Monday, 31 January 2011

Riding isn't just riding

Saturday: New friends, new trails

6am is a little earlier than I wanted to get up on a cold weekend morning. I felt shattered as I climbed out from under the duvet. A hectic week had led to a busier head than I've had for a while.

By 7.30am the car was packed, cyclocross bike on the rack, Sat Nav set for Cannock Chase.

By 9.20ish I was in the car park, talking to Nick from An Asthmatic Ant, admiring his new cross bike, ready for it's maiden voyage (sounded like an absolute bargain from On One/Planet X), and definitely looked the part.

It was still flipping freezing, but it was dry, and had been all week. We stayed warm in the cafe, waiting for everyone to arrive. Procrastination was the name of the game as group inertia meant there was no hurry in leaving the relative warmth of the cafe. One particular late-comer, yes you Gordon meant that there was a convenient excuse to reign in any remaining eagerness.

It was great meeting people who I have only ever shared 140 character messages with via Twitter, filling in the gaps between online persona and real life. I love the start of social rides... the slow pace, the continued chat, the moving to the front or the back of the group to chat or catch up with people. The hum of tyres, the anticipation of what is to come, sharing the very basic pleasure of enjoying turning pedals.

Thanks to Matt and Phil who showed us round lots of the unofficial trails on the Chase, nipping off the way-marked blue route, to rejoin it a little further along. We finished off on the last few km of the "Follow the dog" red trail, zipping and hopping along, getting rattled by braking bumps and giggling away while riding slightly inappropriate bikes (big hand to Gordon who was also riding a fixed wheel).

Sadly, I forgot to bring a camera, but Steve Makin took a few snaps. They are on his Flickr page, here.

Can't wait to meet up with some of these guys again in the near future. Nick has already promised me a guided tour around Delamere Forest. I'll be there as soon as I can.

Sunday: Local trails, a foreign land

Same early start. Less cold. A different bike... with new improved pinkness

7am. Car loaded, singlespeed mountain bike on the rack. Drove over to Holmfirth and met up with my friend Peter at his beautiful house, high up above Huddersfield. We rode straight from the front door, up the bridleway that begins at the bottom of his drive. Despite riding every kind of bike prolifically just a few miles north-west in the Calder Valley, I've never explored the hills between the M62 and north Peak District. I've missed out. The gradients felt slightly less harsh, but the quality of the views and mixture of landscape was wonderful. We had a great mix of singletrack climbs and descents, tarmac grovels, and wide sandy bridleways. The valleys felt more "open" than the dark wintery ones to the north, but more industrialised than the Peak. We cruised round a great 35 mile loop during the course of the morning and were back at Peter's in time for a lovely roast.

I was surprised how fresh my legs felt, and there feels like some genuine power is slowly beginning to return. Again no photos, but plenty of memories, and I'm looking forward to another visit to explore some more of what the area has to offer.

Sunday evening: went to the gym, sat in the steam room and Jacuzzi. My legs and body felt tired. My mind felt wide awake.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Sometimes. Just sometimes, the glimpses of the brightest prettiest colours accentuate how black the darkness is.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, 21 January 2011


The last few weeks haven't flown by, so much as spun by. Generally, they have been remarkable fun. Not just fun "considering everything else" or "nice, but...". Just plain, simple fun. Nights out, bike rides, late nights, new people, old people, work (yes work - it's been hard, and difficult, but fun, and my head has finally, finally woken up. I can think again! I can make logical decisions! Even more importantly, I can make intuitive, intelligent decisions, based on lots of information/opinions/bollocks/fact... and they are the right ones. And, I'm arrogant enough to know they are right.)

I've re-found my voice. No sitting back and listening (or trying to listen while the dark, cloud side of my brain takes over), but listening, engaging, talking.

I'm not silly enough to think that, depression... well, that's that done and dusted. Equally, I'm not going to feel guilty for feeling happy again. I'm going to continue with CBT, try and reflect where I can, learn and continue growing.

Tis all good though!

Son, your ego is writing checks* your body can't cash

*yes, I know that it should be spelled cheques, but it's an American quote

I don't want to get busted.

