It it ain’t fixed… it’s broken

It’s probably a few years since I bought my Mango bike.

It’s an incredibly simple bike – no gears… just a front sprocket and a rear sprocket.

The most complicated thing about it is that, at the rear, it can be set up as either a single-speed or a fixed-gear bike – depending on which way ‘round the back wheel is.

For the uninitiated;

A single-speed bike is, as the name suggests, a bike with just one gear. Crucially, though, and thanks to the fact that the rear sprocket is mounted to the back wheel via a freehub, you can “freewheel”… meaning you can stop pedaling and just coast along with no drama.

A fixed-gear bike is, again, a bike with just one gear.

But… and it’s a big “but”… the rear sprocket is effectively welded to the back wheel… and we all know that welded things don’t move.

That’s the point of welding.

And on a fixed-gear bike, that lack of movement means you can’t freewheel.

If the back wheel is rotating… so are the pedals… and so are your legs.

If you’re not concentrating… and you try to freewheel, the bike will try to spit you off… or tear your legs out of their sockets.

It’s really that simple

For the vast majority of its life, my Mango bike has been in single-speed mode. I’ve never fancied having my legs ripped away from the rest of me, oddly enough.

It’s been mainly used for errands and school runs (that’s the reason I bought it)… although I have been known to take it out for the odd 20 miler…  just for the sake of a bike ride… and I did do a 200km on it around 18 months ago… just to prove I could.

I remember chatting with Russ (the chap I did said 200km ride with… and who was also on a single speed that day) about the growing number of people doing long rides on fixed-gear bikes (can I call them “fixies” for the rest of this blog? That’s how us cool cats refer to them).

I remember concluding, with Russ, that 200km on a single-speed was as much “mad” as I wanted in my life – and that anyone who rides 200km on a fixie must be unhinged.

So it goes without saying that, on Saturday, that’s exactly what Russ (yep.. the same Russ) and I set out to do (along with Ajayi on his far more sensible road-bike… freehub and all!).

I switched my bike to “fixie mode” a month or two ago and have ridden a handful of short rides on it, just for some experience… but I can’t say I was particularly “au-fait” with it before deciding to throw myself in at the deep end for Saturday’s ride.

Russ, on the other hand, embraced his inner madness some time ago – he’s been riding in fixie mode for a little while and even did his first fixie-200km last month.

So, for me, it was going to be a “can I do this?” kind of day… and, for Russ, it was going to be a “put the learning gained on the first ride into effect and achieve a better result” kind of day.

Now, as always with reviews of 200km rides, I have a choice between either giving you a blow-by-blow account of the day… or an overview of the main things to come from it.

I think I’ll do the latter – but not before I post a link to the video of the ride (and don’t be put off watching the video by that ugly thumbnail… it’s not my best side… mainly because I don’t have a “best side”):

To start with, I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single moment in the whole 200km/124 miles when I accidentally tried to stop pedaling.

Whether that’s because I was concentrating heavily on not doing so (it didn’t feel like I was) or whether it’s just because I dialed into the notion of a fixie quite quickly, I don’t know… but suffice to say that there were no inadvertent attempts to separate my legs from my body.

Which is positive.

And then there were the four things I learned about fixies during the ride:

  • Leg braking. My bike (unlike some fixies) is fitted with two well functioning brakes – just like any “regular” bike – so a pull on the levers scrubs off speed pretty quickly. But I quickly realised the braking power that can be had by using your legs to forcefully stop the pedals turning. It’s surprisingly efficient in the right circumstances! I’m not sure what my hip surgeon would think about using my legs to brake by resisting the pedal rotation but I won’t tell him if you don’t, right!?!?
  • Track-standing. (Being entirely stationary on the bike without putting a foot down) Without wanting to appear too bullish, this is something I’m pretty good at on a “normal” bike. I can happily balance at traffic lights for ages without drama. Technically, this should be easier on a fixie but my first attempt, a few weeks ago, was less than successful and I couldn’t work out why! (I didn’t fall off, incidentally – but I certainly couldn’t do it, that’s for sure). But on Saturday’s ride, something clicked and I nailed it.
  • Resting the legs. On any regular bike, of course, if you fancy a rest, you stop pedaling and coast. We know that’s not an option on a fixie so I had set off on Saturday with the reasonable assumption that my legs were only going to get a rest at the cafe stops. It turns out, though, that you can rest them whilst in motion! It took a bit to get used to but, by “switching off” the power your legs are supplying completely, the pedals just drag your feet ‘round and you are in a kind of resting state. It’s not total rest, granted… but it’s the next best thing. And that comes in handy over 200km, I can tell you that!
  • Cadence. (That’s how fast your legs are rotating, to those who don’t know) I learned that I probably need to do a bit of work on upping my cadence. Russ and I were running similar gearing by the time you take all factors (tyre circumference included) into account and yet he seemed more “at home” than I was at higher speeds, when our legs were spinning quite quickly. I wasn’t getting out of breath or anything – but my legs simply didn’t like spinning wildly. Of course, for the next time, I could change my gearing to slow my legs down – but then hills become harder so there’s a balance to be struck. In reality, my conclusion from Saturday was that the gear ratio I was using was just about perfect fit for the route – so my comfort at high cadence is the thing to work on.

Outside of those learning points, there was, I confess, an significant error on my part during the ride.

I’m not counting it as a learning point, per se, because I rarely make this particular error… but when I do, it bites me on the backside pretty hard… which is bad enough when I’m on a regular bike, but when you’re on a fixie (where there is nowhere to hide), it’s doubly bad news.

I got my nutrition wrong – pure and simple.

I didn’t take in either solids or fluids at the same intervals as I normally would. I have a well honed understanding of how frequently to reach for the jelly babies in my top-tube bag or my water bottle between my legs which, for some reason, went out of the window on Saturday.

I also know how much to eat, of what kind of food, when we hit cafe stops. But that, also, went out of the window on Saturday, oddly.

I think I was just complacent… but the result was quite pronounced.

I flaked quite badly over the final 30 miles and, whilst I never doubted my ability to finish the ride, I had did doubt my ability to maintain Russ and Ajayi’s pace so I had a few moments where I seriously considered telling them to go on without me… the ultimate self-sacrifice when you are out with mates.

I was feeling like a burden rather than someone who was “adding” to their experience.

I didn’t quite get to that point – but I was close.

I don’t think it helped that, actually, our average speed over the day wasn’t that far adrift from what I would expect if we had done the ride on regular bikes… so we were significantly faster than I’d been expecting – and, given the extra effort required on a fixie, it goes without saying that my nutrition should have been better than normal… not worse!

As I say, though, it’s not a learning point any more than it would be if I accidentally wrote the equation “1 + 1 + 3”… I know that’s wrong – that’s not a knowledge issue… it’s just a typo.

I’ve finished this review on a negative, there, which isn’t ideal because I don’t want to paint anything other than a hugely positive picture of the day.

Was it physically hard work?

Oh yes!

Was it mentally tough?

Definitely (mainly because I’d spent so little time on a fixie prior to Saturday)

Was it rewarding?

Immensely.

Am I happy with the average speed?

Very much so – and surprised, too… it was quite a bit faster than when we did a similar route on the same bikes in “single speed” mode and, as I say, not “that much” slower than we’d be on our regular bikes.

Would I do it again?

Well I went into the day knowing that I’d either end it feeling happy to have “ticked the box” by riding 200km on a fixie, but not wanting to do it again…

OR…

I’d really fancy doing more long fixie rides.

