The future’s bright

On the one hand, the blog you’re about to read doesn’t really fit the brief of this blog-site as a whole – being that it’s not about my Ironman “training”.

But, at the same time, the blog you’re about to read does deal with the fact that getting on a bike doesn’t have to be about “training” and that cycling is as diverse an activity as any I know.

And, whilst I “bang that drum” fairly frequently, a Twitter buddy, Kristy, reminded me that this blog was worth posting.

So here goes!

A week ago was the day of the inaugural “City of Bristol Gymnastics Centre” bike ride.

As many of you will know, my oldest lad, Angus, is a gymnast (as is my youngest, Evert, for that matter) and his coach suggested to me that, on their rest day (Saturday), it would be a nice idea to get the boys together on one of the many cycle-paths around the area and go for a social ride.

And hey – if someone is asking me to organise a bike ride then I’m all over that like an ill-fitting suit!

The uptake was good and included the whole of Angus’ squad (plus Dads… but not Mums, curiously, which was a shame since it gave the day an “only boys were allowed” feel. It also meant that Lisa didn’t really want to join as would have been my preference).

Even a couple of siblings wanted in on the action.

I chose the most local cycle path to me – largely because I know it so well having done many a family bike ride on it… and, furthermore, I know that there are cafés situated at both ends of the “there and back” ride I had planned.

I wasn’t going to force us all to ride some ridiculous distance… it’s all too easy for me to think that, just because the boys are comfortable on their bikes for a couple of hours and more then that must mean that everyone will be… no – I decided that this first outing should just be about “testing the water” with a 5 miles out/5 miles back route.

10 miles.

That’s reasonable for a bunch of kids and Dads who ride bikes far less frequently than “Family-Collard”.

That said, I find myself typing the phrase; “since the bike ride started fairly close to home, we decided to ride to the start” fairly frequently in these blogs… and, for me, Angus and Evert, last Saturday was no exception.

I said to the boys that, since the cycle path starts only a little over 5 miles (of country lanes) from our home, it would seem mad to get to the start any way other than just riding it!

The extra mileage would take our day up to 20 miles, so the boys jumped at that chance.

That did leave us with a bit of a quandary, though – we were lending out a few of our bikes to other participants in the ride and, with us cycling to the start, we did find ourselves wondering how to get the rest of them to their borrowers for the day.

Enter “Super-Lisa”!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No… it’s my wife!

Once again, I find myself thanking Lisa for swooping in with her support and, last Saturday, she once again stepped up to the plate by driving her car (complete with the three bikes we were lending out) to the start.

The ride itself was nothing short of brilliant.

The weather had apparently decided to ignore the forecast for cloud and, instead, treated us to full sun for the whole journey.

The boys were having a great time – they spend 18 tough training hours together every week so, actually, they see each-other as closer friends than they have even at school.

And, whilst Evert isn’t in that same squad, he does train at the same gymnastics centre so, again, he knows them all well enough to just fit straight in.

Even the siblings who were coming at the ride without such tight bonds with the rest were being included as if they were part of the one big happy family.

As for the Dads, we were busy chatting away the whole time… as you can probably imagine!

The pace was, by design, leisurely and the location of the halfway stop was a café of a disused railway station – where an old steam train still sits – which means we could eat the snacks on offer whilst sitting in an old railway carriage or, as was the case for us, the open-air (cleaned out) coal truck repurposed by virtue of a set of garden furniture sitting where the pile of coal once would have!

A few of the group started making suggestions to ride a few more miles before turning around to head back but I put up a barrier to that, if I’m being honest.

I didn’t want the ride to be about distance – I wanted it to be about fun.

I sensed that, asking some of the boys to ride a bit further would place us all in danger of it starting to feel like a chore as we came to the end.

I wanted to finish with everyone wanting more… I figured that that would give us the best chance of people having fond memories of the day.

The ride back was no less fun.

“Super-Lisa” (who’d obviously gone off for a couple of hours doing her own thing before come back in time for our arrival – to take the loaned bikes back home) lived up to her name once again by bringing a selection of ice-lollies for everyone to have as an “end of ride” treat.

As everyone went their separate ways, Angus, Evert and I rode those last 5 miles home and that was that… the end of the ride.

You know, sometimes, a day feels about as good as it could be?

That was last Saturday.

Everyone, without exception, enjoyed themselves and since that was the primary goal (as should always be the case), the inaugural “City of Bristol Gymnastics bike ride” was a success to be repeated.

From a pure “cycling” point of view, it was a huge success, too – seeing a bunch of kids loving the process of riding a bike really gave me hope that the future of cycling for the next generation is bright.

Here are a few pics from the day (and even a video!):

And, if we’re trying to extract some kind of tenuous link to Ironman training, for the sake of making this post relevant to the blog-site as a whole, I think I’ve found one.

Whilst we only covered 20-odd miles, we were riding for around 2 and a half hours… and something struck me as we were nearing the end.

It doesn’t really matter too much “how far” we’d ridden… what matters is that I was pretty much continually turning my legs over, and sitting on a bike, for 2 and a half hours…. and that, surely, must confer at least some training benefit.

I’m clutching at straws, a little, I know – but I don’t care… I’m claiming it!

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Gert Lush

Sunday was the day of the inaugural “Gert Lush” sportive bike ride.

In case you’re not familiar with the phrase; “Gert Lush”, I’ll start by saying that it is a local phrase which roughly translates as “Really great”.