Races have been entered. I can talk the talk. I have walked the walk. But not for a long time. "Training" has been relaxed to say the least for quite a while. The odd hard ride, gym session, long run. But no structure, purpose, not really pushing myself.

Latest excuse has been a nagging cold since Tod Cross at the start of January. All very well and good, but that was nearly a month ago now. I'm pretty much all over that, so... well, I think that's all the excuses exhausted.

I've got the last paper bag to punch through. A mental block. Fear of the pain that will come up. Fear of the dark nights and early starts. Fear of having to do something when sometimes I really don't want to. Fear of the obsession that will develop.

This week has been better. Some solid runs, some solid "functional" training at the gym. This weekend will be a decent length social ride one day, then a steady 50miles on the cyclocross bike followed by 10 or so miles run the next.

I need to start building some habits again. I will not turn up at a race podgy and under-prepared. Physical strength + mental strength = more fun during the pain.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Turning might bes into will bes

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2011. Entered.

Three Peaks Fell Race. Entered.

Need to redress the balance with a couple of mountain bike races.

Oh, and train, but that's all part of the fun.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Madnesses of the mind

An informative video on depression and other madnesses of the mind.

Not 100% serious

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


I was at a party on Saturday night. Nothing particularly unusual about that.

Except it was a bit unusual for me. For a long time I've been struggling with big groups of people. Struggling to interact. I think there has been a few reasons for this. Firstly depression gnaws away at my mind in different ways. It stifles my confidence. It leaves me feel confused and less able to express my feelings and emotions. It makes me feel withdrawn. It removes my interest in many things. Secondly, I feel more self-conscious. Partly a by-product of the above, but also because I have tried to be as open as possible with my friends about how I am feeling. But it means that sometimes there is an inevitable elephant in the room when we meet and talk.

I used to be outgoing. It probably wasn't my natural disposition. I was a naturally shy and self-conscious child in lots of situations. But always wanted to be more outgoing. I worked on it for a long time. It got to the point where I enjoyed presentations to hundreds of people for work. I enjoyed meeting and talking to strangers. I enjoyed telling stories and having attention fixed on me. But, I also enjoyed finding out about the people I met. Listening, questioning, learning, watching.

My self-confidence has been gradually growing for a while. Going back into work helped. Forcing myself to meet friends, to go out, to socialise, even when it was the last thing I wanted to do helped. There have been ups and downs. I've sometimes used alcohol as a crutch, to calm nerves and quieten the anxiety. But it has often made me worse, or I haven't controlled my drinking. Talking and interacting left me utterly exhausted. I've fallen asleep on more sofas than I can remember in the last few months.

On Saturday, I chatted, I spoke to good friends, I spoke to complete strangers. I drank, but not too excessively. I laughed, I felt confident, I mingled. I was silly. I told people about me, I found out lots of interesting things about others. I didn't notice the clock moving, or feel tired. Sparks were firing in my brain. I was awake, and myself.

Definitely a step in the right direction.

It isn't just about me... in more than one way

Sometimes other people are able to describe how you feel, better than you can do yourself. Sometimes you read something that resonates so strongly, it takes your breath away. I read this at lunch at work today. I had to find somewhere a little quieter to finish reading, it really touched me.

The title of the post is "It isn't just about me"... while not exactly the point Louise was trying to make, it remind me again that I'm not the only person out there going through this.

Louise is someone I "met" through Twitter. I was following her already, in the usual, odd, viral way that one finds new people on Twitter. She rides bikes, and writes about them occasionally. A short while before Christmas a few of her tweets suggested she was going through some of the same feelings I've had recently.

It sounds like she's pretty damn brave, has got great support, and I'm looking forward to reading about her feeling better.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

2011. Looking forward.

Roman god Janus. His two faces simultaneously look back at what has been and forward to the future.

Well. 2010 was not the year I was expecting it to be. I was as happy as I have ever been in January. I was about to go on a snowboarding holiday with my girlfriend and best friends, to celebrate my 30th birthday. I had so much to look forward to, and I was utterly content. Something went a bit wrong by the summer, which I've written lots about since, so won't run through again.

It has left me looking at 2011 with more than a little trepidation however. Personal hopes and wishes are modest. And looking too far forward is a little scary.

