Saturday, 24 October 2009

Be Stronger and Happier

A quick question today:

So what is it about cycling that males us feel so much better mentally?

Partly the endorphins, I think, but did I read somewhere that the average cyclist's cadence is a good match for the alpha waves that scientists detect in a relaxed brain?

Whatever it is, it works. I forgave the learner driver who tested my emergency stopping skills a couple of days ago before his instructor had the time to wave his apologies...

No harm done :-)

I have seen aggressive cyclists, especially after car or van drivers have put them in danger, and I suppose you need more innate aggression if you're a racer, but however hard I'm working on a bike I always feel happier in myself.

And always stronger for it! How about you?


Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, 19 October 2009

Keep Your Head Up

My head is up, honest

When you're cycling at speed, several competing forces come into play.
Mechanically, you're fighting friction and aerodynamic drag.
Physically, you're pushing the limits of your physical strength, stamina and aerobic capacity.
And mentally you're battling against the urge to reduce the discomfort.
So, for aerodynamic reasons, when you're travelling fast you need to make yourself as small as you can.
But you actually make better use of your core strength, and breathe more efficiently and pedal more strongly when you sit up. Nonetheless, when we need to 'dig in', we habitually crouch low over the bars, because aerodynamic drag is the main consideration.
Now, unless we're serious racers, we'll be riding somewhat slower up hills than on the flat, so aerodynamic drag is much reduced and that habit of 'hunkering down' actually makes us less efficient. Still, we often do it anyway and make the summit through shear bloody-mindedness.
(There is something to be said for bloody-mindedness.)
But getting the best out of ourselves physically has a psychological aspect to it, as we all know.
We perform better when we feel optimistic than when we feel mentally 'down'. Our physical and mental states are closely related.
Plus, it works both ways - when we're physically strong we feel better mentally, too. This is bio-feedback in action, and even our body language, our posture, has an effect on our mood.
Now, do you feel more optimistic when your head is up or when it's bowed? Do you feel stronger when you walk tall or when you slump? You know the answer.
How about when you're on a bike? Do you feel happier when you're 'hunkering down' and 'digging in' or when you relax a little and sit up?
And do you feel stronger when you can see the summit of the hill quite clearly or when all you can see is the endless road in front of you?
I find, and you can test this for yourself next time you go out, that I am much stronger, mentally and physically, when I keep my head up and my eyes fixed above the top of the hill.
Because any problem you can look down on is smaller than you are.
It takes practice and some mental discipline, but the pedals spin faster, you'll breathe more easily and, above all, you will enjoy climbing more when you keep your head up.
Work harder today, and stay tall - be even stronger tomorrow.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, 16 October 2009

Planning Your Route

A long way to go but I know where I'm going!

We all know that mixture of feelings we get when we reach a destination.

If the journey was extra tough or very long there is a sense of achievement when we finally make it to the end, but the feeling is often muted with a question of 'what next?'

Knowing that and knowing anywhere we aim for is unlikely to be our final destination, we could easily drift along with no plan at all. Except we often wouldn't get out of the door, let alone travel any distance, if we had no idea where we were going.

So, to motivate us to do anything, we need to have an end in mind. That can be literally a point on a map, or it can be a familiar route or known distance done in a certain time. A measurable goal like that is certainly easier to record and set against past and future achievements.

So now we have a goal and a way of measuring whether we achieve it.

Our bigger goal might be to get fit enough to take on a bigger challenge in the future, and that's measurable, too. If we have a date for that big challenge, we also have a time scale.

So now we have a big goal, a specific time to achieve it by and a smaller goal that's a step along the way.

And we have a route map (literally) to get us to that first goal, too.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

Our big goal is now specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed. It's SMART. And smart goals get results.

Goal-setting. It seems to be a lot easier to set and attain a goal for a physical challenge than it is for a life achievement, but the principle's exactly the same.


Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

You Don't Need Matching Jerseys

... to be a team, as you can see from this team picture taken in Keswick, on our coast to coast trip in September.

By the time we assembled at Carlisle, we had already done a few hundred miles between us, by various means. John C and I had cycled from North Shields after driving up from Suffolk, John H had taken a couple of trains from somewhere in the Cotswolds and JR had taken the train from Nottingham, via Newcastle.
Staff at the Travelodge in Carlisle were friendly and very obliging about bike storage overnight and we did some team bonding over a Mexican meal near the station.
Next day we rode about 80 miles to Keswick, via Workington, and we were already a team.
The best test of a team's cohesion is when things go wrong or tempers are tested, so it might be a pity that we're all so even tempered and get on so well. We didn't even have a puncture to deal with. The nearest we got to being grumpy with each other was when the pre-lunch stretch to Workington turned out to be longer than anticipated and our blood sugar levels dipped.
We mostly stayed together on the flat stetches. And while we all climbed at our different speeds (because you can't really help each other at those slower speeds) the top of every hill was a reunion of sorts, where every word was an encouraging one and every greeting came with a smile.
And the end of each day was another little triumph, a social occasion and a time to share stories of that day and other days - even when we couldn't get a proper meal on Saturday night!
So, while we all face a unique and almost solitary challenge on every climb, being part of the team makes it doubly worthwhile. That, and the promise that, with the team's support, we can take on even bigger challenges in the future.
That's the point, really. Challenging yourself is one thing, but you can do so much more as a team.
Next year, The Alps.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, 12 October 2009

Celebrate Your Successes

celebrating a very minor triumph

...but not for too long.