With that translation in mind, the “Gert Lush” sportive could not have been more aptly named… read on or, as always, watch the video below (or both.. your choice!)

Since the ride started only a handful of miles from home, I, along with my riding buddies for the day, Gary and Nick, decided to ride along to the start… you know… as you do!

It was a sportive with a difference (which is good because I tend not to be a fan of “regular” sportive bike rides).

Sunday was for vintage bikes… and vintage clothes to match.

By “vintage”, the organisers had wisely refused to alienate too many people by stipulating that your equipment needed to be a certain age but, in reality, most of the bikes taking part were at least 25/30 years – with some being significantly older.

There were some lovely machines out for the day – it really was a visual feast as we readied ourselves for the start.

It was my opportunity to wear my “La Vie Claire” cycling jersey – pic below.

But, far more importantly, it was my opportunity, at last, to take Carmen the Electra for the long ride I have wanted to do on her since I bought her.

I’ll not make this blog a “back-story of Carmen” though… I have already done that and if you want to know more, you can click here . But here’s a pic to whet your appetite.

Up until Sunday, I think that the furthest I had ridden Carmen was around 25 miles and, more importantly, I think I can count on two hands how many times I’ve taken her out of the garage.

Suffice to say that she is a bit “molly-coddled”.

The sportive on Sunday, though, saw me asking her to get ’round a 65 mile route, including some hills… PLUS Gary, Nick and I always had it in the backs of our mind to chuck on some extra mileage (including the ride “to and fro”) to round that up to a nice 100 miles for the day.

The weather was glorious and spirits were high as we rolled out of the official “ride start” along with a few others… there was no firm “grande depart” – it was left to us to decide when we set off, within reason.

The ride was never going to be about speed… it was more akin to a vintage car rally than a sprint around the countryside… Sunday was all about leisure.

Out towards the local hills we went, mainly on country lanes, giving a cheerful wave to everyone we passed en-route.

The bike was performing well and spirits were high.

Being on the retro bike… surrounded by other people on retro bikes, just made the day feel a bit more special than a regular “long ride”.

There was one “mini-drama” which occured as I reached the bottom of a long descent; The brakes on Gary’s bike are marginally “less functional”, shall we say, than he would like them to be so he took the down-hill section a little more steadily than Nick and I… but, whilst we were stopped at the bottom awaiting his arrival, a couple of other chaps informed us that “your mate has punctured near the top”.

We then had a choice – we either take the “good mate” option and head back up the hill to help him.. or we take the “bad mate” option and just wait until he arrives of his own accord.

Nick was a good mate – he headed back up to assist.

I was a “bad mate” and waited at the bottom… it’s not something I’m proud of so don’t give me grief, okay.

While I was waiting, I got chatting to a couple of ride marshals who, co-incidentally, were set up on right on the junction where I found myself. They had gone the “full-monty” in terms of dressing up for the occasion – which was lovely to see.

Gary and Nick reappeared quickly enough, puncture repaired, and we set off for the next hill of the day, Cheddar.

In the true relaxed spirit of the day, we stopped at the bottom for a quick cup of tea before mounting up for the climb up through the Gorge itself.

My bike is the genuine article – it hasn’t been “softened” over the years to make it more like my modern bikes… in short; I mean that it is still running authentic 1980s gearing which, by today’s standards, is not really something you would call “hill-friendly”.

Specifically, for you technically-minded people, the smallest ring on the front is a 39 tooth and the largest cog on the back is a 19 tooth.

That gearing makes hills feels a little steeper than they do on my modern equivalents although, mercifully, despite its inclusion in the list of 100 best climbs in the UK, only the first few bends of the Cheddar Gorge climb (with one in particular) are anything approaching “steep”… after those, the hill just becomes a very pleasant “leg spin”.

My Peugeot took me through the steeper bit very respectably before settling into a nice rhythm for the rest.

The official “ride lunch stop” followed just a handful of miles later and, again, we were treated to a very “period” atmosphere whilst we munched on the sandwiches on offer.

From there, we just had a flat 20 miles to go before the end… and being that they were on roads/cycle paths that I’m very familiar with, those miles were dispatched with relative ease.

As we rolled over the finish line, and straight into a vintage jamboree (complete with live music, drinks, food, fun and frolics), our thoughts turned towards whether we were going to tag on another 30 miles (to reach 100 for the day) or settle for another 10-ish… just to get us all home, via a pre-planned stop in a nearby country pub.

Motivation was high and all three of us agreed that the century was on the cards.

Butt…

(And I mean “butt” rather than “but”)

Those saddles!

Those vintage saddles.

Let’s just say that they had EITHER lost their comfort over the years OR they were never comfortable in the first place.

My personal discomfort was growing by the mile but Gary’s was far worse.

He (and Nick) decided enough was enough… they decided that the century was not something they wanted enough… they decided to head to the pub.

That left me with a decision; put up with the growing saddle-related pain or peel off with them.

I quickly calculated that, if I went with them, I’d finish the ride at 85 miles.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

Not on Carmen.

I’ll rarely get anywhere near a century on her and stopping that close was simply unacceptable!

So I pressed on – got an extra 15 miles in – and only then allowed myself to join Gary and Nick with a pint of Coca-Cola, sitting outside the pub in the sun!

The day itself was nothing short of marvelous… and the fact that I cracked 100 miles only added to that.

Gert Lush, indeed – I only hope that the organisers make it an annual thing!