But... I also know that at heart I'm a lazy boy. I need targets, objectives, something to aim towards, or I'll drift, do nothing and more than likely end up feeling depressed again. Exercise is vital to my mental health. I've written about it before. To start with it was just doing something, anything. Being outside, in fresh air. Being away from home, away from reminders of the reality of life. It is now more than that. Exercise is a way of confronting my demons.
Self harm?
Running away from demons?
Kicking the crap out of them, while I exhaust myself?
Addicted to endorphins?
Stripping away every normal barrier. Exhausting all my normal self-defence mechanisms, until I have no choice but to think about what I don't want to think about?
Avoiding real life?
Living life?
Primal subconscious?
Macho stupidity?

Despite knowing how good I'll feel afterwards. Despite knowing this is my medicine, I am still lazy. Inertia and the gravitational pull of the sofa or bed can be strong forces. I need some fear, and some inspiration. Fear of not finishing a race. Fear of not doing what I know I can potentially achieve. Inspiration... knowing that I might, I can be, somewhere that few people have been. That at some point the dark mornings, the pain, the "one more hill" will be all worth while. A reason to train when I'm too weak to want to do exercise for my own good.

So. I've set some targets for the next year. Some are races. Some are adventures. Some are social. All are in writing and I'll make sure I do every one, to the very best of my ability.

2011 Targets:
-Todmorden Cyclocross. Done. A nice little reminder that racing isn't just riding
-As many round of the UK Enduro Downhill Series as I can get to... fun, social "racing"
-The No Fuss Events Macavalanche. Details are a bit hazy, but I'm on the start long-list. Really don't have the skills or balls to do well, but again, will fun and a hell of an experience
-Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon. Will be my third SLMM, and along with the OMM, the only team race.
-3 Peaks Cyclocross race
-Nokia Coast to Coast. "Racer" category.
-Original Mountain Marathon. My 6th (including the infamous 2008 event). Missed 2010, as we couldn't be bothered travelling to Dartmoor. Hoping 2011 is more northerly.

-A long solo challenge... maybe involving a Hebridean island or two. Will be something unique and self-supported.
-More "mountain biking". In real mountains.

-Bike/bivvy/bike with mates. No weight weeny-ism. Bottles of wine and whisky.
-Ride with new friends, as well as old
-Alpine summer holiday. Probably Les Arcs. Definitely about singletrack, fun, biere, vin, fromage, pain au chocolat, sun.

Baptism of Fire

Todmorden Cyclocross. 2nd January 2011.

My first bike race for well over 12 months (other than the Ae Avalanche Enduro, but that was just fun and happened to be a bit tiring). Preparation wasn't ideal... I'm not very fit generally at the moment, and had a cold from Boxing Day, which had mostly cleared up by race day, but meant I hadn't ridden a bike since before Christmas. Oh, and fully embracing the Belgian culture of cyclocross, I got almightily drunk on Leffe on New Years Eve. At least my bike was shiny.
But, hey... cyclocross. It's only an hour long. Right? How hard can it be. Er... quite. At the start, I quickly went backwards, and ended up about 2/3rds of the way down the field. Going was really heavy. The course was largely claggy, sticky, thick mud. Apart from the steep cobbled climb. Hats off to those who rode it. I just didn't have the legs to stay seated and keep turning the pedals. As soon as I stood up, the back wheel span out. By the 4th lap, walking up was painful enough.
I can't think of a more tiring way to spend an hour. Heart rate way up there, little in the way of respite. If it was running, it wouldn't be so bad. I'm not sure if it is my legs that aren't used to pedalling while that close to my threshold, or if it is just that the race highlighted how unfit I've become over the last 6 months... or a bit of both.
Anyway, it was brilliant fun. Horrible, cursing myself, stupid, farcical fun.
There aren't too many 'cross races left this season, but I'll be back next year, and hopefully a little fitter and more experienced. I don't really care if I'm not though. The atmosphere was great, the format is great, the people are great. Racing is only part of the experience.
As an aside, it was also fantastic to briefly meet people who I chat to on a daily/weekly basis via Twitter. It really was great putting a face to those who I met. Look forward to similar meetings in the future, and a few social rides with many of them.
Oh... final position was 38th/52. Possibly my worst ever race result, but I'm content enough for now. It's just good to "be back".