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In Praise Of The Mini Adventure

Just enough luggage
Glorious mornings
Calm days
Moody evenings
Back roads
Basic shelter from a hedge
Open store shelter
Trails
Quiet canals
Cold winter tracks
Getting ready for bed
Night lights
Well earned breakfasts

There’s a seemingly inexhaustible supply of aspirational features in the media telling of remote adventures into the wilderness or continent crossing epics, of living life beyond the confines of an average adult’s lifestyle.

Whilst it might seem wonderful to indulge in a similar adventure for ourselves practically speaking this is going to be a very big ask for most working adults and, in reality, something only a very few are fully committed to do.

These stories may seem to imply that only such wild, grand adventures are of any importance or benefit. This maybe true if you’re wanting to sell articles, magazines or gain sponsorship but if you simply wish to enhance your life then nothing could be further from the truth.

The Oxford Dictionary defines adventure as:

  • An unusual and exciting or daring experience.”

That’s a broad definition but note the key ingredients are simply “unusual”“exciting” or “daring” and its not hard to find those ingredients.

Balancing the typical adult demands of work and family can make disappearing off for weeks or days on end unacceptably or irresponsibly unusual.

There is no reason to feel too saddened or trapped by any of that as you can still derive great benefit from remarkably fine adventures very close to home, wherever that maybe.

Short bike packing trips can be the perfect mini adventure. Set off alone on a Friday night and ride into the darkness for as many hours as you wish and then camp out before riding home again taking as long as you wish. Riding well into the night is pretty unusual for most cyclists and just sleeping in a bivi or makeshift shelter, is pretty darn unusual for most people period. Riding any distance alone isn’t very common either.

Things happen when you do something like this. Being alone on a bike forces you to confront yourself and listen to your anxieties or inane mind chatter. That can be uncomfortable because you may discover you’re probably a little more neurotic than you ever wanted to believe! The “stuff” that you may normally, subconsciously, avoid facing by immersing yourself in a hectic life with endless distractions can now make it’s presence felt.

No matter, you now get to enjoy all the benefits of adventure therapy out alone on your bike. Riding a bike demands you focus your mind on the road, traffic, navigation, and staying safe but at the same time there is also a sense of space for you to think clearly. I feel it focuses me in two directions.

As the hours pass you can find clarity about other challenges in your life and learn to quiet the nonsensical ramblings of the mind. You feel more exposed riding alone at night but you also feel an increased sense of freedom. You experience a heightened sense of your vulnerability but your also get a greater sense of your strength. Sleeping in a bivi bag can feel claustrophobic or safe and snug. Every experience can feel good or bad, being alone on the road heightens your every sense of this, and continually challenges your resolve to choose to make the best of everything.

Or maybe not, you may hate it and swear never again but either way you’ll be far wiser and than if you’d never left…

 

Saddle Quest ~ In Search Of Enduring Comfort

 

In this post I share what I’ve learnt about saddle comfort.

I’ve been cycling since I was a kid as a way to stay fit or get about locally. It is only in the last year that I’ve been riding regularly for several hours at a time or even days on end. My biggest single challenge with any of this has been dealing with saddle discomfort.

The cycling industry doesn’t like to put newcomers off by dwelling on this but it can take months to fully acclimatise your sit bones to the demands of sitting upon a bike saddle for hours on end.

As a new cyclist you have to begin slowly in order to accustom your bum to the saddle experience; no matter what brand or design of saddle. Just complete very short rides on alternate days to begin with, there are no shortcuts, it simply takes time for your tissues to develop and adjust to this new demand.

A gradual process is fine for acclimatising your sit bones but if you’re also experiencing numbness and tingling in your soft tissues then something else needs to be done as you can never acclimatise to that. Such tingling or numbness can lead to longterm issues and needs to be taken seriously. (One long five day endurance trip I took lead to months of discomfort but fortunately no lasting issues.)