In wider “Ironman” news, the bike ride only served to cement the fact that, in terms of completing the distance at least, even on an old steel bike with a tortuous saddle, I’m in a permanent state of being Iron-fit for the bike-leg.

Similarly, I’ve done another couple of “longer” open-water swims since my last blog; both of which were getting to within half a mile of a full Iron-distance – and neither left me feeling in any way tired.

So, as always, it’s all about the run… and, on that front, I did another 5km yesterday.

What made yesterday’s run a success was that it was broadly pain-free (in terms of my hips) and, all of a sudden, my pace was lower than my previous attempt by 35 seconds per mile!

I’m still some-way short of the pace I was able to effortlessly run only a year ago… but things are going in the right direction there.

And, lastly, just so you know where my commitment is; I’ve booked somewhere to stay in Hamburg.

Til next time!!

 

 

 

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Mine’s a double!

A very pleasant block of training has passed by since my last blog so I thought I’d jot it all down (do we “jot” electronically??) and publish it for your reading pleasure!

You lucky lot!

In cycling terms, last week was a “POTs” week.

“POTs” is a fairly local group who go out every Wednesday for a social ride and, as good as makes no difference, I try to make sure I join them every other week.

The name of the group is clearly an acronym so I’ll get that out of the way now. It stands for “Portishead Old Timers”. (Portishead being the name of the town where most of them live)

But don’t be fooled by the “Old Timers” part of the name- I get the impression that they started as a group of people who, shall we say, had enjoyed a few more birthdays than most… but now it seems to be made up of a far wider demographic.

Besides which – even the more “senior” members are no slouches when they want to be!

The key point to their rides, though, is that they’re all about the “social” element of cycling.

Speedy breakaways are positively frowned upon. (Except for one road in particular where, for some reason, the ride suddenly becomes an eye-balls-out sprint for glory!)

It’s all relative, I know, but from my point of view, these “alternate Wednesday” rides with POTs are best described as “a chatty pootle”… varied in distance (between 35 and 50 miles) but always (and I mean ALWAYS) include a cake stop.

They’re a lovely bunch of people and I’ve always felt most welcome – last Wednesday was no different as we avoided rain, thunder and lightning to log a decent 35 miler with a couple of climbs thrown in for good measure.

To drag the topic of the blog back to “Ironman training”, for a moment, I’d say that my POTs rides are useful… rather than what some might seem “junk miles”; I find myself pedaling steadily, at a low heart rate and with controlled breathing, for fairly prolonged periods when I’m out with that group… and I’m of the firm belief that this is a good thing to have as part of any training pattern.

Experts agree, right?

On to swimming and, as well as my regular pool swims (which will continue), I’ve paid another visit to the local lake to add some distance to my open-water tally for the year.

As is always the case when the water temperature is still struggling to get above 12°c, the process of getting a wet-suit on by the side of the lake was a bit of a mental battle.

On the one shoulder, I had a mini-Phil asking what on Earth I was thinking… being that I was about to hop into water which, he knew, would cause me considerable discomfort.

But on the other shoulder, another mini-Phil couldn’t wait to get wet.

That more positive mini-Phil; he’s the wise mini-Phil.

He knows that, within about two minutes of getting in that lake, I’ll be having a great time.

He also knows that, once I’m out and dried off, I’m going to feel like the proverbial million dollars for the rest of the day and beyond.

On Friday, I listened to the wise mini-Phil.

And, as always, he was right.

As I mentioned in my last blog, my intention at the moment is to keep adding 500 metres to my distance each time I go to the lake so, on Friday, I swam 1,500 metres before I came to a stop.

I considered doing a bit more, actually, such was the fun I was having, but I reminded myself that I had places to be (or, more specifically, a son to pick up from school) and summoned up the motivation to stop.

Now… on to running.

My last blog alluded to feeling broadly ready to test my left hip on the road, having done a couple of confidence-boosting treadmill sessions.

So – on Thursday – I donned my running shoes and headed out.

My hip has good AND “not so good” days – I’d caught it on a good day… so that was a positive.

I also chose to go out straight after a fairly light turbo-trainer bike session, so my muscles had at least some warmth in them…. again, a positive.

If what followed had happened a year or two ago, I would now be writing about an absolutely disastrous run.

I’d be saying that it was 25% slower than my “normal” comfortable pace for the 3 mile route I chose. (And, if I were being really frank, I’d be telling you that I couldn’t have gone any quicker).

I felt sluggish and ungainly so I’d also be including a thinly veiled appeal for sympathy.

I dare say that I’d be groping around for an explanation as to how things could have gone so wrong!

But this blog isn’t being written a year or two ago.

It’s being written now… after doing next to no running for a loooong time… and only a short while after a 15 minute treadmill jog had left me in absolute agony.

So, believe me, for all of its faults, my 3 mile run on Thursday was a raving success… simply because I got to the end.

I ached afterwards, mind.

Goodness; I ached.

And that ache persisted.

I could easily have interpreted that ache as being something new… and a symptom of my ongoing left hip issue.

Something to worry about.

But, in fairness, I’ve always ached for a few days after a run (unless I’ve got on a bike within an hour or so of stopping, just to free the legs off)…. it’s just the way it is.

So I wasn’t reading a huge amount into my aches and pains.

I was still feeling it when I got out of bed on Sunday morning.

But, despite that, I did something that, even at my “running best”, I have never done.

