Thursday, 30 December 2010

Egg's Top Health and Fitness Tips for 2011

I thought I'd share some pearls of wisdom to help everybody on their way to a happy, healthy 2011. You know it makes sense..

  • Think you can get fit by taking the stairs instead of the lift? This is the wrong approach. Take the down escalator to see real fitness gains.

  • Stop wondering if you are a pear or an apple and just eat more pears and apples instead.

  • If you're at the gym, have a secret competition with the person on the machine next to you. If you're lucky they'll secretly compete back!

  • Any time spent on the dance floor can be turned into a workout. Don't be afraid of experimental shape-throwing. If people look at you it's because they're jealous of your fitness.

  • Laugh more, make those abs ache!

  • When baking cakes, don't use a blender. That way the calories from making the mix should just about even up with the actual eating.

  • Get a top to match your trainers, being coordinated always improves performance.

  • Finally.. never, EVER miss an opportunity for a good lunge.

Yes, it's a Christmassy fleece onesie...
perfect for lunging.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

On the Fifth Day of Chistmas

I am absolutely chuffed to bits. 

Last night I agreed (on a whim) to going for a very gentle, short run with Leo today. If you've been following the blog you'll know I've been plagued with a knee injury since July and haven't been running at all. I've been having physio and religiously doing all my leg strength exercises. The 'return to running' date was pushed back and back and back as progress has been slow, and I got grumpier and grumpier as I missed more and more races.

I've felt like I've been ready to run for a couple of weeks now but with the Big British Freeze and the broken arm it's just been one obstacle after another.

So tonight was the night. We held a very steady pace (and a very steady arm in sling) for just a mile and a half - completely and utterly one hundred percent pain free. 1.5 miles of totally brilliant breathlessness. 

Now the goal is to not get carried away and to build up very, very slowly! But who cares.. I'm a runner again!!

Monday, 27 December 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas

After a fairly sedentary Boxing Day  I stepped on the scales with my eyes closed this morning. 57.6kgs, or 9 stone 1, I couldn't make it any less no matter which way I shuffled. It could have been worse, but going back over the 9 stone barrier sucks! Still, that's what will keep the motivation going and I do sort of deserve it after the ridiculous amount of food I have been eating. 

10 days to lose two and a half kilos is going to be tough but my challenge today was a half marathon on the cross trainer, which I did in 1:41:02. Sweating and knackered I went to have a good stretch but then I saw a spare bike in the spinning class that was just about to start.. it had to be done, so I hopped on and did a half an hour session - it was marvellous!

Now all I need to do is avoid the snacks, enjoy my lovely, healthy smoothies in my brand-spanking new smoothie maker and wait for those pounds to drop off!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

On the First Day of Christmas

The '12 Days of Christmas Challenge' started reasonably gently yesterday with the challenge of 500 lunges. I managed to get through it in about 42 minutes... then went on to indulge in vast amounts of Christmas Day food!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Charlie's Challenge

A few weeks ago I said that I needed some sort of challenge or goal to keep the healthy motivation going over Christmas. 

My good friend Charlie, based in Australia, suggested that it might be rather impressive if I could come out of the festive season the same weight as I went in.  I am, however, considering the start of the "festive season" as the food and cake-fest that was my birthday weekend at the end of November. I went into that weekend at a wonderfully feathery weight of 55kgs (for my more traditional friends 8st 9lb).  Suffice to say that with a month of serious eating, and a considerable lack of activity I have added to that a fair few grammes. Having weighed myself today I am in fact very close to that pesky 9st barrier. In addition, I would bet good money that I will hit a weighty peak over the course of the next couple of days.

So, I am hereby opening the '12 days of Christmas Challenge'.  From Christmas Day until the 5th January I shall complete any reasonable* physical challenge set by friends and family.  I shall also provide video evidence if required.

On 6th January, if I am 55kgs or less, I can call myself a winner. And, if I don't?  Well, you may throw a barrage of verbal abuse at me for the rest of the year.  That should be a good enough incentive for me not to fail.

So bring on the challenges...

* Reasonable is defined as :  Do-able with one arm, not involving excess travel, must be legal, must not put non-participants (or participants for that matter) in danger and does not include eating challenges.  Challenges involving nudity will not be accepted.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Night Before Christmas - rewritten

Twas the night before Christmas, not a soul was awake,
Except me downstairs, I’d snuck down for cake.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with nails,
So much chocolate was in them a pin would have failed.

The rest of the clan were all sleeping tight,
Unaware of the action that would take place this night,
I scoffed down the last little Christmas cake crumb,
And set off to bed with a lovely full tum.

When out on the driveway I heard something whirring,
So I jumped up to see just what was occurring.
I drew back the curtain and peered through the blind,
Excited and nervous at what I might find.

The moonlight shone down and reflected on metal,
I could see a small chap who looked in fine fettle,
It was Santa himself; the jolly young fellow,
But instead of his sleigh he rode a Cervelo!

He stopped right outside on my own garden path,
I saw him bend over and stretch out his calf,
A few aching strides ‘cross the frosted grass floor,
Then in his gel bike gloves he rapped at my door.

No traditional St Nick this was I did meet,
No red suit, no fur, no boots on his feet,
All in lycra he was on this cool Christmas Eve,
Piped with florescence on his legs and his sleeve.

I said “Santa! Come in and sit yourself down”
And he flopped on the chair with a sigh and a frown
“Oh Egg”, he said “I’m knackered and I just need a rest,
“I didn’t plan for my night to be an endurance test!”

“I’ve been trying all year to get fit and keep trim
“I even got all the elves to build me a gym,
“I thought I’d do a triathlon; swim, bike and run
“Now I train all the time, I’m addicted, it’s fun!”

“So we set off tonight, me, the deer and the sleigh,
“And Rudolph’s red nose was leading the way,
“Getting down chimneys was but a breeze,
“With no jelly belly I slid down with ease!”