Now I’m not about to become a regular long-distance fixie rider (like some I know) but, yes, definitely, I’d do more… without a doubt.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable, challenging and rewarding day – and days like that are pretty special.

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20/20 in 2020

Since my last blog… 6 weeks ago… I have become increasingly grumpy at myself.

I have even been grumpy at myself for being grumpy at myself.

And that’s not a good look, let me tell you.

As those of you who read my last blog will know, I set myself the target of riding 20 miles (or more) at an average speed of 20 mph (or higher).

A “20/20 challenge”, to abbreviate it for the purposes of this blog.

And I don’t mean on a turbo-trainer either (where I don’t think I have ever averaged less than 20mph) – I mean “real” miles.. on the road.

To some of you, that would be no achievement at all… to some of you, that would be the stuff of dreams… but (and please don’t take this the wrong way), I don’t care which of those camps you fall into because this target was about me and me alone.

To me, a 20/20 challenge felt “stretching” but “achievable”… as all targets should be.

So why was I getting grumpy at myself?

And why was I getting grumpy at myself for being grumpy at myself?

Well – the initial grumpiness was at the fact that, each time I went out on a 20/20 effort, I was failing… not by much – but I was failing nonetheless.

And I don’t like failing.

The second tier grumpiness was that I couldn’t understand why it meant so much to me to succeed at this target – it was almost as if I was forgetting the fact that, just 6 months ago, I was getting over my second total-hip replacement – wondering whether I’d be able to get back on a bike on at all.

It was as if I wasn’t grateful for the speed of my recovery from that operation – not to mention the fact that my new hip had already successfully dragged me ’round 2 rides of 200km and 1 of 300km this year alone, despite the Covid lockdown meaning no “long distance” rides since March.

I guess the speed of my recovery made those darker days of doubt, just post operation,  easier to forget – so, against that backdrop, I was just focused on the next thing… the 20/20 challenge.. and nothing else seemed to matter.

Each time I tried to achieve the 20/20 target, but failed, I found myself making excuses – generally centred around unexpected hold-ups… tractors, walkers, traffic lights… the list was seemingly endless.

But I was driven on by the fact that each effort was getting progressively closer to success.

On Sunday, I spotted a few days of weather (specifically; dry with next to no wind) which seemed conducive to yet another attempt – Tuesday, in particular, looked good.

I started to plot my route to success:

  • I was going to basically rest on Monday so my legs were going to be as fresh as possible.
  • I was going to watch my nutrition so that I took in food which would help rather than hinder.
  • And I was going to go out as the day’s sun was fading so that it wouldn’t be too hot but, also, crucially, traffic levels (and, therefore, potential hold-ups) would be at a bare minimum.

Tuesday evening, then, at 7:30pm, I kitted up and headed out with the sole intention of “leaving nothing out there on the road”.

I thought that my chance was gone even within the first mile as I found myself closing on a van through the tight country lanes but, mercifully, he reached the main road which follows (and therefore sped away from me) just as I was about to catch him up.

Things were feeling good as I pedaled as smoothly, but as purposefully, as I felt I could whilst being mindful that I was going to need to do so for a full hour.

The sun was sufficiently low so as to mean that, when I was heading towards it, it was a little distracting but, when I was riding with it behind me, my long shadow was stretched out in front of me (a bit of “romantic imagery” for you there… you’re welcome).

A couple of the “segments” (for us Strava users) came and went and I fancied I’d set my own personal best times on them.

Before I knew it, I was essentially just riding home – as fast as my legs would enable.

The legs were tiring at a rate which was reassuring me that I had paced it just about as well as I could and, leaving myself a few tenths of a mile before I got home, to cool down, I stopped my Garmin – it read a 20.0mph average.

I’d done it.

I’d hit my target.

I was buzzing – and I was still buzzing a couple of hours later – well past my bed-time (as the boys will attest to since I managed to even watch a family film without falling asleep – and that’s pretty much as rare as me riding 20 miles at 20 miles per hour!).

I suspect that, now that I have hit it once, it’ll be one of these things that I start to be able to repeat again and again, at will…. these “glass ceilings” (I really don’t like business speak but it fits the moment so forgive me) tend to be like that, don’t they? – Break them once and never get troubled by them again.

Not that I will be focusing on doing 20/20 efforts very regularly.

Goodness no.

I’ve moved on to other things already!

One of my other targets is to finally succumb to a trend that many cyclists (the ones who tend to have a stable of bikes rather than just one or two) have already fallen into; riding a “fixed-gear” bike.

My target, specifically, is to do a 200km ride on one.

I’ve had a “single-speed” bike for some time, and I have even ridden a 200km ride on it… but with a quick change at the rear of said bike, it becomes a fixed gear bike – and that subtle change makes a huge difference.

In case you have no idea what I am talking about – a single-speed bike is, as the name suggests, a bike with one gear only but where you can stop pedaling and just freewheel whenever you want.

A fixed-gear bike also has one gear but there’s no freewheeling – no siree – if the back wheel is moving, so are the pedals… and so are your legs (assuming, like me, your feet are clipped in to your pedals). If you try to stop pedaling when the bike is moving, the bike performs a leg removal operation on you, no anaesthetic, and spits you into a hedge… it’s really very simple.

So, unless you particularly want your leg removed, a fixed-gear bike involves a wholly different style of riding a bike.

Targetting a 200km ride on one, then, not only means knowing that I will be riding that distance without changing gear once (which I have done before), it also means that I won’t be able to stop my legs turning round at all for, say, up to 8 hours of cycling (which I clearly haven’t done before).

I went out on my “fixie” yesterday – just for a shake-down spin of 12 miles or so… to see how that felt and, honestly, it felt okay.

Some seasoned fixie riders have warned me of the pitfalls to be encountered when you are riding along but I didn’t really experience any of those – my biggest gripe with it was how awkward it felt getting started from a stationary position, truth be told.

On a “regular” bike, we tend to push off with our “clipped in” foot, momentarily freewheel while we “clip in” with our other foot, before resuming pedalling, right?

But there can be no momentary freewheeling on a fixie so you find yourself having to clip in to a moving pedal whilst your “already clipped in foot” is being forced round by the motion of the back wheel.

That felt unnatural – probably because of how long I have been doing it the “normal” way – so it’ll take time to get used to – as will approaching junctions and having to think well ahead about how you’re going to deal with unclipping / stopping if you need to.

Just as the 20/20 target didn’t defeat me, though, this “200km on a fixie” target won’t either – you can count on that.

Other targets are generally focused around getting better on hills.

One of the ways I hit my 20/20 target was to do far more “climbing” on days when I wasn’t going for speed – I figured that it would generally improve the amount of power I had at my disposal to hit that 20/20.. and it clearly worked.

So I see no reason why to stop hitting the hills, now, just as I’m getting going – and I have already done a few interesting rides involving:

  • a challenge to do as much elevation as possible within a 20 mile route from home, without repeating a hill twice
  • a challenge involving 5 repetitions of probably the most nasty hill near to my home
  • A saunter down to a particularly fearsome hill around 20 miles from my home just to see what the fuss was about (it was “tough”!!)

But those stories, if they are worthy of being told at all, will have to wait.

Until next time!

 

 

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I feel the need….

A few years ago, my “limit” around a particular 18 mile route, starting and ending at my home, was to be found at approximately 20.5mph. I’m talking “average speed”, here.

I could pretty much achieve that at will… it was never “easy” for me… but it was always attainable.

I’ve not tried a full TT effort around that route for some time… I’ve had no need to.