I went out for a second run of the week.

A “double run week”.

Goodness!

I’ve always avoided the temptation to run twice (or more) per week, simply because my right hip means I shouldn’t even really run once, let alone multiple times.

But I’ve got this Ironman in 2 and a half months’ time and I need to get a bit of confidence in the bag. The way I see it is that Ironman Hamburg is highly likely to be my last ever run, for obvious reasons, so I only have to push these boundaries of mine for a couple of more months.

So – needs must – an already achey Phil dragged himself out of the door at just after 5am on Sunday morning.

It should have felt harder than Thursday; I was still carrying those aches, I deliberately didn’t have breakfast before I headed out and I hadn’t done the whole “warm up the muscles on the turbo trainer” thing.

Bizarrely, though, it actually felt easier.

I was conscious that I wasn’t grimacing nearly as much as I had a few days before and, well, it just felt less laboured.

Disappointingly, though, that second run was no faster than the first.

Not that I was expecting to suddenly find pace, mind – I just mean that, since it felt noticeably easier, a small part of me was hoping that I’d be quicker.

As for how my hips felt; I think the best thing I can say is that I felt no worse at the end than I had when I started.

I’m taking that as a win!

Knowing that my legs do seem to benefit from a spin on a bike after a run, I immediately hopped on the turbo-trainer for 20 minutes which did seem to have the desired effect.

I’m still in two minds as to why I’ve gone back to being able to run 3 miles when, not that long ago, I couldn’t break 15 minutes due to hip-pain.

I so want to believe that my hip is improving and that my worst fears (articulated here) are actually not about to be realised.

I desperately want to believe that the sports-physio chap I’ve been seeing is working his magic and that, before too long, I’ll be running happily again.

But, equally, my body could just be developing a tolerance to the pain I’m in (for context; when my right hip reached its very worst condition – weeks away from putting me in a wheelchair – I confounded the doctors by telling them that I felt no pain at all… my only symptom was a physical lack of ability to walk – that was just how far my body had gone to shut the pain out. But, bizarrely, permanent and intense pain rushed in like a flood as soon as I had a date in the diary for my hip-replacement – that’s the power of the mind, right there!).

And if all that’s happening is that my body is doing this whole “pain blocking” thing then, in reality, I’m making no progress at all.

But let’s make a deal – whatever the truth is – can we all agree that I AM making progress and that my hip IS getting better?

Yeah?

Great.

Onward and upwards, then.

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Still hanging in there.

A little while ago, I wrote a blog about how my ability to even get to the start-line of Ironman Hamburg was hanging in the balance (click here) and the brutal truth is that it still is hanging in the balance…. and for the same reason (my left hip, in case you didn’t know).

But, hey, that’s not as bad as it could be, right?

I could be sitting here typing a blog saying that my left hip had progressively got worse and that I’d given up all hope of being a 2 x Ironman.

I’ve now been to see the sports physio chap, mentioned in that previous blog, a few times and, whether or not it’s all in my head, my hip now seems to have more “good days” than it did before… and fewer “bad ones”.

But, and make no bones about it, it’s far from perfect… and I’d only be lying to myself if I said it was.

It still hurts daily and, from time to time, it’ll wake me up in the night.

And if had a pound for every time someone asks me why I’m limping (even when, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t feel any pain at all so assume myself to just be walking normally), I’d be amassing quite a pile of cash.

It’s a real pity because, let’s face it, I have no concerns about my ability to swim or cycle the distances I need to on the day… you could say that I maintain myself in a constant state of being “Iron-fit” in those two disciplines (albeit with the scope to train for more speed, obviously)… so were it not for my concerns over BOTH of my hips (with my current focus on my left hip pain, it’s all too easy to forget about my metal right one!), I’ve no doubt I could get “Iron-fit” for the run, too.

It’s intensely frustrating that I can’t just go out there and put in the running miles without a second thought about the damage I’d be doing or the pain I would be facing.

It’s tempting to focus on the negatives, here… and fall into a “why me?” mentality.

But… and it’s a big but….

A week or two ago I decided that I basically had two options.

Option one was to be focussed on the uncertainty I have about the Ironman and to dwell on the “why me?” concerns around my hips.

Option two was to just press on with what I CAN do, in terms of Ironman training.

I figured that “option two” was more constructive and so, on returning from a mini break with the family in Scotland, and with a little over three months to go before Hamburg, I considered what I needed to do.

Number one on that list was to get back to open-water swimming (but not at the expense of my longer pool swim sessions, obviously, which I’ll continue to do).

Number two was to attempt some running just to see what happened.

Number three, of course, was to keep cycling.

So let’s begin with open-water swimming.

The water temperature in the marine lake which is conveniently close to my home, at around 12°c, may still be on the nippy side for a bit of a wimp like me, but I couldn’t hold off on getting the practice in any longer.

I set a very modest target for my first dip; get in, swim 500 metres in whatever fashion I could (even if that meant keeping my face dry because of the temperature) and get back out.

The target was just focussed around reintroducing my body to colder water, having become somewhat accustomed to the far more amenable temperature of the pool where I’ve been clocking up the miles so far in 2019.

The first 100 metres of that lake swim were, indeed, spent keeping my face out of what seemed like freezing cold water.

I didn’t send myself into a spiral of self-criticism for not getting my head under, though (like I maybe would have a year or two ago).

I was IN the water… THAT was what was important.

