Cycling in the fat lane

A mountain bike leaning against a milestone
My Giant mountain bike, this morning, leaning against a milestone two miles outside Crail.

A couple of weeks ago I was re-reading Leo Babauta’s excellent book Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction in which he encourages people to slow down, reduce the number of things you are doing and focus on just one.

That was something I needed to hear again.

My mind had been spinning for weeks with the number of small projects that I was running at the same time; some web projects, some writing projects. I’d reached a point of stalemate, a mental impasse, where I couldn’t decide which one I should prioritise, which I should work on next. They all excited me. I wanted to do them all. And in the end I was doing none of them.

So I took Leo’s advice to heart and began to simplify and reduce, and in my deliberations I realised the one thing that I really needed to focus on to the exclusion of everything else: get fit. My health had to be my number one priority.

Children

Before Reuben and Joshua were born in November 2008 I spent a lot of time on my bike, and with my dumb bell weights, and I lost a lot of weight. I dropped about 5-6″ off my waist. I wanted to get fit so that I could play with my children. I wanted to get fit so that I have every chance of improving my own quality of life so that I wouldn’t die young of heart disease or kidney failure or whatever.

And then Reuben and Joshua arrived, and a few years later Isaac joined them, and I’ve pretty much not slept for the best part of three and a half years (averaging probably around 3-5 hours of broken sleep a night for most of that time). And my weight gradually crept up again as I ate at odd hours, or ate high calorie foods just to keep myself awake.

Summer 2011

Last summer I made the decision to get fit again. We were having issues with who needed the car (we went down to one car after the boys were born) and so I decided to cycle to work. My office in St Andrews is almost exactly 10 miles from our house in Anstruther.

That was going well until…

Back

In September 2011 I was cutting the grass and taking a break I sat on a travelling rug with a ten-month old Isaac… and I couldn’t get back up. My back had gone. I went to bed and fell asleep only to be woken a couple of hours’ later with the most excruciating muscle spasms I’ve ever had.

I was screaming in pain. It took me 30 minutes to crawl the 18 feet or so from my bedside to the toilet. The second time I tried it I could get only as far as the chair beside my bed.

Jane phoned NHS 24 just after tea time, around 6pm.

A doctor from the out-of-hours service arrived seven hours’ later, sometime around 1am. He returned four hours after that to give me a shot of morphine and I finally fell asleep, too doped up to care about the pain. It took another week or so to be given diazepam, which finally helped the muscles to relax, and another four months to see a physiotherapist.

I was off work for about a month, and even when I returned I struggled to walk without pain. It took me until about early May to start feeling better enough to even consider exercising again. I was desperate to get out again.

Back on the bike… twice

Nervously I got back on my bike in early May and rode a short and familiar circuit around a few of the local back roads.

About a week later my back went again. More diazepam, more diclofenac, more 30/500 co-codamol and within a week I was actually feeling better than I had been the previous month. The pains in my legs had gone. I could walk again without feeling that my hips had been replaced with knives.

Last Sunday I went out for a cycle. I made a conscious decision to go easily, to pace myself. Something that I’m not good at, but where has that got me in the past?

I cycled for an hour and covered about 15 miles. It felt good.

Two days later, on Tuesday, I went out again for a slightly shorter run. And I went out again this morning: 14.75 miles in 57 minutes. I was pleased with that.

I’m determined to get fit. I need to lose weight to help bring my blood pressure down, for a start. I’m determined not to overdo it, as I usually do. I’m determined to pace myself. That’s been the big lesson from my back injury: pace myself.

So for the next 4-6 weeks I’m going stretch every day (my physio gave me a bunch of back stretches to do twice a day), and start doing some daily stomach crunches to help strengthen my core, and go out cycling twice a week. I’ll see where I go from there.

But this time I’m hopeful. By this time next year I should have cycled my way out of the fat lane.

On not giving away too much information about bikes in a conversation with a toddler

A couple of nights ago Jane ordered Reuben and Joshua their first bikes (Branching Out First Bikes by John Crane), one in blue, the other in red. These are push-along, balance bikes with pneumatic tyres, adjustable-height seats and a bell on the handlebars. They arrived today.

Yesterday Jane took the boys into St Andrews to buy them proper bike helmets, which cost almost as much as the bikes themselves.

Reuben and Joshua love bike helmets; they’ve worn Jane and my helmets at home for the last few months. Often fighting over them. They love their own helmets now too. Reuben has a blue one with pirates on it, Joshua has a red one with dinosaurs on it.

I was sitting with Reuben last night, knowing that their new bikes would hopefully arrive the following day. We’d kept it secret from them that we’d ordered them. This was our conversation:

Daddy: Do you like your new bike helmet, Reuben?

Reuben: My like it. My like my new bike helmet.

Daddy: Good. Now you’ve got a bike helmet what do you think you might need next?

Reuben: Mmmm… [obviously thinking]. A drill!

Daddy: A drill?!

Reuben: Yes. My like a drill.

Daddy: Right… okay. Well, I didn’t give away too much information in that conversation then, did I?

Daddy’s bike

Close-up of a bicycle chainset
Bicycle Gear by donjolley at Stock.xchng.