“But this year with my health at the front of my mind,
“I didn’t eat and drink all the treats I did find,
“I couldn’t face eating all the mince pies and cake,
“I longed for a smoothie or a protein shake!”

“So Dasher Dancer and Prancer had all of the sherry,
“Comet Cupid and Vixen, by gosh were they merry,
“And Donner and Blitzen ate so many mince pies,
“They got drunk and lazy, they just couldn’t fly!”

“I thought very quickly, about the best thing to do
“I chose pedal power, so I grabbed the P2
“I knew I could go fast across mountains and moors,
“But you see Egg, the bike, it was meant to be yours!”

“So I’m sorry, I’ve trashed it, I’ve had punctures galore,
“I’ve slipped on the ice and I’ve crashed on the floor,
“I’ve bent the derailleur and there’s grit in the chain,
“I’ve cycled through blizzards and thick winter rain!”

Delivering presents by bike, well I was impressed,
I could see the poor bloke was trying his best,
“Santa” I said “I know just what you need,
“A toolkit, some tubes and a jolly good feed”

I made a huge meal of pasta which he threw down his trap,
Then I lubed up the bike while he took a short nap,
He awoke full of beans and free of those aches,
So we fixed up the bike with new tyres and brakes.

He got ready to leave but just before he went off,
I gave him some gels and some bars he could scoff,
Then I heard him exclaim, as he rode out of sight,
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Monday, 20 December 2010

Xmas Endurance

I have worked hard all year to get fitter and healthier than I've ever been, I've done more exercise than I ever previously thought possible and I've worn a one-piece lycra suit in public. Friends and family are all mightily impressed with what I have achieved and I’m quite chuffed with myself too. I can now swim, I’ve gained a wealth of skills on the mountain bike and the roadie and competed in a couple of triathlons. All that stuff is great, but where I really excel, is at the dinner table.

I don't care what anyone says, Christmas is an endurance event. Not just the day itself but pretty much the whole month of December. It takes a strong, well-trained gut and vast amounts of willpower to pack away the mountains of mince pies, incalculable units of alcohol, the myriad of multi-course meals, chunks of heavy Christmas cake and chocolate aplenty.

Tonight I shall be attending my sixth, yes, sixth Christmas meal/celebration. This will be my last one before the main event itself so the plan is to ensure that it is a quality training session. I have already been crowned “Queen of the Table” twice this month and I need to stay on top of the game.

As soon as I’m there, armed with silverware, the competitive edge comes out. I know I can be better and faster than the rest. Planning is essential; setting off at the right pace and holding back enough so that when the time comes make a move on that last honey-roasted parsnip, you will be ready. Reading your opponents is vital; waiting until they’re mentally weakened and physically fatigued then sweeping in for seconds.

Fast decision-making and quick, accurate movements are needed. You can establish an early lead over your rivals by selecting the best, crispiest roast potatoes and the most succulent cuts of meat before they’ve even decided whether or not to go with brussel sprouts.

Another consideration is the best way to stay hydrated. My preferred method is to maintain a steady inward flow of anything bubbly, with an occasional shot of something stronger when required.

Clothing should be comfortable and unrestrictive, and uncompression-wear is best for post-meal recovery (pyjama bottoms are an excellent choice).

Of course the January recuperation period will be particularly hard, but absolutely worth it for a winning festive season!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Being broke is no joke

So, despite all my joking to my mum about not being broken and those aforementioned "strong bones", it turns out that I do in fact have a fracture to the radial head, small though it may be. Sadly that means I have to be a bit careful with the arm, which means no last-minute New Year holiday in the Alps.

Suffice to say I have been a little bit grumpy as a result, but a chat with Nicky last night gave me some new motivation. It's all about figuring out what the limits are and what you can do. I knew immediately that I had new found enthusiasm because I had an attack of the munchies at around 9.30 last night and I managed to counteract it with three sticks of celery.

At the moment thanks to the help of AJ, my turbo trainer is set up in the front room (Liz if you are reading, it'll be gone by the time you get back on Saturday - promise) and turbo-ing is definitely possible without arms. This may even be how I learn to love it...

Leg strength is still a goer, I even got some impressed nods from hardcore types in the gym as I squatted away in my sling. The cross-trainer is possible too; but I have only just realised how much I normally use my arms for this, my legs burned this morning as I did a 40 minute session on there, arm-free.

I will tell you something though, if you notice a smell lingering.. it's not me, it's the sling. I think I may have to locate another one and keep this current one strictly for gym use only. The stale aroma of sweat impregnated in cotton is not one I care to share with those outside of the exercise environment!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Broken Eggs in Snowdonia

Happy scrambling
Before I start - mum, the title of this blog is meant as an amusing and witty alternative to the previous post's title and I really am not broken.. much.

Refreshed after a whiskey and exhaustion-induced slumber, I stepped outside with my coffee and gleefully admired the starry Snowdonian atmosphere knowing a clear blue sky and some outstanding views awaited us.

Stuffed full of porridge we headed for the Glyders; a range just north of Snowdon. Our first peak would be the 915m of Tryfan. You can't get up Tryfan without using your hands, it's all about the scrambling and climbing. Perfect for me then, I've never really mastered the whole 'balancing on feet' thing (as you'll be very aware of if you've known me for a while) and am a much sturdier unit if I can get my hands on the rock.

There's not really a walk-in to Tryfan, you get out of the car and you start climbing straight away, but as you get higher the route gradually gets tougher to negotiate. As we were on the North ridge, the sun hadn't melted away the ice and there was a lot of slippery rock about. Despite Liz's constant mantra of "Push through your feet, Egg. Your foot won't slip if all your weight is through it", I managed to mostly stay on all fours and ignore her completely. Whilst I knew her advice was sound and very sensible, I also knew I just wouldn't stay upright.

Push through your feet Liz!
Much to Liz's amusement, I was happier when we hit the proper climbing bits and had to pick our way up an exposed crack (I do love an exposed crack) or tricky chimney. Then we'd get to a rocky plateau that you just have to walk across and I'd be concentrating so hard you'd think I was on tightrope.