My focus since those days, in terms of cycling, has been on the two “e”s; enjoyment and endurance – neither of which tend to involve pushing your heart into the red and hanging on for grim death.

Plus, of course, there’s the whole “hip thing”.

Just making sure I could carry on cycling has been my primary goal over the last 14 months or so.

That’s not to say that I don’t have any “speed-vanity” in me, mind.

At the end of a ride, I’d be blatantly lying to you if I told you that I don’t always take a glance at Strava… at what my average speed is… and make a mental assessment as to whether I’m happy with it or not, taking all things into account (hills traversed, effort expended, headwinds encountered etc etc).

And, by and large, from a speed perspective, I can broadly hold my own in the faster group of cycling buddies with which I ride.

I am under no illusion as to my “place” in the group, though – if we were all to suddenly have a race… I wouldn’t be at the front, certainly… but I’d also not be bringing up the rear, either.

I’d very much be somewhere in between.

And that’s fine.

As I say – my focus has been on enjoyment and endurance – both of which I have oodles of.

On endurance, in particular, I fancy that I start to get “closer” to my buddies, in speed terms, the longer the ride is… so that’s good, right?

Right.

But, what with this coronavirus lockdown changing the way we all approach our need to cycle (for it IS a need) – and with “most” of us interpreting the guidelines so as to mean that long rides are temporarily suspended – I noticed, last week, that a couple of my buddies went out and put in a few “20mph+” average speed, 1 hour(ish), flat rides.

Just for the craic.

Just to show that they could.

And that troubled me, if I’m allowing myself to be completely honest.

A 20mph average seems beyond me, right now.

So – all of a sudden – and relative to my group – I started to feel like “the slow one”.

That feeling wasn’t altogether pleasant.

It is also a bit daft since the same people who were putting these rides in are the people I already acknowledge to be faster than me over short distances anyway!

But, ever the competitive one, I wanted to see just how capable I was of also doing a 20mph, 1 hour ride, and giving it a Strava title of “Hour of Power” or something similar… just as those few mates of mine had done.

I chose a nice early morning towards the end of last week – (before my family awoke and before the inevitable energy sapping wind had sprung up) – and headed out.

I wasn’t going to go hell-for-leather, admittedly… this was just a test… but I wasn’t going to take it easy either.

There were times in the hour that followed when I was giving an awful lot of effort… but there were also periods when I was backing off, so I knew it wasn’t going to be the fastest ride I was capable of… but to hit an average of only 18.9mph was disappointing, to say the least.

I spent the rest of the day feeling grumpy (and, no, I don’t mean that one of the seven dwarfs ended up with a smile on his face).

To find over 1mph just to hit that magic 20mph average is pretty significant and, whilst I knew that I had had more in me on that sunny morning, I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have had that much more in me.

It felt doubly daft to be disappointed because if, back in December (just after my hip operation), someone had told me that I would be charging around the local roads at nearly 19mph by mid April (having already clocked up 1,900 miles in 2020, including 125 mile and 190 mile rides), I’d have snapped their hands off at that… and, yet, here I was, giving myself a metaphorical headache over barely more than 1mph.

But I really couldn’t help how I was feeling.

However – never one to miss an opportunity – I suddenly had a “coronavirus lockdown target”; to get back up to being able to put in a 20mph average speed ride over that same route, by the end of the summer.

It would have been tempting to have selected an even flatter route on which to target my 20mph average (for, whilst the route I have selected is broadly flat, there are flatter to be found)… but that would only be cheating myself.

So, again, my target is to complete that same route at an average of over 20mph before the summer is out.

Even though I had set that 18.9mph average a few days before, I decided, yesterday, to put a more representative marker down… one where my effort was more consistently approaching my maximum… just so I could get a better comparable.

Unlike last week, I chose mid-afternoon so I was more awake and alert than my previous attempt… I was also better nourished (having had more than a hastily prepared piece of toast)…  but, on the downside, the wind had sprung up a little more than I would have liked.

I pushed away from my house, got down low on my bars, selected a nice gear and pedaled as smoothly and as purposefully as I felt capable of.

For half the ride, I fancied I was hitting a stiff headwind.

For the other half of the ride, I fancied I was hitting a stiff headwind, too.

How does that work!?!?!?

I also got held up for 30 seconds or so behind a very slow moving tractor.

What I’m trying to say is that there were factors outside of my control which were hardly playing into my hands.

So, particularly given these negative factors, for the marker I set yesterday to have been at an average of 19.3mph was, actually, very pleasing – even though it remains quite a way from the target I have my eye on.

I will probably head out on the same route, at the same effort, once every week or two, just to gauge my progress over the coming months and, with some hard work, I think that my legs might just have a 20mph average in them just waiting to be found.

In between times, however, I pledge not to lose sight of my over-riding (no pun intended) objective to enjoy cycling.

If I fancy taking it easy… or stopping to inhale the fresh air… or drink in the scenery… or take a photo.. then I will.

But, at the same time, I will try to find ways to keep hold of all of these wonderful facets of riding my bike whilst also building a little bit of power in these chicken-legs of mine.

I’ve set myself a target now.

And I can’t let myself not hit that target.

That’s just the kind of person I am!

 

 

 

 

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Rolling with the ups and downs

Saturday was the day of the Gospel Pass 200km Audax.

I cautiously entered the event a couple of weeks ago following a successful 200km ride in February.

I say “cautiously” because, whilst the distance wasn’t going to be a step up from the longest ride my “new” hip had done, the difficulty certainly would be.

The very name of the ride, to those who know, rather spoils the surprise re just how tough it is.

The Gospel Pass is the highest road in Wales (and Wales isn’t known for being flat, let’s face it)… and the climb to the top is the most notable of the numerous tough ascents the route takes in.

So, just by taking part, I was going to push my “new” hip just that little bit harder.

But entering a 200km hilly Audax doesn’t tell the whole story.

A group of people I ride with were also doing said Audax… but they were riding to the start (around 17 miles away).

How could I not join them?

That would take the ride up to almost 160 miles for the day, including the ride back home.

But even that doesn’t tell the whole story.

As a member of Audax (the long distance cycling association), you get no more recognition for riding 250km than you get for riding 200km… the next tier of “nutter status” doesn’t come until you get to 300km.

So, with that in mind, Russ sent me a message a few days prior, asking if I wanted to get 30 miles in before we met up with the rest of the group… then cycle the 17 miles to the start… then ride the 125 miles (or so) of the event… then ride the 17 miles home… thus giving us around 190 miles for the day or… in “newfangled language”… the crucial 300km in terms of recognition from Audax!

Again.. how could I decline?

It effectively meant a 4am start.

But… I ask again… how could I decline?

Now, 300km is a little too far to give you a blow by blow account of the ride… I sense that would be become just a repetitive tale of; “and then we went up this hill…. and then we went down that hill… and then we went up this hill” etc etc etc.

So, instead, I will cover the ride in topics.

But, before I do that, and for those who can’t be bothered to read, here’s the video.

For those of you still reading – I thank you.

For those who aren’t still reading – stuff you (it’s okay, they can’t see this!)

The first thing I would say about the ride was just how “right” I got my clothing strategy for the day.

The temperature wasn’t forecast to be particularly warm and, in fact, we were expecting (and got) some pretty cold spells, but, with lots of climbing ahead to generate some body-heat, I took the view that a padded sleeveless gilet would be sufficient, rather than a full-sleeved jacket as always tends to be my choice at this time of year.

