It’s ALL about the bike

I’m a bit of a ditherer.. Well, actually, being brutally honest I’m either a massive ditherer or dangerously impulsive, but, for the purposes of this post, this is definitely about the Ditherer in me. I’ve been ‘weighing up’ the pros and cons of various road bikes for three whole years. Yes, THREE years. My ever patient, ever supportive other half has listened to my impassioned descriptions of my latest bike ‘squeeze’ and there have been a few. I’ve got an old bike that doesn’t fit properly and I struggle with all sorts of pain but because I’ve been swimming and doing other things, the need to purchase another bike dropped down the To Do list.

My biggest bug bear to date has been that bike manufacturers have treated women like second class cyclists when they develop their women specific bikes. They still haven’t grasped that we don’t ALL want to look like Barbie when we ride. Nor have they given us the same specs on bikes as they put on the men’s versions. I’ve walked out of two shops recently where the assistant tried to sell me something screaming pink just because I’m a female or something of a spec that was not what I wanted because I’m not a super slinky cycling machine. I’m not bitter, honest, I just want a nice bike.

Last Saturday we went to browse in a bike shop called Cycle Evolution  in Colchester and there it was, in the sale, a women’s specific bike with a good spec and not all painted up ready to take part in a carnival. And it was in the sale!!

I bought a Giant Avail Composite 1. It has an 11 speed Ultegra compact group set and its black and silver with an acceptable ‘berry’ coloured stripe.

Graham from Cycle Evolution took a lot of care in fitting me to the bike yesterday and so finally, after three years of considering, Gloria arrived home.

I went out for my first ride with her this morning. She is so comfortable, the rubbish road surfaces don’t rattle my fillings and the gears don’t play a metallic tune as I have to change rather more than I’d like. And the hills… oh my gosh, I actually didn’t have to change down, then down and actually climbed smoothly and steadily up staying above 10mph for the first time… It really IS ALL about the bike. I can’t wait to cycle some more. In this case, dithering was worth it. Welcome to my home Gloria.

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Not as Ordinary to Extreme as I had hoped in 2014

Near the end of the year, every year, I become thoughtful. This ‘thinking’ lasts into the new year. I look back at the things I have done, compare it to the list of things I was going to do and reprimand myself for yet again not hitting all of my targets. I get angry, remind myself I’m another year closer to a Stannah stair lift and promise to do better. ‘This year’s going to be different’ I tell myself… every year… sigh….

I did one great thing – I think ( it still doesn’t seem real) – I swam the English Channel as part of an awesome relay team – more about that separately. But in all other things I’d wanted to do – including writing a really great blog – I failed. With a big fat F.

The only people who never fail are those who never try.

So., with this quote in mind, I’m going to try again, try harder, try smarter, try better. Ordinary to Incontinence Pads is not the road I’m following quite yet.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.

We can all make life better for ourselves and others. Its time I really did DO Better…

In the meantime, here’s to a sparkling 2015. Be extreme and have fun.

Winter Solstice Mini Adventure

Okay, so I’m slightly late as its now been a while since the Solstice on 21 December, but its about time i shared the fun I had to celebrate it.

Continuing in the spirit of Alastair Humphreys ( wonder if I class as a ‘mini me’ yet? Probably nowhere near, but a good goal) my other half emailed me with a link to Alastair’s blog and said, ‘So, we’re doing it, right?’ I didn’t think before I said “Absolutely!”

We planned to ride our mountain bikes and strike out across country on bridle paths and byways. We picked a route and identified a camping place. We packed our tent and camping gear and the pasta bolognese i had made the night before ( thats a first – I’m never that prepared despite being in the brownies. Not now you understand – when I was considerably shorter), and on a very wet and wild Saturday, we got dressed in layers topped with water proofs and off we went.

I’ve never done this before. Never set off on a route and done my own planning, navigation and all round decision making. Nor have I put up my own tent without supervision. You’ve got to start somewhere though and when better to start than a very cold and very, very wet  and windy winter’s night?

The bridleways were beyond yucky, the soil in the part of East Anglia where I live is heavy clay and so the routes were like trying to cycle across a potters wheel that is covered in slip. and it was hard to stay upright with the wind attacking us from sideways on. It wasn’t long before the inevitable happened and I slid once too often and couldn’t get my foot unclipped from my pedal and fell sideways in very slow motion into a ditch.

A recuperative cuppa  in a fantastic tea shop in a converted railway station ticket office hit the spot before getting on our way again

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The routes were so slippery that we decided to carry on along quiet roads and as the light was starting to fade, we decided not to head for the planned stopping place but to leave it to chance and see what we could find along the way.

We found a beautiful pine woods just off the road. The light was fading and the wind was starting to get much stronger so the stop really had to be sooner rather than later. We found a clearing amongst the trees that was large enough for the tent, so we set about putting up the tent. The poles have coloured sections that you have to match up with coloured tabs on the tent and all you have to do is thread them through like unfolding magic wands. The next stage involves you using tent pegs which look like meat skewers that you thread though strings at a high tension and hey presto – the tent was up.