Some things I’ve learnt..
  • Tilting a saddle down to reduce perineal pressure tends to place more weight onto your hands as you stop yourself sliding forward. This can lead to nerve pressure resulting in numb fingers or cyclist’s palsy.
  • Saddle width needs to be matched to sit bone width. Wide (130mm+) sit bones on a narrow saddle particularly cause soft tissue pressure.
  • A professional bike fit is money very well spent. I had an in depth hour long fit and follow up fit with Kernow Physio that included video analysis and physiological measurements to get an optimum starting position. A follow up session some months later further refined this. The whole process gave me an understanding of the dynamics my bike position, ideas on how I can improve aspects of my strength and flexibility as well as insight into how I can make further micro adjustments if necessary. Get a professional bike fit, no online article or video is any kind of substitute. Scott at Kernow Physio say this about the importance of also combining physiotherapy assessment with a bike fit. “…Full Physiotherapy assessment: This is a key asset to Kernow Physio as one of the most important aspects of a bike fit is understanding how the client moves. And experienced Physiotherapy knowledge certainly helps this. Kernow Physio is one of the few bike fitting companies to be run by a fully chartered Physiotherapist. Key assessment areas include flexibility, true leg length discrepancy, restriction of hip, knee and ankle movement, and a footbed assessment if required.” It worked for me.
  • Even just a few millimetres of adjustment (of many different components) can make a significant difference.
  • What feels comfortable for 4 hours may not prove so comfortable on much longer rides.
  • Good core strength stabilises the pelvis and back which aids comfort. It’s necessary to cross train and combine other exercises beyond cycling to support longterm cycling comfort and endurance. With strong, flat abdominal muscles your pelvis tilts forward less and reduces perineal soft tissue pressure.
  • There is no one size fits all solution. Seek the best advice but also trust your judgement; only you really know what is right for you. Very few experts in bike fit or coaching actually have much experience with unsupported ultra distance cycling.
Saddles I’ve tried – in order

Selle SMP Extra

Used on my previous bike. I had high hopes for this but try as I may I couldn’t get a comfortable position with it.

 

 

 

 

 

Stock Genesis saddle

This came with my Datum bike but didn’t work well for me.

 

 

 

 

Brooks Cambium C15 Imperial

I so wanted this saddle to work for me. I love how it looks and initially it did seem very comfortable but after over 1000+km of testing I had to give up on it. It was Ok when riding up on the hoods but in the drops or on TT bars my nether regions went to sleep (I think the non cutout version maybe better as it should result in less sagging in the middle)

 

Ergon SRS-M

This at first seemed like the solution to my problems but again I couldn’t get a fit that allowed for comfort and blood flow in an aero position using the drops or TT bars without tilting the saddle nose down. Any nose down saddle position had me putting too much weight on my hands to stop me sliding forward. This then lead to nerve constriction and numbness and tingling in my fingers.

 

 

Selle SLR 

This is the saddle endurance cycling supremo Kristof Allegaert uses and having watched him cross Australia on one during the IPWR I thought it was worth a try. Once again I had the same issue of needing excessive downward saddle tilt to maintain blood flow in more aggressive riding positions which lead to excess hand pressure.

 

Infinity Seat N series

Aside from perineal pressure there is also the issue of saddle sores where your sit bones make contact. I haven’t suffered particularly badly with this but it’s something I’d idealy avoid. I read many glowing reviews about the comfort of this saddle and it’s design intrigued me. Sadly, my sit bone width at circa 130mm resulted in my sit bones resting, very uncomfortably, exactly on the edges of the cutout rather than within it. I could also tell that even if this wasn’t the case that I was still going to have perineal pressure issues. Another one for eBay and a real shame that  http://infinitybikeseat.com don’t provide better pre-purchase sizing guidance.

 

ISM PN 1.1

Success! This is the saddle I rode the 2017 TAW race on with virtually no blood flow or nerve issues and only mild saddle sores. I find I can move around a lot on this, but still stay comfortable, depending on whether I’m on the hoods, drops or TT bars. The pressure on my pubic rami bones took a few weeks to get used to but then I was set. It’s not quite perfect but certainly the best I’d found until I upgraded to the new PN 3.0.

 

ISM PN 3.0

This is a seriously good saddle for my needs. Virtually zero blood flow issues riding in any position. Compared with the PN 1.1, the wider back offers more pelvic support and allows me to sit back onto my sit bones if I want. The slightly different to curve to the top of the saddle fits my anatomy better. Small changes compared with the PN 1.1 have resulted in even better comfort. There maybe more comfortable saddles to be had but I’m content with this and no longer looking elsewhere. My focus now is on managing friction and eliminating saddle sores. Check out ISM’s design theory here.