And that was exactly the right choice – I tend to feel that, as long as my core is warm enough, I’m broadly happy with just arm and leg warmers. (As well as my shorts and jersey, of course – I don’t want to give you a mental image of me riding my bike in nothing but arm warmers, leg warmers and a sleeveless gilet… you’ve got that mental image now, haven’t you?!!)

I was also conscious that we were forecast periods of rain so I packed a “mid-weight” waterproof jacket into my frame bag.

Again, that proved to be an absolute peach of a choice… on quite a few occasions throughout the day, the weather changed and necessitated a quick “jacket on / jacket off” stop by the side of the road.

But wearing a “packable” jacket when necessary was far better than my usual strategy of just wearing the same “unpackable” clunky jacket throughout the day, whatever the conditions. I tend to overheat very easily when I do that and spend the day slowly cooking from the inside out.. like I’m being microwaved.

As a result of my perfect attire choices, I was probably more consistently comfortable throughout Saturday’s ride than I have been on any long wintry ride I have ever done before.

It’s amazing that, after so many years of cycling throughout the winter months, I can still find myself learning about what works for me… but I will definitely take something away from Saturday in terms of how to dress to those conditions!

Another thing that I think I absolutely nailed, throughout the ride, was my pace.

Pace over that kind of distance ebbs and flows.

There’s no getting away from that.

And when you’re riding in a group, it’s all to easy to “fight” during the tough times, rather than allow yourself a few slower miles.. and fighting tends to mean losing on endurance rides because you feel the effects later in the day.

Knowing I had 190 miles to ride sharpened my focus and made me listen a bit more intently to what my body was saying.

As a result, when I started to fatigue a little at around 90 miles, I didn’t panic as the few guys I was riding with started to drop me a little.

I knew that I’d pay later if I pushed too hard at that point, in a vanity-driven effort to keep up.

So I gave my legs a break and soft-pedaled for a few miles.

Sure enough, my legs started to come back to life and, coupled with a well-time lunch stop at around 115miles, I was back on form before I knew it.

In fact, particularly by the time we got into the final quarter of the day, I was feeling pretty strong, if truth be told.

Little things like, for instance, riding up the Gospel Pass ascent at my pace, rather than setting off too slow or too fast, just to stick to other people I was riding with, really played into my hands in terms of both performance and, more importantly, enjoyment.

Some of my buddies got to the top of that climb ahead of me… some got to the top behind me.

And that’s okay… I accepted my place in the group and rode to my own effort levels.

So, again, whilst I’ve done many many long rides before, I fancy that Saturday was right up there as one of my best in terms of pacing… and that was very satisfying, indeed.

And last, but by no means least, my mental approach to the ride was spot on.

It would have been really easy to have got a bit anxious ahead of the ride.

What was I doing, taking on a tough 200km like that, just 3 months after my hip operation?

What was I even thinking by “rounding it up” to 300km?

These questions could have played on my mind.

But they didn’t.

I put the overall distance out of my mind and saw it as a day of 5 bike rides.

Ride 1: The bit before we met up with the rest of the group.

Ride 2: The ride to the start of the Audax.

Ride 3: The ride to lunch.

Ride 4: The ride from lunch to the end of the Audax.

Ride 5: The ride back home.

Each slice was manageable… which meant that the magnitude of the day itself didn’t really start playing with my mind until I consciously allowed it to – in the last few miles… by which time, we could have basically fallen off of our bikes and landed on our doorstep anyway.

Now I’m very well versed at breaking rides down into manageable tranches so this strategy was nothing new, per se… I think what made it feel more successful was just how well it worked on that particular day.

Mentally, I’d finished the ride before I even set off… and “believing you can do something” is pretty much the most important thing in terms of “actually doing it”, right?… I mean.. we all know that, don’t we?

I take great pleasure in having ridden 190 hilly miles on Saturday… and so I should… but my pleasure is heightened by the manner in which I did it.

It was tough, of course… and I was tired at the end, naturally… but I’d taken the wind, the rain, the cold and the hills in my stride and, honestly, I can’t think of a single thing I’d improve about the day or how I rode it.

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Return of the Audax

Saturday came exactly 2 months and 18 days after my total hip replacement operation.

2 months and 17 days since I effectively had to start re-learning how to walk.

And it also was the day that I was going to attempt to make a return to 200km bike rides.

Some of you will know, I’m sure, that I returned to cycling just a few weeks after my operation and have managed to maintain an average of over 100 miles per week ever since – including one ride of over 50 miles.

But 200km / 125 miles represented a big step-up in my own ambitions and expectations of my hip so I was understandably nervous as I put it in my diary.

My regular cycling buddies; Russ and Hugo, were also “signed up” to the day which, itself, was the source of some anxiety for me. As much as I wanted the company, I was also nervous about whether I would spend the day slowing them both down.

I had no idea how good my long-distance fitness was, given what has happened in the three full months since my last 200km ride.

There was only one way to find out, though!

As always, you can watch my video of the day, below… or, if you want to read about it, you can scroll down a bit further (you can always do both, of course!).

I’d been watching the weather forecast avidly for the week or so leading up to Saturday – the weather in the UK has mainly revolved around gale force winds and rain for pretty much as long as I can remember (well… that might be a bit of an exaggeration… but it has been at least a month)

My optimistic side was focusing on the fact that there is only so long a bad spell of weather can last and that, as a result, there MUST be a chance it would clear up in time for the ride.

My pessimistic side was focusing on the fact that the weather had been consistently poor for so long so there was no reason to suggest that Mother Nature would smile on me just because I decided to get on my bike.

My optimistic side was disappointed… my pessimistic side; vindicated.

Waking up on the morning of my return to long distance cycling – I could hear the wind howling past the bedroom window.

The forecast was for gusts of up to 50mph and, even ignoring said gusts, the base wind-speed was expected to be approaching 30mph.

It didn’t sound like “perfect cycling conditions” at all.

But, despite all of that, I was looking forward to the day so much that I didn’t once consider deferring until better conditions presented themselves.

It didn’t even cross my mind.

I met Russ and Hugo at the pre-arranged time and place… and we were off.

Within 6 or 7 miles, we had our first drama of the day.

I’d been pushing into the wind, oblivious as to what was going on behind me when, at the bottom of a little hill, I glanced back and saw… well… no one.

Not Russ.

Not Hugo.

My mind immediately started processing something that Russ had said at the very start; that he wasn’t feeling all that well and that he had considered pulling out before even leaving his house.

Had he now decided that the conditions were just too much?

Were Hugo and I now going to be making a decision as to whether to go on as a duo or to call it a day ourselves?

Mercifully, it was nothing of the sort – Russ (who by now had rejoined me) and I retraced our “pedal strokes” and found Hugo fixing a puncture.

Within a few minutes, we were back on our way.

The story of the first leg of the day – the first 45 miles (ish) to Burnham-on-sea (where we tend to stop for a cup of tea) – was, predictably, the weather.

Our general direction meant that we either had a raging head-wind or a vicious cross-wind – neither were pleasant… but we were dealing with both.

My prior anxiety about pace seemed misplaced… I was feeling strong and seemed very capable of not just keeping up with the other two but also of taking my turn at the front.

There were even a couple of occasions when I found myself putting a gap between me and the other two although I suspect that that flatters me a little because they almost certainly weren’t giving quite as much of themselves as I was of myself!

Our first cup of tea stop was very welcome – not just because it gave us a chance to get indoors and, therefore, out of the conditions – but also because, with the route we were riding, it signals a change of our direction of travel such that, for the next 20 miles (to Glastonbury), we were expecting a tail-wind.