But, at the same time, and throughout that initial 100 metres, I consciously kept trying to force my chin and mouth under… then it was a case of getting my nose under… then my eyes.. and so on (you get the picture).

At around 100 metres, I suddenly started… well… just swimming properly.

Normal breathing.

Normal strokes.

Just like pool swimming.

I’d adjusted to the temperature far quicker than I’d targeted and I was away.

I did my 500 metres and got out a very happy man (having, also, I might add, rediscovered my total love for open-water swimming – it truly is amazing!).

Open-water swimming session two, a week later, was pretty much identical to the first… except I was into my stride after just 50 metres and, having doubled my target distance, I went on to swim around 1,000 metres (I’ll keep adding 500 metres to each session so, in reality, my swims will progressively become less about acclimatisation and more about “proper” training).

As for running; we have a pretty decent treadmill at home and it seemed wise for me to use it to test my hip… rather than venture out on the road and risk finding myself in agony a mile from home.

I (very nervously) got myself kitted up for a first run since a session which saw me in absolute pieces after just 15 minutes… that was a month or two ago.

I set myself a 20 minute target – but, as with my expectations in open-water, I told myself that I would be happy with whatever my pace was over that 20 minutes… even if I “ran/walked”.

Sure enough; I started slowly and every couple of minutes, I upped the pace.

As I got through 15 minutes (i.e past the point where the hip agony had become overwhelming a little while ago), I became very optimistic about getting to 20… which I duly did without drama or debilitating pain (decreasing the speed over the last few minutes as a warm-down of sorts).

It seems a bit daft to feel over the moon with running for 20 minutes when I’m a couple of months away from having to complete 26.2 miles… but I really was happy with what I achieved.

My second running session was, again, on our treadmill (just in case)… but I revised my target to 30 minutes and gave myself a structure:

5 minutes “slow”, 5 minutes “a bit faster”, 5 minutes at what would have been deemed “normal” only a few months ago.

Then I was going to ease off for 5 minutes before returning to that “normal” pace for another 5.

To finish the 30 minutes, I’d jog my way through the last 5 at a “warm down” pace.

And, wow, didn’t that session feel good!

Not least because I got to 30 minutes as planned.

To say my hip was totally fine would be a bit misleading… it drifted in and out of feeling “awkward” but there was significantly more time spent without any sense of it making its presence known.

It certainly benefitted from the “interval” nature of the session… and, because of that, I’ve already decided that that’s exactly what I’ll do in Hamburg, assuming I get there.

My next run, I think, will be on the road… I now have confidence that my hip will get me through 30 minutes, at least, so I’m happy to get outdoors and maybe try for more.

So I’ve told you about the open water swimming and the running but, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really feel that I need to go into too much detail re the cycling, here.

Mainly because there’s not a lot to tell.

Suffice to say that cycling is still fine… it doesn’t seem to aggravate my hip and I’m still putting in around 140 miles per week, which I’m happy with.

So I’ve focussed on how I’m feeling, physically… but what about how I’m feeling, mentally?

The combination of two really successful open-water sessions and two equally successful treadmill sessions has, quite frankly, left me feeling pretty invincible!

There’s no other word for it.

I’ve got no right to feel invincible, really – I know, deep down, that my left hip is now on a trajectory towards where my right hip ended up 11 years ago – but, despite that, I can’t help the fact that… well… I do feel invincible.

And if there’s one thing I learned in Ironman Sweden, feeling invincible is a pretty key component for getting to the finish line!

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Tortoise and the hare

A year ago, I found myself in a dark place with all things swim/bike/run.

Off the back of two failed bike rides, I came very close of packing it all in… genuinely I did.

I mean; I nearly deleted Strava from my phone!

I know, right!

I just wasn’t enjoying any of it anymore.

Something inside me persuaded me to keep going and, in cycling terms at least, I gave myself a target to aim for.

What better way to get my “long distance mojo” back than target a “long distance goal”.

The Audax Randonneur ‘Round The Year award (RRTY) entails completing one 200km (or more) ride each month for 12 consecutive months.

The first Saturday of April was meant to be my day of glory… my 12th of 12… but that went a little wrong (you can read about that, here).

So, fully recovered from the week before, I regrouped and chose Saturday 13th instead.

I was going to be solo, too.

I chose a well trodden route which I’ve done a few times before and headed out of the house at around 6:30am.

As always – the video follows – and, beyond that, the words!!

It was bitterly cold but, unlike my usual tactic of wrapping up warm, I’d dressed for the day ahead rather than the early morning; it was forecast to warm up and to be gloriously sunny, so I had fairly light gloves and a thin gilet.

Consequently, the early miles were largely spent regretting my attire.

The “feels like” temperature was below freezing.

My hands, in particular, we’re losing all feeling.

But the rest of me was broadly okay and, actually, the process of turning my legs over was going very well indeed.

At this point, I’ll let you know my mindset for the day: I had no intention of riding quickly. I had all day (courtesy of Lisa and the boys having made plans) so I was in no rush.

I just wanted to enjoy the ride.

I made a conscious decision to slow right down on hills and to let headwinds kill my speed without a fight.

I even decided that I wouldn’t exploit tailwinds.

I was going to stop to take in the scenery whenever the mood took me, too.

The first cafe stop on the route I’d chosen tends to come at the 45 mile point but, since that is only 20 miles before what is typically the lunch stop, and since I was solo, I had had every intention of breezing past that point.