 

Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve found this useful and wish you happy, comfy riding.

WGC Day 2 – The silly one

Day #2
Distance 160.1 Mi, Moving Time 15:03:55, Climbing 8,061 ft, Ave Temp 6c 43F

Day 2 dawned and I awoke happily warm and, remarkably, somewhat drier than when I’d wriggled into my little bivi cocoon 5 hours or so earlier.

My weather check the day before had suggested that sunshine and unfavourable northeasterly winds were to be the order of the day. Right now though it was bitterly cold and anything but sunny.

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Managing Weight Loss

My typical breakfast. 3-4 eggs plus blanched fresh green veggies and mushrooms with oil and butter.

Nutrition and diet is a massive subject with any number of highly qualified experts offering equal and opposite opinions as what we should eat and particularly what we should eat for athletic performance.

I don’t claim to be any kind of an expert but I am able to report on what is working for me. A few years ago I became increasingly aware that I was slowly gaining weight to spite eating an apparently healthy, clean, mostly vegetarian diet with very little processed food and few bad habits. Was I just getting old? Was this inevitable? Yes I’m getting older for sure but surely that does not have to mean getting fat and slow.

Extra weight is no help for my preferred sport of windsurfing and is certainly no help for cycling either. Something had to be done!

It so happened that around this time I’d been noticing many positive mentions of Wheat Belly on Facebook and decided to look a little deeper.

Wheat Belly‘s Dr Davis (A cardiologist) states that:

“Over 80% of the people I meet today are pre-diabetic or diabetic. In an effort to reduce blood sugar, I asked patients to remove all wheat products from their diet based on the simple fact that, with few exceptions, foods made of wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods. Yes, that’s true for even whole grains. More than table sugar, more than a Snickers bar. Organic, multigrain, sprouted–it makes no difference.”

That’s quite a thought and if you study “Wheat Belly” it you’ll find that Dr Davis offers some very convincing reason to seriously question eating wheat. However being a little distrustful of American “fad diets” and authors becoming rich and famous on the back of them I read a little further into the subject of grains and hit upon the Paleo Diet.

“The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors.”

The idea being that humans have evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years to eat and digest “pre-agricultural” foods and that these foods still represent our optimum nutrition. You hear of very few people who are meat or vegetable intolerant but many have real problems with wheat and dairy.

Eating predominately nutrient dense single ingredient foods simply makes good intuitive sense to me as does the idea of avoiding refined and processed foods where possible.

If you dig further into the why’s and wherefore’s of these diets you can get embroiled into all manner of plausible arguments for and against and backed up by scientific studies either way. I find all that somewhat exhausting, much like researching the existence of UFO’s or covert illuminati governments and other conspiracy theories. The only certainty is that we cannot depend upon “Government guidelines” to accurately guide us in any area of our lives!

I prefer to make an informed choice, trust my instincts, try things out and gauge the results. I don’t have any health issues or obvious food intolerances that I need to consider.

To this end in September 2013 I drastically reduced my bread, pasta and fruit consumption and increased my fish, meat, fat and vegetable consumption. I quickly lost weight and felt far more energised. I went from 89kg down to 83kg by Christmas that year.

It was a fairly effortless process as I simply felt less hungry on this diet and quickly stopped craving bread and toast, though I did not stop eating bread and grains altogether. The hard part was, and still is, dealing with the convenience of just grabbing a sandwich or a slice of toast etc. particularly when away from home.

However in the years since then my weight gradually climbed back to over 88kg by August 2016 as old bread and pasta habits crept back in.

It was in July of 2016 that I began riding my bike more and thinking increasingly about improved fitness and weight loss again. This slowly progressed to me going full on into signing up for TheTransatlanticWay race.

Getting trim is a bit different this time round as I am now expending 30,000.00+ calories a month training. However I am now back down to a lean 83kg and targeting 80kg or lower as my race weight.

To achieve this I’ve applied principles that make rational sense to me but don’t demand rigid weighing out of my food or calorie counting and the like. I simply eat combinations of nutrient dense single ingredient whole foods with few grains and fairly low carbs.

