Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Gym'll Fix It!

A year of working too much, not riding, injuries, eating poorly, drinking lots, DIY excuses and, well, if I'm honest, a smidgen of laziness, have resulted in my weight creeping up. I'm now a full 1 stone/14lbs/6.3kg (you have to be multilingual sometimes when writing blogs!) heavier than I was last November.

Now I'm not weight obsessed or anything and I've never been what you'd call svelte, but 14lbs is a lot in a year, and more importantly, I'm starting to feel it when I exercise. That's when I know something has to be done.

So thanks to the inclement weather, resulting in my only two rides of the latter half of the year being cut short, and there seemingly being no end to the current cold snap, I've joined a gym.

It's a Virgin Active gym near work and part of their cunning motivational strategy is the extortionate monthly membership fee they charge - you have to go every other day to get your money's worth. But so far it has been worth it. In six weeks I've been 8 times (not quite financially worth it but it's a good start), I've got a training programme, I've been to a couple of classes and I've been swimming for the first time in about 4 years. And the best part about all of this is I'm actually still enjoying going to the gym! Now there's something I thought I'd never say...

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Merry Christmas?

I'm not so sure this year. It just hasn't felt like Christmas at all, despite the endless snow. It's the first year in a long time I haven't spent two weeks working solidly over Christmas - I was on night shift instead for three days. Coupled with the lack of decorations in my house due to the ongoing, er, decorating, there was a distinct lack of festive spirit.

I won't expatiate on Christmas day, it involved driving home from work in the morning, opening a couple of presents, sanding the bedroom doors, sleeping through the day and going to work again in the evening.

Boxing Day started off a little more exciting with the good intentions of going for a ride. It was a daring plan considering the still hazardous icy conditions on the roads. It's possibly my shortest ride ever and was brought to an abrupt halt at the end of my street with a loud "thunk". At least I think it was a thunk; it's that noise you and your bike make as you go from upright to horizontal in the space of a nanosecond, that strange clinking/thud sound, a "thunk". So it was back to the house for more DIY.

No work tonight so I hit the DIY hard all day. Well, at least until I set the carpet on fire with the paint stripper; I read somewhere once that in terms of driving and performing manual tasks, being awake for 24 hours has the same affect on thought processes and reaction times as being twice over the legal drink/drive limit. I can with some authority now say that that is indeed true. I put the tools away.

Glass of wine and a very early night for me...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Winter Wonderlands

So I've been away for a while for various dull reasons that I won't go into. I haven't been riding my bike that's for sure. Not until the other day anyway, the snow seems to draw me out from my cosy little hideaway. Maybe because it's not quite so cosy at the moment due to the lack of central heating, large gaps around the new windows and bare walls. Oh well, at least it's not cold, eh...
Snowy houses

We've had loads of snow down here and I only just managed to get home after my night shift on Friday morning. It was my last day at work until tonight so I was desperate to get home no matter what the weather was. Unlike the last time it snowed heavily in London and I decided to take full advantage of ITV's hospitality...

Back in February, whilst still working in central London I'd driven home on the Sunday night through treacherous conditions and was due back in Monday morning. I left extra early, around 5am and started off down the M1 which was down to one lane. Luckily there was very little traffic, apart from the abandoned cars on the side of the road. Central London was even worse and I had a very surreal moment driving into the middle of a city, in a snow storm, passing a pair of giraffes!

Taking full advantage of the lack of traffic and the virgin snow in Regent's Park I attempted to write my name across the road using only my car. I was never very good at etch-a-sketch and failed miserably at the bottom of the 'R'. The rest of the trip was like a scene out of a disaster movie with cars (mainly BMW's) strewn around the deserted streets having had their journeys rudely interrupted by various lampposts, railings, buildings and other cars.
Snowy London South Bank, Feb 2009

Conditions didn't improve throughout the day and I still had to be at work the following day. Chancing a third and then fourth journey in this weather, remembering the 17 accidents I'd passed on the previous two trips and having a vivid memory of ending up sideways between a set of traffic lights and sliding out into the middle of the cross-roads earlier in the day, just seemed to be pushing my luck a little. So as was the tradition back in the good old days of TV, the company stumped up for some hotel rooms - the last great perk of ITV.