Just before she did
the "Radford Straddle"
At one point I tottered carefully across a flat bit, stepping tentatively on every dry rock I could find. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I stood on a nice big flat rock and as Liz turned around to say something my feet just skidded out from underneath me - it really is amazing how hard I have to try to stay upright.

We meandered upwards, trying to find areas that were free from ice, even if that meant going up and over more technical ground.

At 811m something bad happened. I was stood on a little platform, having a think about how I would get up this next bit of rock. It was a steep slant of rock with a few bits to grab hold of at the top. As if tempting fate, just before I stepped off the ground Liz said "What's the worse that can happen, you'll just slide off and end up back where you are".. So I scrabbled upwards and lurched for my last hand hold. Unfortunately it was icier than it looked and my hand slipped. Sure enough I did slide back down onto the platform (stop reading mum), but I landed unevenly and fell off sideways. Luckily I fell onto another platform just a metre or two below, but as I had reached out when falling, I had landed badly on my hand. I remember seeing my fingers contort and twist as I landed and I thought I must have broken them.

As I sat up, the pain was intense and a rush of light-headedness coursed through me. After checking I hadn't hit my head (which, I think is a first!) Liz sprang into action and got me sat on the rucksack and layered up. I couldn't really tell what it was that hurt but after a few minutes I could just about move my fingers. At some point I told Liz that "I probably haven't broken anything as I have very strong bones" but the point was, I couldn't move my arm and this wasn't a mountain we could walk off.

After a bit of time debating (mainly Liz debating with herself, as I was just rocking back and forth saying "I'm OK, it just really, really hurts" a lot), there was only one thing for it, we had to call in mountain rescue.

They were going to send a helicopter, there was no other way to get off. Liz kept me happy while we waited with the only sensible option, tea and food. When it turned up, I was amazed at the efficiency of the rescue team. My rescuer, Dave, came down on a cable and said those magic words "I think we'll get you some entenox".

They were going to winch Liz in first and fly her back, as it's more fuel-efficient to keep the helicopter flying about rather than hovering, and that would give Dave a chance to assess and secure me for the flight. Liz's 'harness' was effectively a padded loop that went under her arms. Dave said she should keep her arms by her side as she got winched up. I have never witnessed anybody go more stiff, I thought rigor mortis had set in as she got lifted into the helicopter!

I don't know what exactly happened next because I was high on entenox, but Dave thought I may have broken an arm or dislocated my elbow. So he immobilised it and got me into a lovely comfortable sitting chair harness for getting winched up.

I would have loved to appreciate the view of the mountains that we flew through but my head was pulsing with the marvellous feeling of gas, so much so in fact, that I nearly fell over when we stepped off the helicopter.

So we never made it up Tryfan, and it's now at the top of my tick list, but I think I'll try it again when all the ice has melted!

X-rays revealed no breaks luckily, but it's going to take a while for the tissue damage to heal from the impact and I have one finger that it's growing exponentially outwards. As Nicky said yesterday "You really will do anything to get out of swimming won't you?" She's not wrong!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Brocken Spectres in Snowdonia

I woke up with a start on Saturday morning in a mountain hut in Snowdonia. We had planned a weekend of wintry mountain fun and I was a teensy bit excited. You can understand my disappointment then, as I stepped outside only to hear the heavy pattering of water. I was moments away from having a rant to myself about "bloody Wales and it's stupid rainy weather" when I realised that actually it was just the noise of the river. Ideal.

After packing an array of spiky mountain tools into our rucksacks we drove up the Llanberis Pass, heading into what looked - incredibly - like a beautiful and bright winter's day. I was chuffed that my first trip up Snowdon was going to be a good weather day. As we ascended the Pyg Track, the snow thickened and gradually became hard packed and icy, the wind became gustier and the cloud loomed over, isolating us from the wondrous view beyond. 

"Walk like you've got a
massive sanitary towel in"
..was Liz's wonderfully wise advice
We stopped to don our crampons as the ground started to get tricky underfoot and at that point I couldn't care less that we couldn't see anything and it was blowing a hooley because, more importantly, I now looked like a full on, kick ass mountaineer.

Progress quickened as we crunched our way up the icy path, picking off the weak and the men who thought they were too hardcore for crampons.

As we neared the roof of Wales we battled through the cloud and were greeted with alpine-like sunshine. We looked down in amazement as the rainbow rings of a brocken spectre materialised on the grey layer beneath us for just a few moments.

Halo of the brocken spectre
The summit was bathed in glorious sunny rays and everybody that got there had the same inane grins on their faces, for a winter's day in Wales this really was absolutely spectacular. We picked a prime spot and scoffed down the obligatory malt loaf and cereal bars before beginning our descent.

Descending has never been a strong skill of mine and this was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most difficult descent of anything, ever, in my life. Loose snow and icy patches covered the mixed rock and scree so every single step was a step into the ankle-wrenching world of the unknown. My silence said everything, I was not happy with all the slip-sliding and zig-zagging. 

When we eventually got to the bottom I breathed an enormous sigh of relief and celebrated  the fact I had made it down alive with a bit of chocolate. I looked over in awe at the next obstacle in our route:  Y Lliwedd. This beast loomed over us with it's forboding rocky frontage. It looked almost impossible to get up, but a closer inspection revealed a playground of scramble-friendly pinnacles. My mood quickly lifted as I scampered up, sheer drops providing me with a steady flow of adrenaline. 

We stopped for a breather (and some tea) at the top of this absolutely superb scramble. The sun was just starting to dip a bit lower as we began our very careful descent. A few tired slips and bum slides followed until we hit the tarmac of the Miner's Path and had just enough energy left to route-march back. As we approached Pen Y Pass car park the bus pulled up and Liz - in what I can only describe as an act of energy-depleted delirium - broke into a run in her enormous mountain boots. If it wasn't for the awesome scramble that would have been the highlight of the day.

