Woe is Me!

It’s been a long time, a very long time. Too long I would say, but I have finally¬†found the motivation to write about where I have been for the last 6 months.

The easy answer is nowhere, not on the bike anyway.

Where I have been is a bit more complicated and not really something I am going to go into detail on my cycling blog, maybe one day I will write about it on my other blog Loads of Things which talks more about, well, loads of things that aren’t to do with fitness or cycling.

Just to say that I have had a trip to hospital in January, intensive care no less, for a bout of Sepsis and since then have been struggling with an immune system condition which leaves me very tired, lethargic and feeling more than a little unwell from time to time, hence why I haven’t been out on my bike for the best part of six months.

Yes I’ve had the odd ride with the kids, I even took the cubs (my son is part of the local cub group) for a ride out on a local cycle route and had one quick windmill circuit (which nearly killed me!) but apart from that nothing.

Considering the last time I rode in anger was mid December 2014, where I managed just over 30 miles in one go, the last six months have put me back basically to the start. I am also missing three Triathlons (two of which I was looking to enter) and the chance to ride the coast to coast with my brother-in-law.

All of the fitness I had built up, the leg muscle and tone on the calfs now just a distant memory. Will I ever have the stamina and patience to do it all again?

I can’t decide if I want to do it all again, start from the beginning, short rides to build up stamina, feeling like your heart is going to pump out of your chest at the first sign of any kind of exertion.

It could of course all have been worse, I could have died (and no that’s not being mellow dramatic it was a possibility) or I could have been left unable to ride. I should look on the bright side and get myself out there, after all summer is almost here and there will be no better chance than now to get out there and get fit again. I just need to find some motivation and to feel well enough to go out for sustained periods over the next few months.

So woe is me, it’s been a tough six months, but time to put it all behind me and start again.

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What is Fitness?

I’ve been riding on and off for just over a year now. I say on and off as I have had a couple of operations and a layoff for an injury so it hasn’t been full on in that time.

I keep asking myself am I getting any fitter? After all that’s one of the reasons I started riding again in the first place, to get fit.

But what is fitness and how can I gauge whether I am getting ‘fitter’?

When I am riding I always have trouble in the first mile or so, heart and lungs screaming and legs burning, I can usually get the breathing under control if I take it steady, especially if I am going up hill. The legs will come back to me (in other words stop burning) after a couple of miles or so, but again I may need to take it steady if I am on a longer climb.

This hasn’t really changed much since I started and I guess I may always be one of those people who struggles? After all the more I do the harder it seems to be. If I go out more than a couple of times a week my legs just can’t take it, my thighs especially take it hard and I need a couple of days or so to recover.

It’s not like I am riding long distances either. Since I started in June 2013 I have ridden 478 miles in 55 outings. 250 of those miles have been done this year, 117 of them in September alone.

But I’m still not ‘fit’ in a sense that things are getting easier or that I can breathe more easily when riding uphill.

I have come a long way though. The second ride I did back in June 2013 I managed 6 miles in just over 43 minutes, earlier this week I did 9.6 miles (around the same place just extended) in around the same time, give or take a few seconds.

Does this mean I am fitter? The fact I can go further than before in the same amount of time? There are two slight differences with the rides, the first is that I have changed bikes, from a cheap MTB (which I have since upgraded to a better one) to a road bike (which I have only ridden once). The other is that I am around 1 stone lighter than I was.

Also the first couple of times I rode I could hardly walk afterwards, now I can come home, get changed and go out without too many problems.

I can also ride further, the other day I went just over 22 miles, a distance that even at the beginning of 2014 was looking a step too far. Is this fitness or just stamina?

I’d like to think I feel ‘fitter’ I can walk further and without getting breathless, I feel generally better in myself, but am I fitter?

I don’t really know the answer and I guess until I understand ‘what is fitness’ I probably never will.

A Picture Paints a 1000 Words

I took a few pictures whilst out on an evening ride this week. I managed to get out of work a few minutes early so that I had time for a quick 10 miles before the sun went down.

It was a clear evening so when the sun went down I still had enough time to push a couple more miles before the light faded.

Below are a selection of the best shots, some different angles and a slightly different route so I stopped off a couple of times.