Bedtimes with Joshua have been a little tricky of late. ‘Fraught’ might be a word that you could use about them. It’s certainly a word that I have used about them.

At his lunchtime snooze he’s amazing. You put him in his pushchair in the garden and off he drifts to sleep quite effortlessly, waking refreshed 90-120 minutes later.

In the evening, however, after his bath he screams. And eventually so do I.

But not this evening. This evening I was determined to not get upset.

No agenda

I read an article in the TAMBA magazine a while back that one secret about putting children to bed is to not have an agenda afterwards.  Don’t approach bedtime thinking “Right, once they are asleep I’ll have time to do x, y and z.”  they advised. But that’s tricky, because after their bedtime is usually the perfect time to get x, y and z done.

This evening, though, I actually didn’t have an agenda other than to embody a zen-like calm while dealing with Joshua on our bed.  And that’s exactly what I did.

What I got back from him, however, was this.

Daddy’s bike – a monologue

Bike!” said Joshua.

I looked at him.

Bike!” said Joshua again. “Bike! Daddy’s bike!”

“Bike?” I questioned. “You want to see Daddy’s bike?”

Joshua nodded an pointed out the window towards the shed.

“We can’t look at the bike this evening,” I reasoned. “It’s sleepy time!”

Undeterred Joshua continued with his mantra. “Bike! … Bike! … BIKE!! Daddy’s bike!

I am not kidding for 15-20 minutes he kept this up. At one point I thought I was in some kind of trance.

“Daddy’s bike! … Daddy’s bike! … Daddy’s bike! … Daddy’s bike!”

I couldn’t help laughing.

“Wheesht! with the bike nonsense!” I demanded.

He didn’t listen.

Bike! …”

At one point he stopped suddenly. His face was a quizzical picture, like he was trying to figure out how he could better convey to me the seriousness of what he was telling me.  And then, there it was, a tiny Eureka moment:  “Bike! … Bike! … BIKE!! Daddy’s bike!

I promised that I’d show him my bike tomorrow before handing him off to Jane who put him back in his cot.

“Mummy?” he said as he lay in his cot in the glow of the night-light.

“Yes darling,” she replied.

“Mummy? Daddy’s bike!

Fife on wheels, Scotland on Rails, Gareth on Twitter

Bike

Fife on wheels

I can’t remember … much actually! No, I can’t remember any other new year where I’ve been clobbered with quite so many bugs as this one.

I seem to have had at least one new stomach bug or virus each month. Some months I was greedy and had at least two.

So I approached going out on my bike for a half-hour cycle last night with some trepidation. I still didn’t feel 100% and I didn’t want to push myself over the edge. Or indeed pedal myself over the edge. But I went out, all the same.

My word! Did I feel great today!

(Answer: yes.)

So I went out again this evening.

Scotland on Rails

I predict that tomorrow I’ll feel even greater.

Or at least I would, if it were not for the fact that I need to be picking up my colleague (Dougal*) in St Andrews at 06:30 and driving to the two day Scotland on Rails conference in Edinburgh.

Gareth on Twitter

I don’t expect to be blogging from the conference, but I shall likely be Twittering from my electric mobile telecommunications device. You can follow me at http://twitter.com/garethjms.

By the way, Scotland on Rails isn’t about railways or trainspotting, it’s about Ruby on Rails, a programming framework brought to life by the lovely folks at 37Signals.

Footnote

  • My colleague isn’t really called Dougal. He’s called Kevin. But since he introduced me to colleagues at the University of Edinburgh during a meeting there last month as Darren I’ve been calling him something different every time I see him. Even if his enquiry is important to us!

Expensive 100 yards cycle

Outline of bike against the sky

This afternoon I went for my shortest but probably most expensive cycle trip ever. I took my bike to St Andrews, but unfortunately I wasn’t riding it at the time.

Around 15:00 I set off on my bike, cycled about 100 yards to the main road and stopped for a car to pass. Stood up on the pedals, shoved myself off and … more or less snapped my left pedal off. It was obviously rather loose and so I’ve threaded the pedal bolt on both the crank arm and the pedal.

So I’ll at least need a replacement crank arm and pedal, but a closer inspection of my front chainset reveals that it will likely be cheaper for me just to get a whole new front chainset, as the current (and original) one is rather worn indeed. And so I’ll probably need a new chain too. And I’ve no idea of the state of my bottom bracket or rear derailleur.

Still, I’ve been meaning to get my bike serviced for a few months now. Unfortunate timing: I was wanting to work on my fitness this holiday.

I’ve dropped the bike into Spokes bike shop in St Andrews. I may or may not get it back tomorrow, depending on how much work is required.

Update

Monday 24 December

I got my bike back at 13:00 on Monday (less than 24 hours after putting it in for repair). Top marks to Spokes of St Andrews. In the end it cost me just over £60 for:

  • Suntour Chainset (22/32/42) – £24.99
  • Shimano UN53 Bottom Bracket 68-110mm – £19.99
  • Black ATB 9/16 pedals – £9.99
  • Labour – £10.00

Bargain! I was then out on it (Anstruther to Elie and back again) this afternoon, just before the sun went down. Marvellous!