Completely exhausted we headed home for massive portions of pasta, chocolate and a drop of whiskey to finish off. These things are staple foods for mountaineers and aren't included in the "unhealthy" box when you've done a big winter day out in the hills! 

Stay tuned for day 2...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Egg and the Treacherous Turbo

The week after my birthday celebrations was like a feast of calorific indulgence. All the gifts of chocolate that needed to be gotten rid of (you can't just leave chocolate in the house: blasphemy) and enormous amounts of cake that I couldn't see go to waste, culminating in a gin and laughterfest with late-night cheese-munching when some old friends visited on Saturday.

The only other time that I have such huge, extended eating binges is when I'm poorly and sit at home, scoffing to make myself feel better. The difference this time round was that I managed to fit in some exercise around my eating. Those of you that have to fit in exercise around work will know that this can be tough, leaving you feeling drained. In fact - if anything - it enhanced my training, all that sugar and extra calories to burn. It just so happens that by a stroke of luck I chose the coldest week ever to wallow in all things cocoa, I'm sure this kept me a bit warmer than I would have been otherwise..

I met with friends and coaches-in-training - Leo and Nicky - on Friday. Nicky had offered to structure my training for me so that it yields greater results rather than my usual haphazard "just train as much as physically possible" approach. It's probably worth mentioning that we discussed the plan over two enormous, meat-filled pizzas.

The great thing about getting a plan from these guys is that they know me really well, they've known me since I started out in my healthy quest and since I first stepped onto a road bike. The bad thing about it is that they know me really well; including what I neglect in my training and what I always slack off on.

As such the plan included my hours of weight-training which I love. It also included three mandatory swims a week which - as I have shown in the past - will be a struggle. The other thing on the plan that kept cropping up was turbo training. 

As ice has coated the roads with it slippery nastiness, I have been doing hardly any cycling. I've hardly been doing any mountain biking either as Roxy is having some health problems and needs to see the doctor. With my plans for next year being heavily weighted on the side of cycling - it is time this was addressed.

A turbo trainer turns your bicycle into an indoor torture machine. It's sort of like spinning's evil twin. It was designed by someone utterly ridiculous as a way to make people hate their bikes. I've had good intentions in the past about getting on the turbo but made it to all of about 20 minutes before having a hissy fit and getting off. My plan includes turbo sessions of 2 and a half to 3 hours!

After failing to manage my planned turbo session on Sunday (due to a lack on motivation, brought on by aforementioned gin), I managed to squeeze an hour and a quarter in on Monday morning before work - I was knackered! Unlike a spinning bike you actually have to push ALL the time on a turbo to keep the cadence up.

I was chuffed that I'd managed to stay on the thing for that long though, so I'm raising a glass of gin to the turbo: here's to making it to 3 hours!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

More Cakey Confessions

Confession time. After doing so well to spend a considerable amount of time in the pool throughout November, it came to yesterday..the last day of the month. I needed to do 1 hour and 15 minutes to make my 10 hours target for the month.

It got to about 7pm and I was nearing the end of the Season 5 box set of 24. It was getting very exciting indeed, so I told myself I would finish this episode, then head off for my swim, then watch the last episode later. When the credits rolled I couldn't drag myself off the sofa and out into the baltic winter air, I needed to know how it was going to finish and to do that, I also needed snacks.

This is where it all went horribly wrong. The only snacks available to eat in my house at the moment are cakes, cakes and more cakes. I ate half, yes HALF a cheesecake.. as the episode reached it's climax my eating pace quickened and when I looked down I realised what I had done.

So not only did I miss my swim and my whole month's target, but I also ate approximately 8 million extra calories. Epic fail. 

On the upside, 8 hours and 45 minutes is still my biggest ever month of swimming, I now have space in the fridge for vegetables and the vast majority of cake (with the help of my coffee break work chums) is now gone.

I'm still considering what my December goal(s) shall be. Ideas on a postcard please!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Birthday Blow-out

This weekend - after 5 weeks of being awe-inspiringly healthy - I indulged. I mean really indulged. My sister and her husband made, at my request, a "mega roast". We do have a tendency in my family to make slightly too much food so had I requested just a normal roast I am quite sure this would have sufficed, but I was mentally prepared for a guttural blow-out and mega was what I wanted. They didn't disappoint; a joint of beef bigger than my torso and two chickens cooked over a winter blanket of vegetables, the most deliciously sweet honey-roasted parsnips, enough roast potatoes - complete with their mouth-wateringly crispy shells - to feed the village, a selection of gravy etc etc. There was no messing about either, this was all cooked with no-holds-barred.. even the carrot and swede mash had cream in it.

We finished with Kezza's "healthy carrot cake" but all healthiness was lost by the fact that we doubled it up with dad's home-made apple crumble and custard.

I won't even tell you about breakfast..

Not only did we eat lots of glorious food but we also consumed quite a respectable amount of booze too, as is customary on these family occasions. I was actually glad to get back home and enjoy a relaxed evening of tea and cakes without a drop of booze in sight.

Something happened when I started to make the cakes for my mini tea party; a sort of baking craze took over me and I couldn't stop making wondrous goodies. I baked triple chocolate brownies, and a marbled chocolate and vanilla cheesecake to go with the peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake we'd made at my sister's. Then I made a massive amount of tiffin to use up all the excess chocolate.

Then as a few friends arrived we had Hugo's marvellous millionaire shortbread (with the smoothest, most impressive chocolate top I have ever seen), Lianna's lemon cupcakes, Maz's cappucino cupcakes, AJ's white chocolate and chocolate chip enormous cake and Laura's orange squash cakes! This all added up to a lot of cake. A lot of cake.

Sadly that aforementioned marbled cheesecake wasn't even ready in time, so it's been sat in my fridge since I put in in to cool on Sunday evening. I just took the first slice, moments ago. It is heaven. I can't even describe in words the sheer pleasure I derived from putting it in my mouth. Wow. 