So a snowy ride/slide/snow diving session, some mulled wine and a warm mince pie were the order of the day on Sunday and it was starting to feel like Christmas. (Plus a quick stop to build Bob the Snowman). All I have to do now is negotiate the black ice to get to work this evening and for the first time in many years I will be spending Christmas day at home.
Surly and the Snowman

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Peace & Quiet

I did something I've never done before this morning. I woke up around 4am and was restless, my head spinning with a thousand thoughts. Suddenly the episode of Top Gear I watched yesterday popped into my head - Jeremy Clarkson had done a piece about how no-one just goes for a drive any more, so early in the morning he got up and hit the open road in a Mercedes.

Inspired by this I got out of bed and hit the open road on my ever so faithful Surly Cross-Check. It's been a long time since we rode together, too long. But no matter how long I leave her in the shed gathering dust, I can always rely on her for perfect gear changes and steady, reliable handling. So off we went into the damp, dull morning to do what was at one time a regular route, but is now almost forgotten.

There's a certain peacefulness at that time of the morning that I love but rarely get to experience, even missing out on it at 24 hour races this year. Yes I was at Twentyfour12 for a few days, but had to leave just after the race started on Saturday afternoon. It's around 2am at those events that the atmosphere shifts from an adrenaline pumped competition to a mellow camaraderie, every rider just trying to make it safely through the night into the dawn. For many it's also a unique experience, how many of your friends can you say you've sat drinking beer and eating bacon sandwiches with at 4am? How many of your friends have you seen sleep? It's not something that occurs in every day life and is actually a very personal and trusting moment.

Rolling almost effortless through the now familiar lanes, Surly was leading the way and my mind wandered back to the peacefulness of working night shifts at The London Studios. In a 22 story building bustling with thousands of people during the day it was rarely quiet - except during the early hours of the morning. I'd walk down the corridor to the restaurant on the 2nd floor that looked out over the South Bank of the River Thames; St. Paul's Cathedral and Blackfriars Bridge in the distance. For those of you that have ever watched the local London News it'll be a familiar view. London would be shrouded in serenity. I could stand for hours at that window in an oneiric state, looking out onto the world watching nothing go by. Once or twice I ventured down onto the stillness of the South Bank and just stood and watched and listened - I felt like I had the city to myself, I loved it. Too often I hear people say how much they hate London, when what they actually mean is they hate the people in London. Quiet and empty like that, London is simply breathtaking.

An hour later I was home, calm and peaceful. Last week was a strange week, but it seems so far away already. I think I might like bikes again...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

10 Things Not To Do With a Broken Rib

After some extensive research over the last couple of months, all in the name of medical advancement of course, I've been compiling the definitive list of top ten things not to do with a broken rib. Some of these things have been stumbled upon in the course of everyday life, others have been pursued purely to benefit humankind so that others in a similar state of disrepair will not attempt such acts.

So, here it is, MountainBikeGirl's Top Ten Things Not To Do With a Broken Rib:
10) Get up, finish the lap and work for the following 2 days at a bike race - this will just extend the period of adrenaline fuelled painlessness and will ultimately compound the inevitable discomfort experienced when finally the 'morning after' arrives.

9) Paint the landing ceiling. This can and does in fact include painting any ceiling. I don't know why I thought painting the bathroom ceiling would be any less painful than painting the landing ceiling, or the stairwell, because it isn't.

8) Clear out the loft. Frustrated at not being able to paint anything or do DIY, it seemed like a good time to clear out the loft - because obviously pushing heavy boxes up through a small gap in the ceiling whilst hanging onto a ladder is totally different to painting the ceiling. I can now state with a certain amount of fact that these two seemingly very different tasks do actually involve similar movements of the rib cage and upper body muscle usage and both result in rib pain.

7) Rearrange the shed. Defeated in my attempt to clear out the loft, there was only one thing left to do - tidy up the shed, something I've been meaning to do for 18 months. Why would this be a problem? There's no reaching or stretching, hardly any upper body movement at all, it's just moving some old paint tins surely. No. My shed is full of bikes, boxes and cumbersome items. Moving anything, even slightly, involved a one-footed, unbalanced stretch to reach the intended item, whilst holding on to an unstable, precariously placed object exactly an arm and a fingernails length away. Once again this task was rapidly abandoned in the now familiar pose of right arm dangling and left hand holding rib.