Reaching the top of a big climb, like the culmination of any big effort, brings a real sense of triumph. It doesn't really matter how many people have done it before, especially if it's your first time.

So we should recognise our achievement and allow ourselves to enjoy it.

Sometimes that's a hot chocolate from the cafe at the summit, as we enjoyed at the top of Hartside in September or the Col de Tourmalet two years ago. Sometimes it's the fantastic descent that you've worked so hard to earn.

In scientific terms, what you accumulate by climbing is potential energy, which you lose as you descend again. In fact, you convert some of that potential energy into kinetic energy - the rest is lost to friction - and that will get you a little way up the next hill, as you know.

But it can be disappointing to discover how quickly that energy is lost and how soon you have to start pedalling again.

So our triumphs are inevitably short-lived. Does that mean we shouldn't bother achieving in the first place?

No, because today's triumph is, if nothing else, great training for tomorrow's bigger challenge.

The biggest success stories come from people who took on the biggest mountains. And they did that after starting with the foothills and building their strength (physical or mental) with ever bigger challenges.

Because the more you do today, the stronger you'll be tomorrow.


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, 9 October 2009

Yes, Literally Tomorrow

It's an odd thing about cycling.

It doesn't work the same in running. And it never worked for me at the gym.

Some people say the same thing about swimming, but I'm not sure.

But you really can be stronger tomorrow when you cycle today.

I saw evidence of it in the Pyrenees, when I was just the back up driver, but I thought it was because the guys had prepared so well that they were just warming up.

Then I found out for myself last year, when I did the coast to coast. I had prepared, but not enough, and I know I hadn't done enough hills. Yet, despite feeling shattered at the end of days one and two, I was definitely stronger next day. By day three I was enjoying the climbing.

This year, doing the coast to coast 'there and back', on even less training, I felt sluggish on day one and tired at the end of a long second day, but I was disappointed not to have a bigger climb at the end of day three, the longest day of the trip.

In other words, however tired I felt at the end of each day, I was definitely stronger the following morning, and I was less fatigued at the end of day five than at the start.

If you stick at it, you'll find the same.

So, as long as you don't push so hard you make yourself ill - and a healthy person can push pretty hard - you will feel stronger tomorrow.

To get the most from your cycling, whether training or touring, it's important to 'refuel' properly, and often. Unless you're a regular cyclist you might be surprised how important refuelling is, and I'll talk more about that soon, but for now, the lesson is ...

... work harder today - be stronger tomorrow.


Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

First Lesson:

It won't always be easy ...

First lesson is ... get on your bike.

A couple of years ago I was training for the Great North Run when I got a call from my brother in law. He was in a predicament. Along with three friends, John was planning to cycle the length of the Pyrenees, and their support driver had had to pull out.

'LeKnees' was at risk.

'Could I possibly help?'

I suppose ...

It was the journey of a lifetime for me. After sharing the driving duties down to Hendaye, on the French-Spanish border, I supported the team for the first half of their two-week trip towards the Mediterranean. (The scenery was fantastic.)

Between driving duties (and eating and drinking duties) I tried to keep up my own training. But the best day of my week in the Pyrenees was the one where I took the spare bike and joined the boys on a ride to the Cirque du Gavarnie. It was an easy day for them but it was the highest I had ever cycled and I loved being a part of it.

All week I envied them the steepest hills and toughest climbs, even as I marvelled at their ability to get up them. I was thrilled for them at the top of every col, and I told them I'd be there again next time.

But next time they'll need a new driver, because I'll be on my bike.

Which is why John and I did the coast to coast (Whitehaven to Sunderland) last year, and why two of the other team members joined us when we did the trip in both directions this September. Lots of lovely hills and a great team spirit. And the more we rode, the stronger we got.

Next year we'll take on The Alps.

By getting on the bike I wasn't a spectator any more. By joining the team I became a doer, not a watcher; a participant not a spectator. You could almost say I became a winner not an also ran.

Get on your bike, literally or metaphorically, and you start to take part - in cycling or in life.

And the more you ride, the more you take part, the better at riding, and taking part, you become.

Ride harder today - be stronger tomorrow.


PS I did the Great North Run, too, even if it was my slowest half-marathon ever.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, 5 October 2009

How to be Stronger Tomorrow

Hi there, and welcome to 'Be Stronger Tomorrow', a blog about cycling, life and how trying harder today will make you stronger tomorrow.

In the coming weeks I'll be writing about some of the lessons cycling and life have taught me.

How working harder will make you stronger.

How working with other people brings out the best in you.

How coasting will only get you so far up the next hill!

And exactly how and why keeping your head up will get you over any challenge.

(That's a biggy!)

Oh, and how you don't always need all the latest technology and tools to get the job done.

I'll be back soon. Meanwhile ...

... here's to good cycling and great living!