The mother of all tailwinds.

The cyclists out there will know what I mean when I say that, over the next 20 miles, there was almost no background noise at all. We could just hear the sounds of our own breathing and voices as we chatted.

To the non-cyclists among you, this silence basically means that the wind is behind you.

And our speed confirmed as much.

We were wafting along at a decent pace with barely any effort.

It was lovely.

All three of us knew, though, that after our lunch stop in Glastonbury, that tail-wind would become a head-wind for the next 20 or so miles given that the route we were riding effectively turns back on itself.

Shame!

Damn shame!

We soldiered on after that lunch stop, though – not fighting the wind… just letting it slow our pace… the only way you can ride into a head-wind on a long ride if you want to get to the end in one piece without blowing up.

I was still feeling strong and, as we approached the final 50km, I was forced to admit something to myself.

Prior to my hip-operation, I was claiming that I was feeling no pain whilst riding a bike, despite my hip being broken.

And I stand by that claim.

Or at least I did stand by that claim.

Until Saturday.

For here I now was – 150km in to the ride – feeling better and fresher than I had felt for a long time after riding that kind of distance… and it made me realise that, just perhaps, I had been feeling pain before – without even realising it.

That’s a tough concept to grasp, I guess – feeling pain without realising it… how does that work?… but it makes perfect sense to me now that I know what being genuinely pain-free feels like.

It feels great – I’ll tell you that much.

Aside from one final “cup of tea stop” in Weston Super Mare on the way back, there’s little to say about that final 50km that differs from my account of the rest of the ride.

It was windy.

We had a few periods of rain – but nothing that was dampening our spirits.

My pace and strength appeared to stick with me throughout – I didn’t fade and, again, there were as many occasions of me having to hang back while the other two caught me up as there were occasions of me having to catch up with them.

It really was as if I had never been away.

It’s very difficult to express in words how satisfied I felt as I pulled up outside my house – at the end of what turned out to be a 128 mile ride.

Given the circumstances around my hip, coupled with how good I held felt throughout the day and taking into account that the conditions were hardy ideal, I think I can honestly say that it was one of my most satisfying days on a bike… ever.

And having Russ and Hugo as company only added to the enjoyment of the day so I will take this opportunity to thank them both for being as determined as I was to get the ride done in conditions which would have made most people stay in bed.

We’re a few days on from the ride, now, and I’m still buzzing… excited for my next challenge which comes around in just a couple of weeks… but I’ll save the details of that for later.

 

 

 

 

 

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Week of the century

On December 3rd – the day before my op – I went out for a bike ride.

A “last hurrah”, if you like, before going under the knife.

I didn’t know, for sure, of course, that it wouldn’t be my last bike ride ever… anything could have gone wrong on the operating table.. I may never have cycled again.

Ahead of the operation itself, and assuming it was going to be a success, I set a few “recovery based” targets for myself, of which I made no secret.

They were “soft targets”, of course… I wasn’t going to risk damaging myself, if I didn’t feel ready, just to achieve them.

But they were targets nonetheless

My first target was to get back on to a cross trainer at 3 weeks…. I did that.

My second target was to get back on to my turbo trainer on New Year’s Eve… I did that, too.

My third target was to ride at least once, on the road, before the end of January.

I wasn’t talking about a “proper” road ride… I was talking about getting on a bike and riding it to the end of my road and back.

Of the targets I was setting myself, I genuinely thought that this third one was the one in most danger of being left “unfulfilled”.

The end of January was well under 2 months away – was I really going to be recover sufficiently from such a serious op, to be able to ride on the road, in less than 2 months?

It was doubtful.

My reticence regarding how achievable that target was wasn’t helped by the fact that, in the earlier stages of my recovery, it dawned on me that “riding” the bike wasn’t going to be my only challenge… just summoning up the flexibility to get on it in the first place was going to be equally as difficult, if not moreso.

But, as you will know if you read my last blog, a few very specific stretches, introduced into my rigorous daily routine, gave me the movement I needed to get on to the bike and, on the 11th January, I surpassed even my own wildest dreams (and I do have wild dreams, believe me.. but they’re probably for another time!) by riding to the local cafe for breakfast with my mate.

11th January!

My target had been the 31st January.

Roll forward a week or so (to the 20th January) and I was in Bristol for a check-up with my surgeon.

He was very positive about how my recovery was going… so much so that I just felt the need to celebrate with a more focused bike ride, when I got home.

I had been in jeans and flat shoes for that first ride… but this time I was going to get into Lycra and cleats.

I chose my cross-bike, with its nobbly, wide, tyres for that first “proper” ride… the morning had been icy and, whilst I had waited for it all to thaw and I was going to stick to well trodden main roads, I still didn’t want to risk falling off.

So – just like that – I headed out.

Having the wind in my face felt amazing!

In fact – it went beyond amazing.. and on to a whole new level for which I don’t think there is a word.

I only did a little over 11 miles but it was probably the most satisfying 11 miles I’ve ridden for a long time.

On to Tuesday and I was determined to go just that bit further.

Once again, I selected my cross-bike – the ice had, again, thawed, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

This time, though, I pushed the distance up to a little over 18 miles.

18 miles with a smile on my face… my cheeks muscles ached.

The hip was feeling good – not as “free” moving as, clearly, it will be once it’s fully back to normal… but with each pedal stroke, it was feeling progressively more flexible.

I was, however, spending much of my time intently listening to my body… trying to hear any warning signs that it might have been giving me… I was, of course, prepared to stop if it looked as if this was something my hip wasn’t ready for.

My body stayed silent.

So I kept pedaling.

On Wednesday, with a bit of warmer (albeit damper) conditions embracing the area of the country where I live, it would have been rude not to have dragged my winter road bike off of the turbo trainer and onto the road.

So I did.

This time, I went out with the full intention of riding what, a couple of months ago, I would have classed as one of my normal “go to” routes for a lunchtime spin.. and, crucially, the first ride of my recovery (including my turbo trainer rides) that would see me hit the 20 mile mark.

I chose a deliberately flat route which, I thought, would be better for my hip, given the circumstances, and takes me out through country lanes and far more scenic surroundings than had been the setting for my first two road rides.

But, like those first two road rides, I did it and got to the end having thoroughly enjoyed every mile.

With that route having been a “normal” route, I had a wonderful sense of being “back in the room” when I got home on Wednesday – almost as if the last month and a half hadn’t happened.

But, of course, it has happened and, as I mentioned before, I have work to do in terms of increasing the flexibility of my hip which still feels tighter than it used to, clearly.

One hugely positive thing I have noticed, however, is that getting off my bike and walking up my garden path is nowhere near as painful as it used to be… even after a 20 mile ride, whilst my hip had stayed broadly pain free during the ride, the first few steps after dismounting were excruciatingly painful (before they went back to just being plain and simple painful!) – but there’s none of that, now.

I could even skip from the garage to the back door if I fancied doing so… not that I would, you understand!

Thursday never was “bike” day before my op, so, keen to re-establish a similar routine to that which I had pre-December 2019, I planned not to cycle.

I was, however, going to return to my regular “Thursday swim session” (which I did, incidentally… one mile… the longest swim of my recovery so far).

But then I spotted something.

I was sitting on 49 cycled miles since Monday and could reasonably expect to get two more bike rides in, before the end of the week (one on Friday and one at the weekend).