6) Go Trail-Blazing. Quite often the event work involves finding new bits of trail or course to use. Nervous of riding anyway I was quite happy to get off and walk down anything I was unsure of. Sadly this was made all the more difficult by using a new set of pedals that aren't 100% compatible with SPD cleats whilst riding over rough, boggy grassland. I persevered until the fourth 'stuck in my pedals' fall, which also happened to be the first time I fell to the broken rib side, and called it a day. Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

5) Chopping down trees/machete work. Although I'm naturally a lefty, I'm distinctly more accurate with a machete when using my right hand. This means that a branch or sapling that would normally take 3 or 4 attacks using my right hand, takes about twice as many using my left - obviously resulting in more upper body work and more rib movement. So, do you take the chance and do less work with the more accurate but damaged side, or more work with the less accurate, intact side? Answer: play the "I'm just a girl" card and get a bloke to do it for you...

4) Lift metal crowd barriers onto the back of a truck. You'd have thought by now I'd have figured out the whole 'heavy-lifting, stretching, moving' combo was a no-no. It's amazing how an injury like this makes you aware of how much work your ribs and core are always doing.

3) Get a two-wheel drive quad stuck in 3ft of mud with no tow rope of any kind, in the middle of a forest, miles from the arena with no radios or mobile phones, just as it's getting dark with two escape options: a) I stay in the woods by myself in the dark with the quad while Paul takes the other quad to go and get help, or b) I drive the other quad back to get help, taking a route that either involves lying on the floor for 20 minutes with my hand up a gate post trying to undo the stiffest padlock in the world or taking a tricky off-road route and lifting two sets of Harris fencing out of the way. I tried both, after 20 minutes and huge amounts of shouting and swearing I gave up on the padlock and risked the unknown route. Over an hour later I arrived back with a tow rope and within 5 minutes the quad was free and we were all heading home.

2) Mow a 4ft high, uneven "lawn" covered in sticks and twigs with a flymo. Less of a flymo on this occasion, more of a liftmo - with me having to hold it in mid-air to get it to cut the grass whilst skimming over the covering of sticks left over from cutting down the 60ft Ash tree earlier this year. After 3 hours I'd managed to cut an 8ft square patch in the middle, the edges would have to wait, another few months wouldn't hurt and cutting the lawn twice a year is more than enough in my eyes!

And finally, the number one thing not to do with a broken rib:
1) Attempt to walk the full 180 mile length of the Offa's Dyke Trail in 6 days. Never has my body experienced such complete and utter shut down in a final and crippling statement of defiance. It had had enough. It was barely coping with what I'd been asking it to do for the last 5 weeks and this was just a step too far, literally. I'd made it through the first day, 30 miles carrying a full pack, but had started feeling dizzy and light headed towards the end. I put it down to not eating and drinking enough and was sure I'd be fine in the morning. I wasn't, nausea and blurred vision put an abrupt halt to the epic adventure after just 9 miles. I sobbed as Tony and the lads walked off into the distance and I promptly collapsed in a heap by the side of the road in Pandy - pale, shaking and weak with a throbbing pain in my rib. "So there!" my body screamed at me, "I tried to warn you, you wouldn't listen, and now look at the lengths you've driven me to." Fair point I suppose.

So there you have it, 10 things that you really, really shouldn't try and do with a broken rib, and if you do, don't say you haven't been warned. But I hope my research hasn't been in vain and if this blog post makes just one person think twice about attempting any of these tasks, then my suffering will have been worth it. Stay safe out there kids... ;-)

Monday, 13 July 2009


Well, I've been away a while and what a 7 weeks it has been! There have been plenty of visits to muddy fields for mountain bike races and venue recces, I've been up and down and backwards and forwards across the country, sent hundreds of emails and made dozens of phone calls to strangers.

I've started a new job; I've run my first mountain bike event and launched Britain's first 100 mile mountain bike race; I attempted to walk Offa's Dyke and failed miserably (more on that at some point) and had a sense of humour failure getting a quad bike stuck in 3ft of mud in the middle of nowhere at sunset.