As I approached it, though, I made the decision to stop for a cup of tea.

Whilst the air temperature was, by now, warmer than it had been a couple of hours before, my hands hadn’t “got with the programme” and they were actually hurting quite badly!

In the interest of getting rid of anything that would take the edge off of my enjoyment, then, I reasoned that a cup of tea in a warm cafe, with the sun streaming through the window, would be just the ticket.

It worked.

Glastonbury was now 20 miles away and I was feeling as good as I think I’ve ever felt in a 200km bike ride.

The journey from that first stop to Glastonbury would have been, on any normal day, tough and frustrating.

The headwind was fairly strong (and you all know how I feel about a headwind).

But not today.

The sun was shining, I’d dropped down a couple of cogs, and my slower speed just meant I had more time to take in the gorgeous scenery.

I rolled into Glastonbury in good spirits, looking forward to my habitual “panini in the cafe on the corner”.

The sun was still shining and the skies were still blue.

Glastonbury effectively represents a turnaround point so a “fed and watered” Phil was now looking at 20 or so miles with a tailwind.

But, true to my word, I resisted the temptation to put the hammer down.

Sure; I was moving more quickly than I had been when I’d been facing the wind, but I was still more concerned with keeping my legs happy.

Into and out of the various villages I rode… exchanging greetings with the huge numbers of other cyclists I was coming across, all of whom had clearly spied the opportunity for a sunny Saturday spin.

The cyclists going my way (with the tailwind) were more sociable than those going the opposite way (with the headwind), though… funny that!

Whilst I far prefer to have company, which normally comes in the form of Russ, being solo was bringing its own advantages.

When you’re with others, it’s just not practical for everyone to just keep stopping whenever they feel like it to, say, take a picture or grab some jelly babies.

Consequently, you find yourself doing that kind of thing “on the move”.

Being solo, though, means you don’t need to keep moving if you don’t want to.

A couple of times, then, I found myself pulling over to just take in the day.

On one such occasion, I was riding past a remote control car racing circuit (I’ve taken the boys there in the past, actually). There was clearly an event going on so I pulled in and watched for 10 minutes.

No problem.

The final cafe stop of the route comes with around 15 miles remaining and I arrived there in surprisingly good time.

It’s always difficult at this stop, though, because it’s probably only around 5 miles from home but, to get to 200km, the route then basically takes you in the wrong direction and, however positive you’re feeling (which I still was), it’s always a bit of a mental battle to ride straight past the turning that would take me home.

Happily, though, the route basically takes you to the seaside and, on a gorgeous day such as was the case on Saturday, the seaside is always a nice place to have an ice-cream cone… with a flake (obviously).

Between there and home, I congratulated myself not only on achieving my RRTY achievement but also in taking it easy during the day.

Taking it easy isn’t something I’m very good at. I tend to set out with that intention only to find myself pushing hard within the first few pedal strokes.

I was actually proud of myself, on Saturday, for sticking to the plan.

I felt absolutely sure that it would be my slowest ever 200km ride, I really did.. and I had a sort of pride in that fact.

But, as I stopped my Wahoo at the end, I was surprised to find that, actually, it had been pretty much bang-on average… not my fastest (by a long way) but, equally, significantly faster than my slowest.

How bizarre… and what better advert for just pacing yourself can there be than that.

I’ve since tried to understand why I got ’round as quickly as I did despite feeling slow AND finishing with such fresh legs.

I’ve concluded that the continuing freshness of my legs basically meant that my average over the last hour was broadly the same as it had been in the first… rather than tailing off as the day went on… and that was quite satisfying.

But not too satisfying – to confirm as much would be to say that average speed was important to me on the day… and it wasn’t.

What was important was that I had done it.

I had finished my 12th RRTY ride.

Without wanting to sound too gushy, I reckon I need to thank key people in that equation.

So thanks go to Russ – the guy with whom the majority of those miles have been ridden. He dragged me ’round a significant number of those miles, let me tell you.

And thanks to Gary and Julian – for putting up with me insisting on doing a 200km ride in France, just two days after we’d done the triple ascent of Mont Ventoux.

But they don’t get much more “key” than the one person who continually enables me to do this stuff; Lisa. It’s her understanding and support that gives me the time I have available to do it all… and without that, none of it would even get past the planning stage.

So thank you, Lisa – it cant be too easy to maintain support for something that makes your life more difficult but you do it all the same… and I appreciate that.

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The connection has failed

The weekend of the 6th/7th April should have been pretty epic.

And I’m not one to hurl around words like “epic” (or “awesome”, for that matter) unless it’s strictly warranted.

Saturday’s diary entry read; “Bill’s Easton Connection”… a 300km, very hilly, ride to Portland Bill, on the South Coast, and back. We (that would be Russ, Julian and I) were rounding it up to c340km by virtue of a ride to and from the start.

Sunday’s diary entry (if Saturday wasn’t going to be tough enough) read; “LVIS Ball Buster”… a notoriously tough 215km ride which, again, we (see above) were going to round up to c250km by adding the ride to and from the start.

I’d been looking forward to the weekend for a few months – 600km, all bar the shouting.

What fun!

I was nervous, of course, but excited.

As has become a habit on this blog, you now have the choice of watching the video I shot… or reading the blog.. or both! You lucky lot!!

Saturday started exactly how I would have wanted… a 5am sociable ride in to the start.

We had enough time for a cup of tea and a chat with others who’d entered the ride.