Now I'm hoping that people pop around to share the calories with me or else this is going to be one very fat week indeed!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Cool Commute

Once I'd looked outside this morning and heard the gentle chug of early commuters getting their cars warmed up, I knew it was going to be a chilly journey into work.

I layered myself up. A buff to cover my face was necessary, even though after a couple of minutes your face will be moist with your own breathy vapour, this is still preferable to wintry air coarsing into the lungs.

Once I'd faffed about and fiddled with my lights with frosty fingers, I set off cautiously. After five minutes I had resigned myself to the fact that my eyeballs were frozen open and that I had a huge ice cream headache without even a mere glance of any sort of frozen treat. Even my teeth were cold!

Then, I turned off into the country road and caught a glimpse of loveliness. Fields lined with a fine coat of ice lead my eyes to deep oranges burnt into the horizon. This fiery light lifted into a myriad of glorious purply red hues. As I pedalled up the hill I looked back over Salisbury to see the silhouette of the spire against a soft mauve expanse.

I forgot about the cold and cycled to work completely in awe of this crisp, stunning winter's morning.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Mountain Bike Skills For Riding Up Hills

As you know from numerous blog posts such as: "Roxy and the Nettles", "Egg and the Dangerous Black Cow", "Flatness", "STC Duathlon 2010" and "Battered, Bruised and Blinkin' Dirty", my degree of success in all things mountain bike related is slim to none. A ride is considered a triumph if I fall off no more than twice and only have one puncture.

Fortunately I'm not the only one out there lacking off-road finesse, so we arranged a basic mountain biking skills course with our local instructor, Colin.

Once we had spent the best part of an hour discussing the intricate details of changing an inner tube, we grabbed our bikes and headed for the dangerous and demanding terrain of.. a car park. In a moment of sheer comedy genius it was in fact the car park of a Medical Centre that we would be learning the essentials. Thankfully none of us needed medical attention as we mastered the ultimate biker's balancing act of the track stand (read "mastered" as "tentatively tried with lots of squealy noises").

We then rode into Shaftesbury and were faced with Gold Hill; famous for being the hill in the Hovis advert. It is a gloriously picturesque cobbled street. So quaint it is, that at first you don't notice the ludicrous steepness of it. After briefly admiring the view, the realisation hit that we were expected to cycle up this monster of a slope. I gritted my teeth and went for it. As the incline increased, the gears dropped and I was trying desperately to keep my bum in the saddle. I knew at this gradient if I tried to stand up I'd end up wheel-spinning and falling off - and the members of the public that were currently looking quite impressed would know I was actually a big loser. The tilt of the slope was so severe that it felt I was perilously close to falling backwards. I fought to keep the front wheel in contact with the ground on the last, even steeper section and breathed an enormous, wheezy sigh of relief as I topped out.

Once we'd all gotten to the top, Colin told us - with a massive smile on his face - that we'd be going back up it again later and we'd all find it loads easier apparently with our new "going uphill" skills. Everybody looked like they had just lost the will to live. 

We went on to learn all about correct gear selection, body positioning, the 'neutral' riding position and weighting and unweighting of the front wheel. This all culminated with us heading into the forest to practice our cornering on tight bends and moving about on varied terrain. It was all going so well until I somehow managed to lean the wrong way and perform what I thought was a wonderfully delicate slow-motion tumble into the leafy. forest floor.

The day finished back at the hotel with another dose of cakey temptation. I quietly ate my apple and pretended not to care that everyone else was enjoying big slabs of chocolate loveliness.

Despite not managing to stay upright - based on my aforementioned grades of accomplishment - the day was a resounding success with some excellent new skill acquisitions. Four hours absolutely flew by and as we overran we didn't have time to repeat Gold Hill with our new found ascending know-how - gutted!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

6 Months Later

Exactly six months ago I made a decision to ditch my unhealthy ways and try to become a superstar champion of all things healthy. I have tried to embrace healthiness and indulge in all sorts of new activities and eat wholesome, nutritious foodstuff.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that I'm pretty sure I am indeed fitter now than I was 6 months ago. But healthy? Maybe this needs to be more defined. Wordnet says:

"healthiness - good health: the state of being vigorous and free from bodily or mental disease"

As I am currently free from bodily and mental diseases (provided gluttony is neither) I suppose I am healthy. I was definitely being 'vigorous' this morning too in the gym; I'm absolutely thrilled to report that today I have achieved a long-standing goal of mine which is to be able to do proper chin-ups. This may sound a bit small and ridiculous in the grand scheme of things but for me this is a fitness milestone and I am chuffed to bits.

I have learned some important things so far in my healthy quest - so l share my newly discovered wisdom:

1. Contrary to prior belief, it is in fact possible to feel sick after eating too much (I hasten to add that this fact was discovered on a 'happy eating' day, but at least the lesson was learned).

2. It is actually possible to feel full from eating salad.. so long as you have the persistence to eat enough of it.

3. Never wear underwear on a long bike ride, unless you want to be in a world of chafe-related horror for days.

4. Celery is the most brilliant food once you find a way to make it fun.

5. Flashing lights and fluorescence may make you feel like a plonker, but they are absolutely necessary for waking up drivers when it's dark.

6. As soon as you can unwrap a kitkat and eat it whilst riding your bike, that is when you can call yourself a cyclist.

7. Black cows are the most dangerous animal in the New Forest, and probably even in the whole of the UK.

8. Rest IS important and it's okay to have a day when you do absolutely nothing. Just don't ever have 'happy eating' days on these days. 

9. If you DO go out and get trashed, it's possible to remain calorie neutral so long as you dance your socks off.. and don't eat a kebab.

10. No matter how strong your will is, it's impossible to say no when any member of your family wants to have a drink with you. But the laughter that ensues is so exuberant that you could probably write it off as core strength training.

Here's to another six months of being healthy!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Thou Shalt Not Give in to Temptation

Anybody who has spent any amount of time with me in the last few weeks will know that my thoughts are dominated with cake, chocolate and all those delicious desserts and treats I am not allowed. Cake has almost exclusively become my main topic of conversation, incredibly managing to overtake cycling and women - quite a feat!