If I were to cycle the 3 miles down to the swimming pool and back (so a total of 6 miles… do keep up at the back), I’d be on 55 miles for the week… which meant a 100 mile week was realistic, if a little bit stretching, given the circumstances.

I hate this side of myself sometimes because it makes me get my swimming stuff in a rucksack and head out on a bike in the rain, just to get to the pool, when a car journey would have been far more pleasant.

But I got those 6 miles in and went into Friday with 55 mile miles on the weekly counter.

To expense with the blow by blow accounts of my Thursday and Saturday rides, I knew that each needed to be 22.5miles or more, on average, in order to hit my 100 mile week.

Thursday’s was a little over 23 miles… and Saturday’s was a little over 22.

I’d done it.

My first week back on the road and I’d broken the 100 mile mark.

So back to December 3rd, then – I would never have contemplated the notion that I would have made a return to “broadly normal” cycling by the end of January.

And I’d have fallen off of my chair laughing had you told me that, in the week commencing the 20th January, I’d rack up 100 road miles.

And, having already fallen off of my chair laughing, I’m not sure how I would have reacted to you telling me that my average speed over said 100 miles would be over 16.5mph.

But that’s exactly what I have done!

And pretty bloody satisfied I am with it, too.

Sure, a 16.5 mph average isn’t exactly pacy for me… but, come on, give me some slack, here… It was set at least in part on a cross-bike, at least in part with a heavy rucksack and, in the main, with a pretty weighty winter steed after not cycling on the road for a month and a half… not to mention the whole “hip thing”.

100 miles.

1 week.

Boom.

Boom, indeed.

And, as a final “post script”, I rode 52.5 miles yesterday – my longest ride since my op by quite a margin… and I loved it.

 

 

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On yer bike

Well what a week it’s been since my last blog!

Readers of said blog will know that, to get onto my turbo trainer, indoors, I’ve been needing some assistance by way of a step next to my bike… simply swinging my leg onto it has been impossible… my flexibility just hasn’t been there.

With that in mind, then, getting on to a bike outdoors, where using a little step is not really an option, hasn’t been possible since my op.

The last time I tentatively tried, I was so far away from raising my leg high enough to get on, that I was having genuine worries about whether I’d EVER be able to.

But I’ve been doing some pretty specific stretches… namely holding on to the back of a chair and swinging my leg in a “I’m getting on a bike” kind of motion… pushing myself as hard as I dare.

And I’ve been doing 25 repetitions of these stretches (alongside the ones the physio gave me) at least 6 or 7 times a day.

Slowly, but surely, and by the time I posted my last blog, I’d been noticing small but consistent improvements in how high I was able to lift my leg… so much so that I thought that trying to get on a bike, in the safe surroundings of my own driveway, would be a good idea.

Not to ride it.

Just to get on it.

So, having dragged my single-speed bike out of the garage, I stood there and braced myself.

“Braced myself” not because trying this was going to physically hurt… “braced myself” for the disappointment I would feel if I failed.

I didn’t fail.

I managed to get on.

Oh the joy.

It wasn’t the prettiest of mounting actions… but my backside ended up on the saddle… and that’s all that counted.

I cheated a bit, in terms of getting back off, in that I tiptoed across the drive and positioned the bike next to the stairs that lead into our garden – so I was able to prop the bike up and dismount in much the same way as I would from my turbo – with the help of a step!

I was elated to have got on.

Getting back to cycling on the road suddenly seemed in reach – even if, sensibly, it was too early to consider it.

Or was it too early?

My op was only 5 weeks before (give or take a day) so yes.. yes… of course it was too early.

Or, to repeat myself, was it?!?

The devil on my shoulder was saying “try it” whereas the angel on the other side was saying “don’t you dare!”

I should clarify that the devil looked very much like me… whereas the angel looked very much like Lisa (who, clearly, wanted to look after me far more than I wanted to look after myself).

The angel won, that day.

But the devil had his revenge on Saturday.

I was due to meet a friend in a cafe for brunch in town.. around a mile from home… on Saturday morning.

The temptation to cycle up was just too great.

So I did.

Not a fast and furious, Lycra clad, bike ride.

A slow and steady plod up in jeans and my “normal” shoes.

But I bloody did it.

And it felt amazing.

As I pulled up to stop, however, I had a minor panic.

I now needed to get off without the aid of a step.

I didn’t know if I could!

I hadn’t stretched for that!

Was I now doomed to spend the rest of my life stood straddling a bike outside a cafe in town?

At least I’d be fed and watered, I guess!

Mercifully, getting off didn’t pose a problem (in fact, it seemed easier than it was before my op, although I’m yet to work out why that would be).

I was so proud of my achievement that I even left my helmet on the table in the cafe (which was awkward because it was a small table), just as a constant reminder.

5 weeks and 3 days after my op and I’d properly ridden a bike.

Sure, my hip muscles still feel a bit tight so it hardly felt “normal”, but the pleasure it gave me was immeasurable… and, actually, I can feel my muscles loosen off progressively, as I ride… that happens on the turbo trainer, too.

With that success, then, the very really risk was that the temptation to get properly kitted up and try an “actual” bike ride would be overwhelming.

But, thankfully (in a sense), the UK has been ravaged by a storm of such ferocity that I doubt I’d have even gone out much even without having had my op… so the temptation hasn’t really surfaced, much.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, the storm subsided… and left us with a gorgeous sunny day.

A real beauty.

I’d been for my daily walk… when the idea of an outdoor bike ride tapped me on the shoulder.

I ignored it.

It then shouted in my ear.

I ignored that too.

I even ignored it when it slapped me across the face.

As much as I desperately wanted to get my cycling clothes on and head out for a ride in the sun and fresh air, rather than sitting on my turbo trainer for 45 minutes, even I know that doing so 6 weeks to the day since my op was too early.

I don’t know quite how much longer I can resist, though, and I’m kind of hoping for a swift return to the insanely high winds which have made the idea unpalatable… the decision won’t be mine to make, then, will it?

I’m going for a check up with Evert, my surgeon, on Monday so I’m confident I can resist at least until he has given me a steer regarding how sensible (or not) it would be… and he’s very much of the school of thought where “if it feels okay, it is okay”

So I’m hopeful he’ll reassure me that, if temptation gets the better if me, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Fingers crossed!!

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Walk this way

Onwards and upwards… that’s currently the motto I’m living by.

If you follow my recovery in other ways (Strava, social media etc etc), you will already know that I’ve been an active little monkey.

You might also think that the main focus of this blog would be my not inconsiderable success on a turbo-trainer.

Why wouldn’t it?

I am, after all, first and foremost, a cyclist.

So any news involving my having got back onto a bike (even one pointing at a computer screen) would be BIG news, surely!

And,I guess it IS big news – the fact that, less than 4 weeks after my total hip-replacement operation (and a particularly complicated one at that), I was climbing on to my bike and gingerly pedaling away for 20 minutes is certainly enough to inspire a blog all of its own.

Add to that the fact that I have been on the same turbo trainer every day (except one – a deliberate rest day) since only serves to make the argument for writing a whole blog about my return to the saddle even more compelling.

But, aside from sharing with you the humorous way in which I have to get on the bike (because my flexibility isn’t “there” just yet) which involves a little step next to the back wheel and an awful lot of will-power, I will not be making this blog about what many of you might see as my greatest “rehab” success thus far.

No, siree.

I’m also not going to make this blog about my tentative return to a swimming pool.. 400 metres of front crawl.. at “ticking over” pace.. just to see how that felt.

Nope – as lovely as it was to swim again, and as successful as the attempt was, that isn’t the main inspiration for this blog, either.