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Thermarests and sleeping bags unrolled, we fired up the stove and made a brew

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By then I realised that i hadn’t changed my soaking wet socks and my feet were really very cold. I got myself ready for bed and changed into clean and dry socks. An hour later I still couldn’t get my feet warm despite foot rubbing, more tea and two sleeping bag liners. Nothing. There was only one thing for it. Gloves.

photo 4-2Worked like a charm!

It was a long night of strange noises but I slept surprisingly well when I did sleep. We started very early in the morning and packed up camp and set off home. By 10am we had covered the relatively short distance home and having stopped off at the village shop for fresh bread, we were back home with the toaster on, a delicious cuppa in hand and the grins on our faces that come with having accomplished something new. it doesn’t matter that it was small. it wasn’t for me. I put a tent up and took it down. I planned a route and took control of my adventure….and I wore gloves on my feet..a perfect winter solstice.

Why Don’t You…… it starts here

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

This concept was inspired by Alastair Humphreys who has shown me that you can challenge yourself /learn/ have fun and generally put a tick in the box every single day.

The original Why Don’t You was  children’s tv programme whose strap line was “WDY.. turn off the tv and go and do something less boring instead” …..

I’ve decided that each month I’m going to challenge myself to do something small to make my daily life less boring and maybe give me something out if it too. I hope that you’ll follow my progress each month and may be join me in your own WDY.

Its all about the swim

Next year is going to be a big year for me. I had to re-assess my plans earlier this year after an injury and corrective surgery. “I know” i said, “I’ll swim instead if I can’t use my legs. I’ll swim the English Channel”. And there, in the space of a few moments, on the veranda of a bar, overlooking a stunning bay in Greece on a beautiful sunny day, my mind wrote yet another cheque that my body is going to have to cash. I have a relay swim booked in July with four incredible friends and my solo swim in September. So, for the next 10 months of my life its all going to be about the swim.

I have no real experience in swimming. I was thrown into the pool by my PE teacher in shear frustration because I was the last child in my class to learn to swim when I was very small.

The coming months are going to be an incredible journey culminating (with God’s grace) in a scramble for a stone on a French beach. Its going to be hard, probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but to quote Mae West: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

Henley Bridge to Bridge 2013

In August this year I took part in my first long distance swim event. The Bridge to Bridge race is one of a series of swims put together by Henley Swim along the Thames. The Bridge to Bridge starts from the famous Leander rowing club where Steve Redgrave the 5 time Olympic gold medallist rowed.

The Bridge to Bridge swim is a 14.1 km swim from Henley to Marlow with four feed stops along the way.

I signed up for this event in May having only ever swum a maximum of about 3km in one go before ( in a pool with plenty of little stops), but you’ve got to have ambition, right?

Two of my friends also signed up for the event. Both of whom swim as if they are related to fish, so I tried not to think about being the slow one and got stuck into training.

I generally trained by swimming four times a week, completing drill sessions twice during the week which averaged about 2500m and longer distances at an open water venue called TriFarm at the weekends. My training distance in a week built over the course of the period from 9km to 18km per week.

Through June and July I built up my Saturday distance and it was on one of my long distance Saturdays that I met Jason Betley a fellow English Channel aspirant for 2014. Our meeting was made memorable by the fact that he was wearing a Nemo the fish swimming hat. The last weekend in July I swam 10k in a decent time and started tapering for Henley.

We arrived at the Henley start at 7 am queasy with nerves. One of my friends supplied us with a rubber duck each to tie to our wetsuits so we could be easily spotted by our family and friends who’d come to crew, cheer, support and share the day. Ryan Bowd was also official photographer.

We had a safety briefing and then it was into the water. I’ve never seen so many wet suited bodies at once – about 200 of us.  I jumped in and headed slowly across to Henley bridge from the pontoon wiggling myself to the back of the start line so that I wouldn’t be swum over by a faster swimmer. The water was lovely at 18.6 degrees and crystal clear which was a big surprise. At 8am Duck and I were off !

And they’re off!

We were guided by kayaks to our first nutrition stop after 2km to be put into pods ranked by speed. It was a first chance to fuel up and speak to friends who were walking along the riverbank.  Quick photo stop and back in for the next 4km. This stop was on an island in the middle of the Thames so I waved at my crew as I scoffed Mars bar pieces and then we set off again before we started to chill.

The water is actually quite clean and I did take a couple of lady like sips and it wasn’t too bad to taste either although my tummy objected for the next 24 hours ( or maybe I’d overdosed on Mars bars). I kept turning my arms over consistently and not thinking of anything other than trying to take in the beauty of the river and enjoyment of taking part in the swim. People did chat a bit from time to time as we were held up when we caught the pod in front, so it was much more sociable than I thought it would be.

When we got out at 10-ish km my shoulders felt the same as they had after my 10km swim in training so I was pleased. I’d been fed my peanut butter cups and Gatorade and had folks cheering me on a beautiful sunny and warm day so life felt good.