Only retrospectively did I realise that I had blabbered on to Chris (who gives me a lift to work) for almost a whole journey about the best place in Salisbury to buy a Millionaire Shortbread; detailing the pros and cons of several cafes, shops and patisseries.

Only since being on this ban have I noticed how many opportunities there are (and how many I've missed!) for free treats. Last week at work there were no less than five chances for free cake. On Friday the cafeteria was dishing it out during afternoon tea break, which coincidentally is when my willpower is at it's weakest. I had to cut my break short and get outta there pretty sharpish otherwise I may have broken, I had mental images of something in my brain snapping and causing me to run and dive face first into the tray of cakes.

A new posh chocolate shop has opened in Salisbury too, and they were handing out free chocolate to everyone who went inside. I don't know why I didn't just walk straight past, but I couldn't. I was drawn in by the sweet scent of rich cocoa and just stood there admiring the enormous range of heavenly pleasures and imagining myself savouring such sumptuous sweets.

After torturing myself in the chocolate shop I was then given some sort of luxury hazelnut chocolate with my coffee in Neros, and then later I had dinner out and was given more free chocolates when we asked for the bill. Of course I'm becoming quite popular with friends for dishing out all my extras, but secretly I despise them and their treat-eating ways.

I've had doughnuts offered, a ridiculously delicious smelling lemon-drizzle cake and Halloween cupcakes. It's getting harder and harder to say no. 

The toughest one yet was on Saturday after a couple of hours cycling in the cold. Tamzin kindly made us teas and coffees and then brought out an amazing, fresh, soft chocolate cake that was just oozing sexuality. I lost track of the conversation as I just couldn't take my eyes off the cake. Thankfully Liz was also there so at least I wasn't going it alone and we could bathe in cake-related misery together.

There are only ten days of torment left now and I'm getting closer and closer to breaking point. So, if you see me wandering down the cake aisle in Tesco or going anywhere near that new chocolate shop, please don't hesitate to give me a shake and show me where the salad is!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A Very Wet Day on the Clarendon Way

Sunny spells. That is what the weather report said about today. I've been wanting to walk the Clarendon Way for quite some time, it's a 24(ish) mile path that links the two medieval cities of Salisbury and Winchester, Cathedral to Cathedral. I chose to do it today as the weather was looking good and I fancied a bit of fresh country air.

I caught the first train to Winchester and arrived just after 8am. It was a cool morning with a pretty winter mist blanketing the city, but I detected a bit of blue in the sky and happily went on my way. 

Anybody who has ever attempted any sort of route that starts in a city will know that the hardest thing is actually finding the start. Luckily as this starts at the Cathedral it's quite an obvious landmark, but even once you get there you need to figure out what sign you're looking for. Once I found it though, I was off and venturing through suburban Winchester.

I must say I wasn't fully inspired by the route, it was mostly following roads that were a bit too small for cars but that cars were using anyway. Saying that I think it would be a great route do to on a mountain bike, as you can easily navigate around the footpaths. Speaking of navigation, if you are going to do this route you should definitely bring a map - I missed the tiny green signs on several occasions and could have gotten very lost if I wasn't checking the map regularly. Some junctions had whacking great signposts and others were totally hidden.

There was a section on the way up to Farley Mount that I reckon would have been a spectacular viewpoint had it not been for that winter mist, which was no longer "pretty" but "soggy". After about two hours I started to feel a very gentle precipitation, "it'll pass, the weather map was definitely clear for today" I thought to myself.

I went as far as I could with ignoring the rain before I begrudgingly had to get the waterproof jacket out, the clouds must have been holding out for me to do this as within minutes it was bucketing down. I was mildly amused that I had managed to choose this particular day to take on this walk, a bit of rain doesn't hurt though.

Another hour later and I was starting to have a sense of humour failure. The rain was still hammering down and I still had quite a way to go. What had been a path was becoming a series of large, puddley obstacles. I trudged on, still with the hope that it would clear up.

Another hour passed, I'd done about 14 miles. My fingers tingled with cold and rain was dripping from my eyelashes, I decided enough was enough. This was meant to be a pleasant wander in the country, not an endurance challenge. I took a detour at the next village and started looking for an alternative route home. I came across a bus shelter, but of course there are no buses on a Sunday. So I found some local taxi numbers but none of them had any availability. I called my sister so she could look up some more taxi companies, but between us we managed to find lots of wrong numbers and very, very busy cab firms.

I was losing the will, but then I somehow managed to blag a lift with a lady who was getting into her car and heading to Andover, ideal. I could get a train from there and get home. In another stroke of luck my Dad was driving back from London and picked me up on the way through, I was so thankful I took him to a cafe for a nice hot lunch.

Lesson learned. Never, ever trust the weather report.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Eating Raw Vegetables

Raw Foodism is kicking off. Whilst I think it's a good concept, I cannot advocate "going raw", mainly because I have a lot of love for things that are cooked and couldn't live without big chunks of meat and cake.

I have however, experimented with some raw food treats in recent times. Raw food brownies were a great success (effectively blended and squashed dates, nuts and pure cocoa) and I have discovered that avocado lends itself very well to a number of developmental desserts as an alternative to butter and/or cream.

Eating some food raw is definitely better for you in my opinion, as you get the full nutritional value that diminishes with cooking. Not only that but I reckon if your body is busy digesting, it is probably spending less time telling you you're hungry. Vegetables and fruit are the obvious (and safest!) choices. So with this in mind, I set out making myself a dinner of raw vegetables to see how satisfying it would be.

Admittedly the actual reason I did this was that I had loads of veg leftover in the fridge as well as remnants of a few bits of dip from the weekend, and as I was feeling a bit lazy, it was a quick and easy feast to make. Not only that but as yesterday was a full on rest day I figured a super healthy dinner would be a good idea.