Then there have been those surreal moments, like having an 8 hour conversation that finished at sunrise with somebody I barely knew. I spent a day at the Victoria and Albert Museum looking at 400 year old works of art; I saw Rowan Atkinson play Fagin (with a hint of Mr Bean) in Oliver! in Drury Lane, laughed a lot and sang every word of every song. I didn't go to Mountain Mayhem. That's right, I didn't go to Mayhem, for the first time in 9 years.

Sadly, the one thing I haven't done is ride my bike. Partly due to a rib that simply refused to stop hurting, but also I haven't had the time or motivation. I'm not in love with mountain biking at the moment. The fates have joined forces against me and I'm just not having a good year.

I've had this feeling before though, not just with mountain biking, but all the sports I've played throughout life and I find it's better just to give it a rest for a while and do other things. The feeling of wanting to go for a ride soon comes back. Trying to force a ride at this stage, knowing I'm not fit, that I'm not going to enjoy it and I'd rather be doing other things, is futile and will ultimately make me less motivated to ride and prolong the down time.

So it's a while longer off the bike for me, for no other reason than I don't fancy it. But as Dodger once said "I'll be back sooooon!"

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Big Black Mountain Challenge

There are ideas, and then there are 'ideas'. There are silly ideas, like deciding to get on a train to Penzance one day on a whim and riding from Lands End to John O'Groats; there are stupid ideas, like going off for a ride one afternoon in Northern Californian bear country with no food or water, no map, no idea where you're going and without telling anyone; there are dangerous ideas, like riding up Snowdon in the dark at 4am on a February morning wearing lycra in a snow storm; and then there are those ideas which are just wrong. There's no excuse for them, they're just wrong.

The Big Black Mountain Challenge on Saturday was one such idea. It started off badly and just got worse. I knew it was a stupid idea - having cracked a rib just 6 days before at round 2 of the BMBS in Dalby Forest, the idea of walking 45km over the Black Mountains in South Wales probably wouldn't be high on many peoples list of convalescing activities. But there's a bigger picture to think of here, namely The Great TO DO.

So Tony and I set off on our epic walk at 8am Saturday morning. It started raining. Then it started raining harder. Then the wind picked up. Then the wind almost picked me up! Walking along the first ridge out of Llanthony was made difficult by the 60mph wind and miserable due to the torrential rain. 4 hours later the rain finally stopped - for half an hour, just enough time to dry out before the rain came again. And the wind picked up.

The day continued in this cycle of misery for nine and a half hours until with sore feet, knee pain and an aching rib it finally came to an end. I can't remember ever walking in such horrendous conditions for so long. It really was an epic day and with the exception of Tony's witty tales, comments and then hysterical laughter (see video), not one I particularly enjoyed. But it was a necessary evil for the task ahead. On The Great TO DO I'd have 5 more days of this (well, the mileage, hopefully not the weather. Please God, NOT the weather!)

It was a useful exercise though and I learnt a few important things - one such lesson is that if you have a cracked rib and try and walk 45km up and down the muddy Welsh Mountains in the pouring rain and highs winds carrying a heavy rucksack, it's going to hurt. More importantly though, is it's going to hurt more the following day. But at least I had a whole day free and lots of 8 week old Bernese Mountain Dog pups to cuddle to cheer me up.

If you want to see some great photos of this epic, or a video of just how bad it was, take a look at Tony's blog - Tales From The Rock. Oh, and feel free to buy one of the 178 miles of The Great TO DO (if you want to know more, you'll have to use the link to visit the web page - it's worth it though!)

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Go 'Til You Stop

The human body is an amazing thing. The capacity of the mind and body to work together just long enough to get through any given task will never cease to amaze me. The mind tells the body what it needs to do and how long for, gives it the strength to keep going, it even accounts for sleep (or sometimes lack of), factors in the temporary break in physical activity but keeps the body aware it hasn't finished just yet. The consequences of these types of events are never pretty though - often pushing yourself up to or beyond your physical limits.