So let’s get into the real nitty-gritty, shall we?

From day one, after the op, the main exercise I have been doing to recover has been walking.

I started by walking around the hospital corridors on the zimmer frame they gave me.

I moved on to walking around the hospital corridors with a walking stick – that was the trigger for being able to come home… from where I promptly started walking around the block with Lisa (and, on occasion, the boys).

I was, and still am, logging some (not all) of my walks on Strava – really just as a record of my walking pace, truth be told – I like to see whether I am making progress.

And progress is definitely what I am making.

Day one, at home, it took me pretty much 20 minutes to walk just half a mile.

By day three or four, I was taking around 30 minutes to walk a mile.

That “pace per mile” dropped like a stone at each successive walk.. without any noticeable increase in effort.

28 minutes per mile.

25 minutes per mile.

22 minutes per mile.

And these averages were still dropping even if the actual lengths of the walks were getting longer.

Then I broke the 20 minutes per mile

And, today (Tuesday), I got into the high “17 minutes per mile” pace.

All at the same level of effort, remember – what I mean by that is that it might sound like I am being more and more competitive and pushing myself harder and harder… but that isn’t what I am trying to convey… what I mean by telling you about this progression is that my muscles MUST be recovering if they are moving me quicker with no increase in energy expended – that’s they point, here.

But pace is only one measure of success.

A far more interesting measure of success than focusing on pace is just how much “shorter” a mile is progressively becoming.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that, before my op, even shorter distances, on foot, were starting to feel like a long way.

The handful of yards from my car to my youngest son’s school, at drop off / pick up times, felt like an endurance event when my hip had deteriorated to its worst point.

But now, as walking feels easier and easier, distances feel shorter and shorter.

What would have filled me with horror only 6 weeks ago now seems like just a stone’s throw away and I think nothing of heading out for a couple of miles to carry out an errand.. or just for the sake of it.

Another far more interesting measure of success than focusing on pace is just how much I am enjoying it.

I’ve never really been a walker, honestly.

It’s never appealed to me.

I do remember a period when I quite enjoyed it following breaking my wrist three years ago so I guess I could have seen this coming.. but I am thoroughly enjoying walking!

It really is a very lovely way to pass the time.

Sure – not as much fun as cycling or swimming… but really pleasant all the same.

I put the enjoyment down to the fact that you’re moving slowly enough to take in your surroundings.

You could argue that the same would apply to running but, of course, with running (for me at least), the constant fight you are having between your mind and body rather distracts you from the environment you are moving through. (I know some of you will disagree with this… but it’s my blog.. so there!)

With walking, there is no internal fight so you are just free to look around, smile at passers-by and whistle a happy tune… all while taking in deep breaths of fresh air (if you’re lucky enough to live in the kind of area where I do, of course).

So there you have it – a rather unexpected blog about just how much I am enjoying walking.

So much so that I am actively choosing to do it now, even though I am able to drive again!

Oh.. and, to finish off, I might “unofficially” have “jogged” (I can’t really use the word “ran”) a handful of steps at the weekend – but don’t tell anyone cos that’s not allowed, of course… I did it just to see how it felt.

I can’t pretend it was comfortable, but my hip did it.

Don’t worry, though, I’ll park any other jogging/running attempts for a good number of months now, I’m in no rush to get back to that just yet!

 

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2020 vision

Crikey… it’s been a while since I blogged and, whilst I owe you no explanation for my absence, of course, I’d rather like to offer one anyway!

Firstly, a bout of man-flu kept me away from typing throughout the few days I was feeling otherwise inspired to do so.

I survived said man-flu… it was touch and go, obviously, but I pulled through like a thoroughly brave soldier!

Then the whole “Christmas planning” thing rather got in the way.

In short… I made the decision that sorting presents and such-like for Lisa was more important than spouting a whole load of nonsense on the pages of this blog.

I know, right… I’m all give!

(And, if you’re interested, man-flu aside, it was probably one of the best Christmases I can remember)

Then, in the Collard household, Christmas quickly gives way to celebrations for my youngest son, Evert’s, birthday on the 28th.

He turned 10 years old!!

The big 1-0!!

Double digits!!

Wow!

So, again, writing a blog took something of a back seat.

But, in an odd kind of way, his 10th birthday was, at the same time as pulling me away from writing a blog, one of the reasons for drafting this update.

As regular readers will know (and how’s this for a segue back into the topic of this blog-site?!?), I owe Evert’s very existence to my right total hip replacement, 11 and a half years ago.

Without my renewed ability to live life to the full, having him, our second son, would have never been a sensible consideration.

And now, his namesake, the hip-specialist, Evert, is once again making a dramatic difference to my life though my left total hip replacement just 3 and a half weeks ago.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve maintained a fairly rigorous and focussed approach to bouncing back.

I’ve walked… a lot.

I’ve stretched… a lot.

And I’ve done my physio exercises… a lot.

And on Christmas Day, as was a target right from the day of the op itself on the 4th December, I got onto my Cross Trainer.

3 weeks to the day after going under the knife.

Watching lots of my friends trying, and succeeding, in their quests to complete the “Festive 500” challenge (500km on a bike between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve) dictated to me what my first Cross Trainer session was going to be.

My very own “Festive 500”.

500 seconds on a Cross Trainer.

Gentle.

Barely raising my heart rate.

Just moving my legs, and therefore my hip, round and round…. up and down.

To say that I was happy as I dismounted the machine after that 500 second session is an understatement.

My mood was immediately lifted (I even started to do housework… yes… really!!!)

My hip seemed to put up with that session pretty well… so I resolved to make it a daily occurrence… which I’ve kept up.

Day 2 was a far more rounded 10 minute effort – 500 seconds sounds like a round number but when you see it as “8 minutes 20 seconds”, it’s just all kinds of wrong… so 10 minutes fits far better with the obsessive side of my personality!

The temptation was to steadily increase the amount of time I spend on said Cross Trainer… 1 minute more each day sounded logical.

I was all ready to do that, actually.

But then I had another idea.

Rather than spend longer spinning my legs, I would stick to 10 minutes but increase the effort in increments instead.

I see it as “gently finding new limits” every day.

And it’s working… I think.

I believe that my muscles are showing the desired signs of loosening off and, certainly, whilst still uncomfortable, walking is less painful than it was prior to my operation just under 4 weeks ago.

Which is great!

I’m also increasingly able to do things that, just a couple of weeks ago, were beyond me:

Put socks on.

Tie my own shoelaces.

Place my left leg on the next stair up, ahead of my right leg.

None of the above are easy, though… just touching my left foot with the tips of my fingers involves thought, planning, effort and as much contortion as I can muster… and will continue to do so until my muscles recover to a significantly better state than they’re in now.

Really daft things – like putting my leg into bed without having to physically crane it in with my arms – remain beyond me, though.

For now.

Whilst things are going REALLY well… and whilst I’m working REALLY hard to bounce back… I don’t want to give the false impression that it’s all easy.

It really isn’t.

It’s slow.

It’s annoying.

It’s even upsetting at times – I can suddenly and spontaneously feel sad about the whole thing… properly sad… overwhelmingly sad.

At those times, I have to give myself a bit of a talking to (or Lisa has to do it) and remind myself that I’m insanely lucky that this is all I have to worry about.

I’m also a bit preoccupied about my ability to cycle again – the flexion in my hip is currently a country mile away from what it needs to be to manage a full pedal rotation (not that I’ve tried – I can just feel it in… well.. my bones!)