I always have an idea that I could be really good and 'fill up' on salad. Realistically though, this never happens. You never get full from salad you just get bored of eating it and then half an hour later you go on the hunt for biscuits. The only salads that do fill you up are ones that are full of meat or come with huge wedges of bread, and that sort of defeats the object of the game. 

My vegetable feast however, was surprisingly filling. I had a combination of a celery, carrots, cauliflower and peppers and I was actually amazed that I felt full. It must've been all that raw food digestion! Or it could have been the dips. Chunky houmous probably did help a bit. 

I did unearth some brilliant veg'n'dip combos. Cauliflower and salsa - awesome. Celery with sour cream and chive is a goer. Just for reference, celery and guacamole is NOT good, don't mix the green. In fact guacamole didn't really work with any of it and should definitely be left out of any future vegetabley ventures.

Luckily today I'm back on the exercise, and as much as I enjoyed my colourful veggie dinner, I am looking forward to something more warm and hearty this evening!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

STC Off-Road Duathlon 2010

I'd agreed to take part in the off-road duathlon on a whim a few weeks ago. The tiny powerhouse Nicky Yevko and I had decided we would enter a relay team with her completing the run legs and me on the mountain bike.

"17km on the bike... easy Sunday morning" I was thinking to myself. Oh how wrong I was. I woke up this morning and peered apprehensively out the window to discover it had been a wet night. I knew it was going to be a slippery, muddy course. I loaded up my belly with a suitably large breakfast for a cold, soggy November morning.. then ate a bit more.. then I was ready to go.

Fortunately the sky cleared and we had lovely sunshine to race under, it was still bloomin' cold though and I was hopping about like a mad thing to stay warm whilst I waited for my team mate to finish the first run. I didn't have to wait long, the Yevko is a running demon and she put us in a good position.

Sadly when it comes to mountain biking I am not a speed demon. I'm barely even an able-to-stay-on-the-bike demon. After no more than five minutes I'd managed to stack it, skidding out at the first sign of deep mud. As far as things to fall into go, thick mud and leaves are definitely up there with the best of 'em and as soon as I'd managed to uncleat my feet and peel myself out of the filth trap, I was away - amused and unfazed. I remained amused and unfazed the second time, and the third time too. The fourth time I managed to throw myself off in quite a spectacular fashion and as luck would have it, fellow Tri-Club member Sean Dukes was right behind me so I even had the chance to cheer him on from the ground as he whizzed past (after checking I was alright, obviously). At this point it was almost impossible to get back on the bike so I ran her up the hill and jumped on again when it flattened out.

As soon as this first bit of particularly slippery trail was over I regained my balance and pedalled my heart out along the drove (which is nice and solid and flat), cruising through endless puddles and loving the feeling of mud in my eyes, ears, mouth.. and possibly nostrils. 

The route then veered off into the woods and there were a few members of the public out for their Sunday lunchtime walks to avoid. If you time it just right you can coat them with a fine layer of foresty sediment - very enjoyable.

There was a classic moment on the woodland trail where I was headed straight for a puddle (as is customary on a mountain bike) and it wasn't until it was too late that I realised it was deeper than I expected with a high ridge on the far side. I sped up and hoped the motion would carry me straight up the lip rather than over the handlebars. Luckily, it did. I did however, hit the ledge with such a force that an enormous stream of snot shot out of my nostrils. Once I'd finished chuckling to myself I managed to wipe it all from my chin so as not to horrify the next marshall.

Bring it on Jon!
Out of the woods and down a superb bit of trail cut into the side of a hill, superb that is, until you hit the switchback and it quickly shoots uphill again. Once this bit was over though it was back onto the drove and before you know it, you're sailing down the last bit of singletrack and out into the village. Once I was back on the wonderful hard road I powered up the legs and flew as fast as I could back to the transition area. Nicky was waiting eagerly and was gone like a shot before you could say "high-five".

Thankfully there are no pictures of
what I looked like from the front
I cleaned myself up - which mainly involved washing dirt out of my facial orifices - and felt the heat rushing back into my legs. Armed with a flask of coffee and slightly disappointed that I couldn't scoff down the fun-size mars bar from my goody bag, I headed outside to cheer people over the finishing line. Nicky came sprinting in like a true pro and was barely out of breath. I was thankful we were on the same team..

All in all a great local event and definitely one to do next year. I think I might have to get myself some winter tyres that provide a bit of grip, or I could just learn to ride a bike properly (mountain bike skills course coming up in a couple of weeks, clear your diaries so you can visit me in the hospital).

Friday, 5 November 2010

Remember Remember, No Cake in November

October - on the whole - was a month of ups and downs (literally, if you've read my last couple of posts). Starting with some positives: I trashed the bike goal of 500 miles, which I am really chuffed about. In total I spent around 47 hours and 24 minutes in some sort of saddle if you include a few spinning classes.

I managed to lose my 5lbs - just. The weekly weigh-ins at work have been a good motivation but the giving up of chocolate, cake and biscuits has been key, so hopefully the weight loss should continue, at least until 26th November when the fast finishes and I gorge on five weeks worth of treats! By the end of November the goal is to lose another 4lbs, and I plan to do that not through hours and hours of exercise but through eating really healthily. Prepare yourselves for some weird and wonderful culinary concoctions. I even went to Tesco last night and bought cabbage, I mean business!

The swimming goal didn't quite come to fruition. I didn't manage my three times a week. I would love to give the excuse that my burn to the hand stopped me mid-October but realistically that only stopped me briefly and then once I lost my rhythm I slacked off a bit. I did however, do more than double the amount of swimming that I did the previous month. Slowly but surely I am getting better at making myself go. This is the big goal for November, over the course of the month I want to do 10 hours worth, which doesn't sound like a huge amount but it will be more than I have ever done in a month before (so far June takes it with 7 hours 15 mins, the majority of which was in glorious open water). So if anybody sees me hesistating or wussing out, please do give me an encouraging kick up the backside!