Spirits were high… the anticipation was palpable.

6am came soon enough and we all rolled out.

It was hilly from the word go but, actually, my legs were feeling really good.

We were pacing ourselves, of course, but there were no dramas to speak of as those early miles were dispatched with relative ease.

There was a lovely sense of camaraderie as we exchanged chat with each other… familiar faces and strangers alike.

The hills, though, were coming thick and fast.

There was just no respite.

It was another rollercoaster ride, much like the last 200km ride I did, in March.

But unlike that ride (happily), the weather wasn’t adding another challenge so we were taking the climbs very much in our stride.

The first control stop took a little while longer to get to than I would have liked but, again, there was no drama as we got back on the bikes with Portland Bill being the next target, at around 85 miles into our day.

Portland Bill is a stunning tourist attraction in any weather but, on Saturday, it was looking like we were going to get there in full, glorious, sunshine.

That 40 miles between the first stop and Portland Bill were more of the same in terms of hills.

Relentless.

At about 60 miles into the day, just 25 short of the Portland Bill dinner, I felt a twinge in my right leg.

I assumed that it was either cramp (although I’d been hydrating particularly well, as it happens)… or a pulled muscle.

I wasn’t sure which.

I’m not sure I’ve ever suffered either on a bike.

It was a very strange feeling.

But I seemed to be able to “ride around the problem” by slightly tweaking how I applied pressure with my right leg… so I pressed on regardless.

Russ and I were broadly together although we’d separated from Julian a little as we came into Weymouth and then on towards Portland Bill.

I remarked to Russ how ludicrous it felt to be riding in that part of the country; Weymouth and Portland Bill are the kind of places that people where I live go for a “proper family day out”… it’s quite a drive away by car… and yet, here we were, riding through the town having started at home that morning.

We knew that the ride from sea level, where we were, up to Portland Bill, where our lunch was waiting, meant going up a long and winding hill (channeling my inner-Beatle, there).

I remember the hill from family days out with Lisa and the boys… and, prior to that, family days out as a kid (when, genuinely, we had to keep our fingers crossed that the car we owned would make it to the top).

We were under no illusion that this last hill of the morning was going to be challenging.

We didn’t go up the winding hill I thought we were going to go up, though.

That was a shame.

The winding hill I thought we were going up was at least long enough to keep the gradient fairly shallow.

Instead, we ascended to the top via one far shorter, but far steeper, “straight line” kind of hill.

I don’t know what the gradient was but suffice to say I overtook a few “get off and pushers”.

I kept going, though, despite that twinge I’d felt in my leg earlier now recurring increasingly frequently.

Lunch would be an opportunity to stop – let my ailing leg recover, and take in the glorious scenery… and that’s exactly what we did.

A portion of chips, a bottle of coca-cola and a cup of (disappointingly cold) tea later and Russ and I were on our way once more.

We had around 200km/125mile of hills ahead but we weren’t phased by it.

The next 25 miles were again spent either going down hills so steep we had to hang on to the brakes OR up hills so steep we were crawling along in our granny gears.

It was tough.

Really tough.

And my leg, despite that lunch rest, was starting to be more consistently painful – and there was less and less I could do about it.

It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon when the pain just became a little too much to bear and, having pulled over at a petrol station, I gathered my thoughts.

With 115 miles and 10,000ft of climbing done… and with 100 equally hilly miles to go, I made the only sensible decision I could make.

I bailed.

I waved Julian and Russ off up the road – full of jealousy and a touch of self-loathing.

It was hugely disappointing but a phone call to Lisa, and a soft pedal to a town a couple of miles further up the road from where she could pick me up, followed.

It wasn’t my finest moment by any means but it reminded me just how much I can rely on Lisa – even though I was a couple of hours away in the car.

As it happens, my having bailed due to this muscular issue was, certainly, a blessing in disguise; Russ and Julian have since confirmed that, as expected, the 100 miles I didn’t attempt were as tough as the 115 that I did.

It would have undoubtedly made my leg worse (whereas, as it happens, it seems already to be fine, which suggests that I must have stopped in the nick of time)

And, unbelievably for a 300km ride, Russ and Julian didn’t get home until the early hours of the morning – that was another reason why stopping when I did was a good thing… put simply; I wasn’t even equipped with lights that would have maintained enough power to last that long… I didn’t think I’d need to be so I’d left the lights that would have lasted at home in preference for my less bulky ones.

So, had I continued, I would have found myself far more injured than I already was with the added complication of no lights.

And to really underline how tough it had been, both Russ and Julian decided not to do the Sunday ride we’d all entered (which, clearly, I didn’t either).

So – all in all – it was a pretty downhearted Phil who woke up on Sunday morning – but a day spent with the family at a gymnastics competition watching Angus (which I was otherwise going to miss) was the remedy I needed and, as I sit here writing this, I’ve dropped the ride into the big mental folder labelled; “These things happen”.

A combination of school holidays and not wanting to “chance it” have kept me off the bike since Saturday but I rather hope to get out this evening (Wednesday) so we’ll see how that goes.

I did manage a gentle pool swim last night though which, “lane wars” aside, was as enjoyable as ever.

Onwards and upwards!

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Hanging in the balance

Shortly after my last blog post, a regular reader of my ramblings asked when I was going to publish one about my Ironman training.

I replied along the lines of; “it’s all Ironman training”.

But I also took the point that, certainly of late, this blog has all been about the bike.