Post ride I quaff a whey protein drink or some roast chicken plus some fruit but otherwise I’m still on a low-ish carb paleo-ish diet of wholesome simple and mainly organic foods. No sports drinks, gels, bars and other sports nutrition industry paraphernalia. I feel great and am losing weight and gaining strength month by month without cravings, harsh hunger ignoring self-discipline or others challenges.

As of writing this the race proper is about 13 weeks away and I am now researching and planning more refined nutrition strategies for that because I am acutely aware that fuelling adequately for multiple long, long days in the saddle is very different to my current day to day needs and training rides.

A lower carb diet allows your body to adapt to using fat for fuel rather than carbs. I want to optimise my fat for fuel metabolism in a balanced and sustained manner that let’s me enjoy the ride and does not require me to be chowing down handfuls of Haribo, Mars bars, doughnuts and other high calorie low nutrition junk.

I’m undertaking a very long 4 day “rehearsal” ride in a couple of weeks and shall report back on progress after that.

 

 

 

The Week That Was

As seen from the King Harry Ferry on Saturday’s ride.

It’s been a scenic week out on the road with plenty of photo moments. I’m currently training 5 days in 7. Monday and Tuesday’s workouts are on the trainer indoors and targeting very specific power zones and cadences for about an hour. Wednesday sees a longer 2-3hr ride on the road, again targeting particular power levels etc. Thursday is then a recovery day. Friday calls for a more intense 1:30hr road ride.  Saturday is my long ride day with 4-5hrs on the bike where I am still working on certain zones and cadences but I view it as the icing on the cake at the end of the week where I get to simply enjoy being out on the bike.

Sunday is then reserved for family and catching up with other stuff.

The always scenic Gweek

 

I made the decision early on to enlist the help of a professional trainer to help get me cycle fit efficiently. I find having someone independent monitoring my progress also helps with the discipline needed to follow through with training week after week and avoiding the temptation to skip rides due to other priorities or general laziness. I felt that having expert guidance and a defined structure to work to was something that would really make a difference for me and add interest. I’m happy to say that working with Martin Burrows from KOM Coaching has been excellent; he lives and breathes cycle coaching, and has more knowledge than I could ever gain by reading articles online or following generic training programs.

The sun fighting through

Last Saturday’s ride was probably the best of the year so far, with spells of warm sunshine, light winds and quiet dry roads. Since October I’ve been predominantly riding to the west of Cornwall, around the Lizard Peninsular or across to Portreath, Hayle and Land’s End. I doubt I’ll ever tire of the spectacular scenery around those parts but as the months have past many of the roads have become quite familiar. I fancied something different for my Saturday ride this week and plotted a route out to the Roseland Peninsular taking in St. Mawes and Pendower. A day that was forecast to be drab and overcast turned out remarkably sunny.

Waiting for the ferry. Red bike, red railings…

I could have happily spent hours strolling around St. Mawes with my camera but as this is training rather than touring I mostly limit my photo moments to brief food, drink and stretch stops. I had to have a pause by the castle.

You can view my route, lots of hills, lots of wonderful Cornish scenery and mostly quiet roads. I think I’ll keep exploring eastwards and the Roseland Peninsular in the coming weeks; the landscape is softer, greener and feels more spring-like and there’s still plenty of hills.

 

An introduction…

Greetings!

My name is Chris Jackson and I’ve entered my first ever cycle race at age 57.

Not your average event however, it’s-

The TransAtlanticWay race is a 2500 km, one stage, self-supported road bike race between Dublin and Cork via The Wild Atlantic Way.”

I made this decision and signed up on the 29th September 2016 and then marked the occasion by riding my longest ever ride of 170km with 2100+m of climbing the following day.

Why you may wonder? Well, I’ve had a lot of challenges and uncertainty with my business over the last couple of years and really felt the need for a change, for a totally different kind of adventure and focus.

This style of solo self supported cycle racing really inspires me, aside from the weather and the vagaries of whatever may happen on the road I’ll be solely reliant on my wits and preparation to succeed; there’ll be nobody else to fault or rely on. It’s a truly personal challenge.

I’m writing this blog as part of promoting the fundraising side of my entry but also to encourage anybody else who might be considering a similar adventure particularly if they’re at the point where age 40 or 50 is starting to feel quite some while ago.

I’ll be posting regular updates about my training, nutrition, equipment and general tales from the scenic roads here in Cornwall as well as anything else that inspires or seems relevant.