can put up with a diminished level of education for the last day of term tomorrow morning. We knock off at 2.30pm anyway after only a couple of hours of what is supposed to be meaningful work.

Catching up with all things Puglia, I feel some bullet points coming on:

  • The Panorama (still no name for him / her) is back at the cycle shop for a few adjustments. I cycled the new bike to work this morning to see how it would cope with the 12% hill that cuts through Henley Golf Club. It passed although it wasn’t that different from the Trek. Still uncomfortable (in both a physical and spiritual sense) with the position of the handlebars, I returned home via AW Cycles for a post-purchase consultation with Darren, the guy who measured me a couple of weeks ago. He was actually busy so I spent some time with the other guy who frequents the upstairs of AW Cycles. I explained how I was feeling the riding position uncomfortable but he did manage to convince me that it was because I was so used to a very upright position with my previous bike. I’m more than happy to buy into this  and no changes are planned to the length of the stem that attaches the handlebars to the frame. I did, however, also mention how I was finding the width of the handlebars equally uncomfortable. After a couple of measurements, my cycling consultant agreed and the bike is now spending the night in the bike shop awaiting a re-fit of the handlebars. They will be replaced with a wider set and also the brakes on the top of the bars will be moved to a more central position to allow me more room to grip the bars themselves. I trudged back to Reading on foot but glad that I had addressed the issue. I was now more comfortable in the spiritual sense and I hope that soon that will be reflected in the physical sense.
  • The second episode of Mark Beaumont’s excellent documentary on his cycle from Alaska to Argentina continued last night on BBC1 but I only made it as far as just south of Chihuaha before I was too tired to keep my eyes open. This is not a reflection upon the documentary but a reflection upon my  stupid addiction to getting up at 5am and being at work by 6.30am. I will hopefully watch the rest of the documentary tonight. Basil, my fellow language teacher who I will be visiting in southern Italy later in the year at the end of the ride texted to inform me that riding through Bari will be more dangerous than Mexico.
  • On the subject of Mark Beaumont, he has made me one of his friends on Twitter! Thanks for that Mark. I wonder if he is a regular reader of this blog?
  • I received another text today from another fellow language teacher who I used to work with. She wished me a good Easter holiday and asked “is it this one where you cycle to Italy?”. It’s a good job she teaches German and not Geography. Reading to Brindisi in two weeks would be impressive!

End of bullet points. I’m off to dine on my venison sausages. :)

Three Important Months

On the 18th March I blogged about it being four months exactly until the day that I set off on my little cycling adventure. Actually, although I was correct, the most important period of time in terms of preparation is going to be from the 1st April to the 30th June. We’ve been stuck in what has felt like a longer and colder winter than usual but in recent weeks there have been real signs of things turning for the better and so the arrival of my seventeen-day Easter holiday which sits nicely this year at the start of April – from the 2nd to the 18th of the month – is perfectly timed to allow me to devote the time and energy I need to kick-start my training and preparation. If I don’t have my plans and fitness in place by the end of June, I will have serious issues catching up, so you can see how the months April, May and June have an elevated place of importance in the run up to the 18th July.

So, with all this in mind, it’s worth taking a few moments to consider what actually needs to be done. I think it boils down to three things;

The detailed itinerary: this needs to be finalised. Although I took a massive step forward by breaking down the route into a semblance of stages (you can see the details in the Route section of the website), it was a fairly ad-hoc thing and it needs to be revisited and analysed with a bit more rigour. To make the accommodation situation slightly easier, I would like, if at all possible, to be able to say where I plan to be on each night between the 18th July and the end of the trip. If I do this, I can at least reasearch places to stay – campsites in the main but perhaps hostels as well – in advance of setting off. There is nothing worse than spending a day travelling and worrying about where you plan to be sleeping at the end of it. If you are in the wilds of Canada or the Australian outback then fine, you just pitch the tent, but I am travelling through Western Europe which is a little more crowded! This must be a priority to get done by the end of the Easter holidays and certainly by the end of April.

Physical preparation: I consider myself to be a fit person (I am, after all, one of the minority in society who really does get his government-recommended five periods of exercise per week through my daily commute), but I need to move to the next level. I see this being primarily in two areas; losing some weight (each kilogram shed is one less kilogram to haul up those Alpine climbs) and increasing my stamina. I’m quite looking forward to doing both and will re-join the university gym at the end of this week, followed up by some intensive use of its facilities over the Easter holidays. I may also, once the holidays are finished, consider riding a significantly longer route to commute home, perhaps a route that will take me anything up to an hour and a half to complete. The lighter evenings (we changed the clocks last night!) make this a real possibility and it is such an effective use of time. Cleary this preparation has no deadline but I do need to commit myself to a rigorous programme throughout the three important months.

Equipment research: not buying! I have much that I already need including, most importantly, the bike itself, although there are some items of kit that I will need. I do not, however, want or even need to rush into spending money before absolutely needed. I see the following as things as necessities; a tent (probably a Terra Nova Laser Competition), panniers, basic camping equipment, some clothing suitable for hot weather cycling and, of course, a pair of cycling shoes. None of these however need purchasing before at least June if not the start of July itself apart from, that is, the shoes as I need to master the art of cleating and uncleating myself from the bike. If I look at the various kit lists that I have come across over the past few months (see the Equipment section of the site), many of the smaller items I already have and again, I’m travelling through Europe not Siberia so will have plenty of opportunities to pick up things en route if needed.

Breaking News: My Bike Voucher has Arrived!

It was a good news morning all round. Shortly before receiving the voucher you can see here (suitably “redacted”) I also received a clean bill of health from my doctor; she told me I had a 1% chance of having a heart attack in the next five years and had a very normal cholesterol level of 4! My blood pressure is a bit on the high side but with an intensive pre-trip training about to kick in – I leave for Italy in exactly 4 months from Thursday – I aim to reduce that asap!