And there have been reasons for that.

In terms of swimming, there’s little to tell, really.

We’re still just a bit early in the year for my open water season to have started so any swimming oriented blog would basically start with; “I got in the pool”… end with; “I got out of the pool”… and have something along the lines of; “I swam up and down for an hour or so” somewhere in the middle.

Not exactly riveting.

Which, in a way, is a good thing.

If it were any more exciting than that, there’s a 50/50 chance that it would be because things weren’t going as planned.

The simple fact is that things ARE going as planned.

Swimming, as some of you will know, comes a very close second, in the enjoyment stakes, to cycling, for me and nothing has happened to change that over the last few months.

I still appear to have the swim endurance that took me to swimming the equivalent of an “ultra-distance” event a couple of years ago… I’m hardly “fast” but I can seemingly just keep going without tiring for, well, as far as I can be bothered to swim.

To conclude, in the same way as the bike stint of an Ironman doesn’t give me sleepless nights, I’ve hardly got any anxiety about my ability to complete an Iron-distance swim and still finish feeling fresh.

If only the same could be said for my running… which has been almost non-existent.

It’s not been for the lack of desire, though – we’ll need to do a bit of time-travelling to find out why.

Almost exactly 11 years ago, whilst I was having physio following my right total hip replacement at age 33, a bombshell was dropped on me by the guy showing me the exercises I needed to do in order to help my right hip regain its mobility.

“We’ll see you again soon, once you’ve had your left hip replaced”

I had no idea what he was talking about… he elaborated and, in doing so, inadvertently became the one to break the news to me that my left hip was “on its last legs”, so to speak.

I had enough to cope with at the time, what with learning how to walk again and all that, so almost pretended not to be in possession of this new information.

I reasoned that, if my left hip FELT okay, then it WAS okay.

Perhaps towards the end of January this year, and for the first time since the day I was told about the condition of my left hip, it started to give me pain.

The pain felt worryingly similar to what I’d felt with my right hip, all those years ago.

I reasoned that it was just my imagination.

I reasoned that, because I could still cycle big distances without aggravating it (where, 11 years ago, I couldn’t even get ON a bike, let alone RIDE one), my left hip MUST be absolutely fine.

I basically tried to ignore it.

But it turns out that ignoring something doesn’t mean that it’s not there.

Who knew?!?

Increasingly, my left hip started to hurt until, in what was meant to be a gentle “test” on our treadmill at home, it started to hurt so much just 13 minutes into a run, that I had no choice but to stop.

I paused… seemingly recovered fully after just a few minutes (which tricked my mind into thinking that I must have been imagining the pain)… and stupidly resumed.

It started hurting again after a further 6 minutes… then, after another pause, went for a third stint… the pain returned VERY quickly, this time.

I got off the treadmill and slumped into a chair, feeling very sorry for myself.

Night-times started to become a case of; “how many times would I wake up in discomfort”.

Day-times started to become a case of; “how many times would friends ask me why I was limping” (I’d lie about the reason, clearly – not even ready to admit it to myself, let alone anyone else).

It wasn’t good.

I finally admitted it to myself during a bit of an outpouring to Lisa… and, honestly, I was feeling quite upset.

So I decided to take some action – but action which is based on the premise that it’s not as serious as I fear (i.e that my left hip really has, finally, given up the ghost).

Instead of going to a doctor, I decided to pay a sports-physio/chiropractor a visit.

I used the one I’ve been to before – a chap called Clive.

He’s really very good.

He wasn’t about to lie to me just to get repeat business out of me, though; he basically said that he’d do what he could but that if I didn’t see progress almost immediately, then he’d reach the conclusion that my left hip had finally decided to have the impact on my life that it had been threatening to have for 11 years… and that I’d be better off in a doctor’s surgery than in his room.

That appointment with Clive was a week ago, now… and, whilst it’s difficult to say for sure (I may just be imagining it), my hip certainly SEEMS to be improving.

The pain appears to be easing and I’m back to getting a full night’s sleep.

On that basis, it is quite possible that, despite the similarity to that dark time in my life when my right hip was starting to fail, I’ve simply injured myself – and a bit of sports physio will sort it out.

But, at the same time, I’m conscious that the improvement over the last week may simply be because I’ve steered well clear of running on it… in which case, the sports physio did nothing at all and my hip is just waiting to be tested again so it can remind me of its condition.

I just don’t know.

I’ll have a few more sports physio sessions to see if the improvements can keep coming.

So all of this is a roundabout way of answering that regular reader’s question about how my Ironman training is going.

If my left hip pain is more akin to an injury that any one of us could pick up, then I’d say that Ironman training is going okay… and it’ll be going a whole lot better once I can get my running shoes on again.

But if my left hip pain turns out to be far more serious, such that I’m going to need a left total hip replacement, then Ironman training is non-existent because, in a nutshell, the Ironman itself will cease to feature in my diary.

Whether I turn up in Hamburg or not, then, is hanging in a very fine balance – centred around my left hip.

It saddens me more than I can put into words but, if doing another Ironman means physically breaking myself such that I end up in an operating theatre, then I simply have to close the door on that dream once and for all.

It also saddens me that I deferred my entry from last year due to serious motivation issues – so I’d effectively have two “did not starts” to my name.

But, I have to do what’s right and, let’s face it, the two “did not starts” wouldn’t matter a great deal… because I will always have that “did finish” to cherish.

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