Such an incident happened at the weekend. I was working on the second round of the British Mountain Bike Series up in Dalby Forest, Yorkshire. It was also a World Cup test event which added a slight bit of extra pressure to get everything spot on. I'd ridden the course first thing Thursday morning to get my bearings in the forest. To say it's the most technical cross-country course of the series is an understatement! Challenging and fun though and I was looking forward to actually racing on Sunday. Another practice ride on Friday on Olive the dekerf had me confident that I could clear all of the sections without a second thought.

The mistake I made though was not actually riding the course on my Ducati race bike that only turned up on Saturday morning. This was a grave error on my part and half way around the first lap on Sunday morning I hit the ground hard on a rooty drop-off section. After a long sit down I limped around to finish the lap, various body parts throbbing, and retreated to the back of my tent in pain. The ever insightful Martyn Salt approached and deduced very quickly from my abrupt single syllable answers to his concerned questions that I was far from alright but all I wanted was to be left alone to sob in peace and privacy.

A while later I reappeared in the arena with very few signs of the race ending dismount - just a graze or two on my legs. The large bruise on my hip, the graze on my backside, my throbbing right thigh and a pain in my ribs were invisible to the world. A limp gave it away slightly, as did the winces of pain every time I laughed or coughed. Still, there was work to be done for the rest of the event and I planned to just keep moving. Once I stopped, that would be it. And the anticipation of the morning after pain was motivation enough to get as much done on the day of the crash as possible.

Copious amounts of red wine helped me sleep on Sunday night. And here's the twist; Monday morning, although being the morning after, wasn't the end of the task. The plan had always been to stay on Monday and finish up. So I woke up a little stiffer than usual with some soreness in my neck, but actually rather surprised at the lack pain and ease of movement. Perhaps the crash hadn't been as bad as first imagined? Monday came and went and all the extra movement and walking hadn't made much of an impact on my aching bones. The task had finished, I had made it through, and made it home.

Tuesday is where it went wrong. Very, very wrong. My mind had finally told my body it could stop, relax and do what it needed to do to get back to normal. The excruciating pain I felt trying to get out of bed set the tone for the day - with every laugh, cough, sneeze and deep breath causing a sharp, almost unbearable pain in my rib. Even taking it easy didn't help as any core movement - getting off the sofa, bending down, standing up - causes a similar pain. I'm thinking cracked rib or muscle damage. Either way, there's no point going to hospital and there's nothing I can do except take it easy for a while. (And try not to laugh, cough, sneeze, breath too deeply or move.)

Sunday, 3 May 2009

What a Week or Two

This time last week I was still in Offenburg, Germany, having spent the day watching the second round of the Nissan UCI World Cup cross-country mountain bike racing. There's hope that the UK will have a round next year in Dalby Forest so a BC contingent and a few others, including me, tagged along to have a look and pick up some tips.

As it was a last minute thing, I ended up driving the 500 miles through France on Friday and driving back on Monday. An interesting experience but not one I would want to repeat any time soon. The weekend and the racing was inspiring though - seeing the worlds elite, especially Monsieur Absalon, really is something to behold. And I somehow managed to end up writing a report and taking some photos for XC Racer. Published at last! And there's some more photos up on my flickr account. I think this my favourite one of eventual winner Julien Absalon. (Check out the quad muscles!!) Julien Absalon

The rest of the week flew by with me playing at different jobs and trying to get through my long 'To Do' List. I haven't got very far yet.

And today I actually managed to ride Olive the Dekerf (and she was absolutely incredible once again) - I popped down to Swinley Forest for the Gorrick 100(km) enduro. It was the Gorrick 50 for me, just completing 3 laps of the fantastically fun 10 mile course. And incredibly I managed to win, although it wasn't a race, just a challenge. So let's say I was the first female to complete the 3 lap challenge - and received a rather nice trophy and Gore Bikewear cycling jersey for my efforts. At some point I'll write a race report.

Sunday, 19 April 2009


Finally! After all these months and months and months of waiting for work to finally finish, it has! And I'm so happy and relieved and excited and cheerful and stress free and I'm really looking forward to my Summer now.