This is why I go out, to see the views, to get fit as well, but mostly to have some time out and see the views.

Looking out towards Penistone

Looking out towards Penistone

As the sun goes down

As the sun goes down

The windmills in the sun

The windmills in the sun

Looking out towards Manchester

Looking out towards Manchester

And it's gone, the sun goes down.

And it’s gone, the sun goes down.

Ride Details

Distance: 10.9 miles

Time Taken: 54:04

Elevation Gain: 544ft

Average Speed: 12.1 mph

A Day of Firsts

Today I rode over 20 miles for the first time, I’m sure I could have gone on further but ran out of time.

Today I also rode around the windmills circuit twice, once anticlockwise – which is my usual route and once clockwise.

Today is the first time I have ridden the windmills circuit clockwise and it seemed to be easier than the usual route which is probably why most people go that way!

Today is the first time I have fallen over on my bike in public after stopping behind a car and un-clipping the right pedal only to fall over to the left.

That’s if for today!

Ride Details

Distance: 22.2 miles

Time Taken: 1:53:01

Elevation Gain: 1,238ft

Average Speed: 11.8 mph

A Wet Wednesday in September

Today the only thing that was miserable was the weather, which wasn’t expected or forecast but ended up being very misty and a little wet. At least some of the people out this evening spoke or nodded some kind of acknowledgment unlike the miserable people from last Sunday. Granted there were a lot less of us out there tonight, probably something to do with the weather, but even so you get a friendlier rider on an evening than you do on a Sunday morning, in my experience anyway.

One of the biggest problems I have when riding in the wet is that I wear glasses. They either get misty as I breath upwards on them (I struggle to breath through my nose so have to breath through my mouth) or they just get misty with all of the rain / spray. Wiping them gives the obvious smear so I can see less than I could when the rain drops where on them, maybe it’s time to consider contact lenses (I’m sure I’ve said that before…).

This was a quick blast around the windmills after work so I had to get off on time otherwise I may not have been done when the light went totally making it difficult to see. What I hadn’t foreseen was one of the internal servers going down at 5.10pm, which I am responsible for, with me wanting to leave at 5.40pm fully changed and ready to ride. It takes about 35-40 minutes to get home and I wanted to be riding by 6.30pm to ensure I was done no later than 7.30pm when I knew the light would be gone. Couple that with the weather I really needed to get off on time but alas sever issues and the MD asking how to delete and email on his phone as I was walking out, I didn’t leave until 5.50pm.

Even so with everything against me I still managed to get riding just after 6.30pm, lights on, one set so I can see and the other set flashing so I can be seen by others – remember see and be seen!

Visibility was poor to say the least, the photo below shows just how misty it was, the wall in the photo is no more than 20 feet away from where I had stopped to wipe my glasses.

I had already decided from my last blog post that I would try and improve my overall speed and time around the whole course rather than concentrate on individual Strava segments. I also decided that I would take it easy on the descents and corners as I had blown my tires up that afternoon, plus they are the equivalent of an F1 car intermediate tyre, not a full slick, but only a few groves to let the water disperse rather than the usual knobbly MTB tyres that the bike came with. With wet roads and small puddles forming I didn’t want to push too hard and end up falling off, I had a bit of a moment just after I set off turning in the road where I almost fell off because I wasn’t concentrating or pedaling – you get the split second to sort yourself out, pedal or unclip, not moving and just balancing the answer had to be pedal, if I tried to unclip I would have been on the deck.

As I rode carefully my top speed was well down on the usual 30mph, but I managed to increase my overall speed, averaging almost 13mph, helped by a good final uphill segment where I told myself it was the last hill (apart from the other one) on the way back so I could push hard as I was nearly at the finish.

A good workout which is what I am aiming for at the moment with the shorter rides around the windmills, my next goal for a weekend ride is to break the 20 mile barrier, something I haven’t achieved yet.

A wet Wednesday in September - the view

A wet Wednesday in September – the view

Ride Details

Distance: 9.0 miles

Time Taken: 41:42

Elevation Gain: 434ft

Average Speed: 12.9 mph

 

Miserable Sunday Mornings

The weather on my Sunday morning ride wasn’t the best. A little windy, very misty but not that cold, although that’s not what the miserable part of this post is about. It’s the people.