And that’s ignoring the fact that I simply haven’t got a clue as to how I’d even go about getting on the bike in the first place… swinging my leg over a saddle seems so far beyond me, right now – you might just as well ask me to run a sub-2 hour marathon.

But, for all of my worries, I’m placing all of my trust in some pretty key principles.

I’m trusting my total pigheadedness not to be beaten… ever.

I’m trusting the process… the process whereby stretching, walking, doing ANY exercise I can will ultimately lead to tiny tiny tiny improvements in my being able to carry out an increasing number of tasks…. and that lots of tiny improvements combine to make the big improvements I need.

I’m trusting my surgeon’s ability to have given me the tools to achieve my goals.

Because that’s all I need: tools… tools are the precursor of “opportunity”.

And once I have opportunity, I only need the mindset to take it… and I’ve already got that in spades.

As we approach the end of 2019, then, I’m looking at 2020 through optimistic eyes.

I’m visualising myself swimming… and running… and, of course, cycling.

I’m visualising myself taking long family walks.

I’m visualising myself free of pain.

But I’m also setting my shorter term targets on things that most of us might take for granted:

Being able to lift my left foot off the floor when I’m sitting in a chair

Being able to put my left leg far enough in front of me when I walk so as to mean that stepping off of the end of an escalator doesn’t fill me with dread.

Being able to get into and out of a car without needing to ask Lisa to park far enough away from the adjacent vehicle for me to open the door as wide as it’ll go.

Happy new year, everyone… 2020 will be an amazing mixture of seeing the beauty in simple pleasures, whilst simultaneously targeting big big things.

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Learning to walk

It’s one week and one day since my operation so I thought I’d post an update.

Things moved very quickly over the 48 hours after I typed my last blog.

So much so that, by the time it was published, its content was already woefully out of date!

Throughout Thursday, as I mentioned in said blog, I could be seen regularly following physiotherapist orders… heading out of my hospital room on my zimmer frame for a walk… stopping at a well placed window, with a bar to hold on to, to do my leg exercises.

I’d asked the physiotherapist how often to carry out this routine and he’d said; “at least 3 times per day”.

Those words “at least” seemed very woolly to me so my follow up question was to inquire as to what he would deem as “overdoing it”.

After being told that “getting up and down every five minutes would be excessive” but to, otherwise “exercise on feel”, I resolved to doing my little routine on an hourly basis.

That seemed achievable – particularly since I didn’t have much else to do… there’s only so much daytime TV you can watch!

By Friday – so 24 hours after they’d first stood me up with the zimmer – the physio stopped by with a target of moving me to walking sticks.

Not crutches.

Sticks.

Two at first.

Moving to one as soon as possible.

It took just three steps with two sticks for the physio to tell me I could jump straight to one – he could see that I was ready.

We even tried stairs straightaway, too.

Tried

Succeeded.

Boom.

And, all of a sudden, my hourly routine now involved significantly more weight-bearing on my new hip – which was a challenge I grabbed with gusto.

I’d been chatting with Evert, my surgeon, on Friday morning and he’d told me that, due to the sheer amount of “old” biological material they’d had to remove in the operation, SO many of my neural receptors would have also been removed that my brain is now no longer interpreting the balance down that side of my body the same way as it has throughout my whole life to date.

In a very very real sense, therefore, I am learning to walk again.

Despite that, my progress on the stick was swift.

One nurse commented, as I drifted past, that I was by far the most active and committed patient.

I know that dishing out platitudes to keep morale up is part of a nurse’s job description, but I took a huge amount of pride in that compliment – it helped me to feel that I was at least doing everything I can.

Another nurse spotted my Garmin watch and asked if I’d set up a Strava segment along one of the corridors!

I was tempted.

But I didn’t.

Lisa and the boys came in to see me on Friday evening so I made sure that my now redundant cannula was removed as well as putting in a bit of effort to look clean and shaved – I needed them to see me looking as normal as possible.

That was important to me… and to them, I’m sure.

The original expectation, before the operation, had been that I’d be sent home on Sunday afternoon – possibly sooner if I’d been “judged to be doing well”.

My early Saturday morning chat (6:30am) with Evert, coupled with him watching me walk around like I was trying new shoes on in a shop, was enough for him to say that I could basically go home whenever I was ready.

36 hours ahead of schedule!

I know it was never supposed to be a competition but, goodness, I’d smashed it!

My focus and determination had paid off!

He did say that, if I wanted to stay in for another day, I could… but I didn’t have to.

Needless to say, my first act on hearing the news was to text Lisa and ask her to collect me – so, by 10:00am, on Saturday… 72 hours after the operation… I was in Lisa’s car on the way home.

In true Churchillian fashion, however, going home wasn’t the end of this episode of my life.

It wasn’t even the beginning of the end.

But it was, at least, the end of the beginning.

Since Saturday, I have maintained my physio exercises with dogged regularity, of course… would you really expect anything less?

Lisa has also accompanied me on a few walks (which has been lovely, actually – walking and chatting, as just a couple, is something we rarely do).

The first walk, on Sunday, was literally just around the block – to get a feel for what it was like.

But the daily walks since have all been a little over a mile – which is probably ahead of where I was expecting to be by this time… so that’s amazing.

I’m expecting to be able to lose even the one stick I am still using over the next few days and, already (having attempted a couple of steps without it), I can feel that walking unaided is “in view”.

All this sounds hugely positive, right?

I’m taking what the physio is saying I can do to sensible limits and I’m doing it. That’s great, right?

I’m the personification of one of those “just do it” style posters you find on office walls, right?

I’m like some kind of self-motivated freak, telling myself that “anything is possible if I  want it enough”, yeah?

Yeah!

Grrrr!

Positive mental attitude and all that?

Well.

Not quite.

Make no bones about it (pun intended) – it’s not all good.

For the first couple of days out of hospital I felt nauseous, dizzy and, at points, just a smidgen away from being violently sick.

I’m suffering from regular headaches.

The muscles in my upper left leg/hip ache and hurt like I’ve not felt for a very very long time… if ever.

My left knee seems to hurt a little bit, too.. which I’m putting down as “referred pain” from internal bruising in my hip as well as a reaction to a subtly different walking posture.

The stretching exercises I’m doing daily certainly aren’t getting a great deal easier either despite, deep down, rather hoping they might be by now. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m only a week in but I was hoping I might have seen better improvements in my joint mobility than I’ve achieved thus far.

I’m struggling to get into a routine with some of my pain medication and, actually, I’m not sure I even want to – because I fear becoming dependent on them… that’s a concern.

And Tuesday night was one of my worst yet, in terms of pain and discomfort which reminded me that this whole recovery isn’t just a linear graph of life getting easier… it’s more of a rollercoaster.

There are also low mental moments, of course… the “why me?” sensation can take over my mood quite easily and I have to fight that off as swiftly as I can because goodness knows how I’d feel if I let it consume me.

Even putting socks on is nigh on impossible. I challenge anyone to not feel downhearted when you have to ask your sons / wife to do that for you.

It’s not easy.

Not easy at all.

In short; I’ve been knocked down… again…

And, in context of where I was a couple of weeks ago, riding 200km without breaking a sweat, the knock-down has been quite a hard one.

But I’m getting back up… again…

I’m needing both physical and emotional support (from Lisa and the boys) to do it…

But I AM doing it.

And I’m doing it one day at a time… which is probably the only sensible way.

The point is, no-one ever told me this was going to be easy… but, as the saying goes, I’m pinning my mindset on it being worth it.

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