At the 12 km stop my shoulders felt the same as they had at 10 km so I felt really reassured and quite relaxed even. I’d taken in good nutrition all through the swim and had kept my pace well within myself- I’m a bit of a metronome, so once I get a rhythm I can keep it.

Once back in the water, I felt so good that I decided to really push on for home for the last 2 km. I caught up and passed folks which gave me a massive boost and all of a sudden, the Marlow Bridge appeared and I heard cheering and clapping and I felt like a child, not wanting it to end. I was helped out of the river and given a medal and it all got a bit surreal. I couldn’t actually take in what I’d done. I still can’t really although I’ve got the medal to prove it.

B2B is a fantastic event. It’s extremely well organised and gives an opportunity to swim in a stunningly beautiful location in a safe and non competitive way with other like minded folks. Sadly, Duck made a bid for freedom somewhere along the way but he will never be forgotten.

Lessons I learned

Long distance swimming has to be properly trained for, you can’t wing it.

Find nutrition that works for you and your tummy and you can look forward to eating. Mix it up – don’t just have one type of fuel.

Make sure you use plenty of Bodyglide to protect your neck from chafing, although in freshwater this is generally a lot less than it is when swimming in salt water.

Consider using a neoprene under hat and booties if you’re going to be in cooler temperatures for longer than an hour. They really help if you are prone to getting a little chilled.

There are lots of great open water swimming events all around the country and loads of fun people of all ages and backgrounds to share this amazing sport with.

“The wheels on the bus go round and round” gets pretty annoying when sung over and over in your head for longer than an hour.

I can swear under water.

Tie your rubber duck to your wet suit, don’t just rely on tape.

Duck and me heading to the start

Nearly there…..

No Swimming?!

Success!

All photographs © Ryan Bowd, 2013 

Just a Little Bit Star Struck

Chrissie Wellington is the British athlete who, after a sojourn in Nepal, took the triathlon world by storm and won the Ironman World Championships four times. She holds the record for the fastest time over the Ironman distance for a woman and was unbeaten over the 140.6 mile distance. Chrissie retired in 2012 and I had the opportunity to go along to a lecture that she gave in London last week organised by Exodus travel. Chrissie has achieved legendary status in the triathlon world and I wanted to find out what made her so special.

I was stunned by just how down to earth she is…and smiley. She is generous and warm and passionate. Really PASSIONATE about inspiring you to do whatever you want to do with all your heart and your head.

Chrissie says that you have to train your head to succeed. Your body will give all it has unconditionally, but your mind will start trying to cheat you out of your pocket money long before you get to the sweet shop. In order to be a winner, you have to have the mind of a winner.

Winner doesn’t just mean winning a race. It means whatever you want it to be. Want to run 5km? You absolutely can. Want to be able to do Downward Dog? You bet you can. You just have to teach your mind that it can’t just shrug its shoulders and huff and give it up as a bad job once your hips start creaking as you lurch into a new pose.

I came over extremely shy as I queued to meet Chrissie after her talk. Just as I’d decided to bolt, she looked up at me and beamed her welcome. When I told her my plans for 2014, she looked at me earnestly and said “Right, you just get out there and you do it. Its going to be tough, but you just tell your mind to get on with it. Don’t you let it trick you. You just get stuck in and you’ll do it”. She spoke to me with such passion and genuine interest. She doesn’t even know me, but she cared about my dreams. She hugged me and promised me she’d follow my journey.

I had a lump in my throat and a burning twinkle of energy inside as I waved goodbye. Speechless and a bit star struck I left the room. My brain on the other hand, was shrugging its shoulders and huffing. I’m not taking any nonsense. I’m going to buy it a little white flag on a stick. It may come in handy.

Chrissie and me

Congratulations, You’re Alive…

Life is amazing. Everywhere you look, little miracles are happening. Ever actually thought about the little miracle that heals our skin when its been cut? Inspired design. Inspiration is everywhere. I’m constantly humbled by people who do amazing things and achieve things that the human body shouldn’t be able to do. It never fails to amaze me that some people ‘just do it’ whilst others who profess they’re going to ‘just do it’ don’t actually do so and crank out excuses for why its flipping impossible to ‘just do it’ (I’m referring to myself).

In this blog, I want to share snippets about people who inspire me. It may be the actions of the people themselves or something that they have shared in a book. either way, their words and actions have touched me and started me on my journey…

Life is a Great Big Canvas…

Hello! This is my first post and I’m really excited about it. I’ve spent many years going through the motions, getting educated, getting started in a job, building a career, keeping that career kettle boiling, getting up, going to work, coming home, going to sleep and doing it all over again. Just the same as so many folks, my New Year’s Resolutions have come and gone unfulfilled just like pie crust promises – made to be broken.

Life seems to have fast forwarded to a place that leaves me wondering how I got here. I’ve spent years reading about other people’s adventures, but not really had any of my own.

One of my favourite quotes is this:  “Life is a great big canvas, throw all the paint on it you can’.

This Blog is a record of my adventures, big and small. My record of throwing all the paint I can on the canvas of my life.

I’m hoping to get paint everywhere!