Most times that I go out on my bike and pass another rider, either coming towards me or sometimes passing by, you get some sort or acknowledgment, a hello or good morning. But not today. I usually reply with something bordering on a mixture between hi and alright which comes out something like ‘aieeeat’ basically take out all of the consonants and just keep the vowels! If nothing else just a nod or a smile will do.

Today however, was busier than usual around windmills, lots of bikes and more than the fair share of horses. What I didn’t expect was how many of those out today would be miserable so and so’s who couldn’t even make eye contact, let alone manage to speak. Maybe it’s because I was on my MTB and they are all road bikes – the two sets of people out on MTB’s both spoke!

It doesn’t take much to raise your head and say hello, even if it is totally unrecognisable as a word in the English language like mine usually is, at least I make an effort to make a sound and nod polity. You always get the odd one who doesn’t speak, either can’t be bothered or looks down their nose at you, but today was more the rule rather than the exception. Come on people, we are all out there for similar reasons, lets at least be civil to each other. After all this is the North and we speak to each other, not like being on the tube in London where no-one speaks!

Changing subject slightly, I spend most of my time whilst I am riding thinking about the subject for my next blog post. I also compose parts of the text and take the odd photo when I feel like stopping. I normally stop in the same places so a lot of the picture are of the same view. What I wanted to talk about in this post follows on from a blog post I read the other day regarding Strava, if you get a moment it is well worth reading.

When I first started riding I did so to get fit, which is still a goal as I have a long way to go, sometimes I just ride to get out of the house for a change of scenery, but more often I find myself going out to beat previous Strava segment times. I change routes and miss sections out just to make sure I am heading in the right direction or will be in prime condition to tackle a segment. I have also found myself slowing down on certain sections that are not Strava segments, especially if they are uphill, just so that I can go faster on the stretches that are Strava segments. Sad really.

What it does do is provide motivation to try harder or go faster. But as I have said before I am finding that I am putting effort into parts of a ride, which makes it more and more difficult to consistently get better across the whole of a ride.

I am never going to be KOM on any hill, I am usually happy if I have beaten at least 50% of the riders on any section, men and women. I have a long way to go for some of the segments, others I am in a great position. But here in lays the problem. Am I becoming a slave to Strava segments? Am I basing everything I do on the performance I record on Strava? But then there are no settings to say how strong the wind was and no account taken for the wind direction. It doesn’t take into account whether I felt ‘up to it’ (which I really didn’t at the start of this ride and almost returned home after a couple of miles!) It also doesn’t take into account any other weather or road conditions specific to that ride. So why do I always want to beat my previous best on most, if not all segments that I ride?

I think from now on I will try to just ride, enjoy myself and see if I can go further – if I only have time for a quick eight mile lap of the windmills then maybe I should target my average speed across the whole ride rather than individual segments, that way I will concentrate all of the time and not just on the Strava segments.

The main things Strava is good for is measuring distance and time taken, those really are the two elements that I should concentrate on and are the basics of the ride details that I post on here every time.

Ride Details

Distance: 17.7 miles

Time Taken: 1:33:34

Elevation Gain: 1,064ft

Average Speed: 11.4 mph

And They Say it Changes When The Sun Goes Down, Around Here

I took a couple of pictures whilst out on Wednesday night which I wanted to share here. Nothing really remarkable happened on this ride out, just that I only just made it back round before the light went totally. I have lights but don’t really like riding when it is pitch black as there are no street lights where I go and it can be a bit dangerous in places, especially as the roads are in a shocking state.

The one thing I did notice this evening was the temperature difference where the road dipped so the sun hadn’t been able to warm the air. The air was still anyway, with no breeze, but the difference in temperature in a couple of places was very noticeable, which was very odd. What does change when the sun goes down is the temperature which is something I am going to need to remember if I manage to get out again after work this year.

Apart from that this was a simple case of getting some miles in the legs, going a slightly different way to add a bit of distance and then riding on past the car (yes I drove up the hill again to make sure I got back before the sun went down).

As the sun goes down

As the sun goes down

Cows in a fields

Cows in a fields

 

Ride Details

Distance: 9.8 miles

Time Taken: 46:20

Elevation Gain: 440ft

Average Speed: 12.7 mph