Unfortunately my dodgy knee is being particularly naughty at the moment, so running looks like it's still off the cards and I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to wave goodbye to Hellrunner at the end of the month. I'm absolutely gutted as I've been gearing myself up for it for ages and it was a bit of an 'ultimate running goal' for me. I will however, be upping the glute work and shooting for that "buns of steel" status under the physio's recommendation.

I'm also going to tone down the cycling a little to give the knee some time to rest, and when I say tone down I mean take it nice and easy on the bike pace-wise and no mega big long rides. With all that in mind, I should be able to fit in the swimming, and I will have  to be super healthy in the eating if I want to make my weight loss goal.

So, in summary. Lots of swimming, lots of bun clenching, and lots of lovely healthy grub... who says a life of excess is bad for you?!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Taming the Exmoor Beast

The Exmoor Beast is a cycling event renowned for its tough climbs and descents. I had entered it excitedly after listening to Leo and Nicky saying how brilliant it was. We all signed up for the 100km (66mile) route, which takes in somewhere around 1700m of elevation gain.

I had good intentions all summer of doing a few organised rides but for one reason or another, these never came to fruition so the Beast was my first venture into the wonderful world of cyclosportive.

Every cyclist I spoke to kept talking to me about my gears and getting the right ratios for those sorts of hills and blah blah blah. I had no idea what they were talking about, and to be honest I didn’t think I would have a problem with my current gears; I hardly ever go into the easiest one as it is. However, just over a week before the event I did start to get concerned as more and more people were doing that annoying sharp intake of breath thing when I told them what gearing I’d be using.

After another chat with the long-suffering Leo and Nicky, we eventually came to the conclusion that it might be easier to do the ride on the mountain bike as there are so many more gears available. Then to my surprise and delight, Leo announced he had gotten hold of an appropriately sized cassette (the cogs on the back... I didn’t know either) that would work for this course AND he would fit it on for me – awesome.

So I took Bianca over to have her new cassette fitted. As soon as Leo looked at it he realised there was a problem. The problem was that I am apparently unable to count; I had told him I had a seven-speed rather than an eight-speed. Luckily with a bit of shifting around and engineering genius, he made it fit and we were ready to tackle the beast. I still wasn’t completely convinced that this marginally different sized metalwork would make any difference to my ride but I really do know absolutely nothing about bicycle mechanics and if anything, at least it was new and shiny.

Before we arrived at our B&B on Saturday, we took a little detour to have a look at the first climb that we would be coming to the next morning. The realisation hit me. This really was going to be a tough ride. A gradient of 1:6 was awaiting us less than 5 miles in on a muddy, thin and wet leaf covered road leading up to Dunkery Beacon.

I knew one thing for sure; we needed to be properly fuelled for this. We hit the pub-grub and I managed to stay strong and avoid dessert whilst all around me cheesecake and ice-cream was flowing. With a full stomach and a head full of nervous excitement, I hit the sack and made the most of the extra hour in bed.

With fuelling still on my mind (surprise surprise) in the morning, I had myself a lovely three course breakfast and just prayed I wouldn’t be regurgitating sausage halfway up that first incline.

We set off gently; my plan was that I would try not to go too fast at the start so that I had enough left at the end. As soon as I turned the corner into the Dunkery Beacon road that plan went out the window, mostly because it’s impossible to take it easy going up there. You either have to give it everything you’ve got or give up and walk. It was at this point I became eternally thankful for the extra gears. I bottomed out immediately, got my head down and just pushed for the top.

I eventually made it, and I think it’s quite possible that my heart has never worked that hard. I could feel my whole body pulsating and a wash of adrenaline-filled elation swept over me, yes this was only the first hill of many but this one was achievable, me and my bottom gear could probably do anything!

The next bit was a narrow, winding affair that I imagine is absolutely cracking when it’s dry but the wet leaves and mud were making every corner a dicey one. This didn’t last long though, before I knew it the gradient started to build again and the pace slowed. You celebrate the end of this endless elevation by popping over a cattle grid and once you emerge from the trees you realise you’re right up on the moors. I glanced down at my GPS and was horrified to see that in just over an hour of really hard cycling, I’d managed to travel all of about 8 miles (about 13km). This was going to be a long day.

The next bit was absolutely superb, a meandering road drifting through the fog, I’m sure it would have been gorgeous if you could see any of the countryside but I was enjoying the road itself because it was flat and it was fast. I’d soon forgotten all of the pain I’d suffered in the first hour!

At the 2 hour mark I checked the GPS again, I’d done 40km. I had to check again. Now that was a much more reasonable pace. I worked out that if I could keep up an average pace like that and just push a bit harder I could maybe even get the gold standard time of 4hr55mins.

The rest of the ride took in gorges, quaint villages, lots of fun chats with other cyclists, a crazy steep 25% descent that was the most awesome bit of downhill I’ve ever seen on a road bike and some brilliant moments of overtaking men with enormous calves on their carbon bikes – marvellous.

I reached the sign that said there were only 10 miles until the end. I had 40 minutes to make it. I started pushing harder up the hills and then there was a great section of fast back roads, I was absolutely flying and loving it. However, moments before the 5 mile marker I managed to skid out on a bend and hit the tarmac. Two cyclists in front stopped to see if I was ok, and thankfully, I was. I brushed off the muck and cautiously got back on the bike. My legs were shaking uncontrollably from the shock of coming off but the urge to make the cut off was strong and once I managed to cleat my quivering feet back in, I was going for it.

I pulled into the finish completely and utterly exhausted. My heart and lungs were actually aching. I went to find out what my time was and was ecstatic with 4hours 49mins and 47 seconds. We piled up our plates with lovely carvery on the way home (still dessertless, boo) and I was dead to the world until the next morning.

It’s Wednesday now and I still ache, but it was totally worth it and I’m already gearing up for next year and busy scouting the internet for other sportives I can take part in.

The final count for October bike miles was 580 too, well over the 500 I’d wanted to do! I think November could be the month of leg resting..