It's been an odd few days though, both before and after the leaving do (obviously, things never go smoothly around here). It started with a shopping trip on Thursday morning with Jodie to get new outfits for the leaving do Friday night. We both hate shopping, I really hate shopping in London, and to top it off it was raining. We were both doing surprisingly well until what will now and forever more be known at 'the Diesel incident'. I was trying on a pair of jeans in Diesel that turned out to be far too tight. Peeling the ridiculous tight pair of trousers back down my legs to my ankles I stumbled... out of the cubicle into the shop, banging my thigh on the handle. The young, male shop assistant looked stunned to say the least - and Jodie burst out laughing. I left in haste. I didn't really want a pair of jeans anyway.

Friday was the last day. I have to wonder how many P45s have been handed out amongst cheers, hugs, rounds of applause and popping champagne corks? Ours were. It was brilliant. Champagne. Lunch. Champagne. Lunch, again(?!) Champagne reception. Pub. Champagne. Champagne. More Champagne. (And I really have to say thanks to the guys at Green Media for a considerable amount of the champagne - there are some true gents out there ;-) I also have to say a really massive thank you to Nick Blackham, one of my managers, for being an absolutely top bloke over the last couple of months, and for some of the champagne on Friday. I couldn't have done it without him.

Not surprisingly, Saturday started with a hangover, and in fact ended with a hangover. (Note to self: don't drink that much champagne again in one day, it's just not worth it.)

Sunday should have been race day but I had a rather niggly shopping injury (see above) which meant my thigh went 'twang' on the first hill of the first practice lap at the first round of the Midlands XC series. So I spent the day soaking up the sun, with the odd bit of roving marshalling and course work.

Tomorrow I start my new life as an unemployed person, or should that be full time event organiser/consultant? Or maybe full time cyclists? Maybe I should call it a sabbatical? I'll have to have a think over the next couple of weeks whilst I'm finishing doing up my first house. It all feels really weird. I've been waiting for this for ages but now I can't get my head around it. Not that I'm going to have too much time to think about with the sheer amount of work I have to do over the next few weeks. I'm sure the time will fly by though. But, that time starts first thing tomorrow morning. Can't wait!!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here!

What a lovely weekend: relaxing mornings; fresh coffee; some tidying up; some DIY; tasty lunches; productive afternoons on the computer; freshly cooked, homemade dinners; stress free evenings listening to music answering emails and tidying up the desktop; early nights. This is a life I could get used to, and I so easily slipped into it. I even managed to get an Easter ride in and treat myself to a Cadbury's Buttons Easter Egg.

Just three more days of work left and then I can take it easy for the Summer. I should even have time to work through my things to do list whilst finishing off the house and taking long rides in the sunshine. I'm so excited to finally be finishing this chapter of my life and starting the next one - and I've only got a few days to wait!

Life is already better and care free. There was industrial action on the trains today and though I'd made a special effort to get to the station early, I still had to wait half an hour. I didn't care. The train was packed with Easter day trippers, I couldn't sit down. I didn't care. The exit barriers were too busy and I kept getting rammed in my ankles by pushchairs. But I just didn't care. Traffic in central London was chaos. Oh well, I didn't care. I sat at one set of traffic lights on Shaftsbury Avenue for almost 15 minutes - traffic wasn't moving and an ambulance was trying to get through, even though his lights were flashing and his siren was on, there was one female driver who would rather sit at the front of the queue doing her makeup instead of pulling forward out of the way and lose her hard fought place in traffic. At this point I did care. I wanted to find a large blunt object and throw it through the window, hitting her on the head and scarring her just above the beautifully mascara'ed eyes, so that she would never do her makeup in traffic again, and would pay more attention to the emergency services around her. (Not that I spent every second of the 15 minutes thinking about this you understand, I seem to have a gift for instantaneous creation of mythical scenarios - particularly if they're on the slightly evil side.) The rest of the day was delightful and care free.

Roll on next weekend!
(And yes, I did spend an afternoon on the sofa watching Annie. Admittedly it only just makes it into my Top Ten favourite musicals, mainly because of the annoying little ginger kid, but it has its good points and there are worse things than snuggling up on the sofa with a steaming hot cup of tea, an Easter Egg and a feel good musical.)

Monday, 6 April 2009

11 Bloody Days

11 eventful days. One evening I'm in London trying not to get drunk at what was the official closing down of ITV transmission at the London Studios. It was also the day I got served my redundancy which means I'll officially finish on the 17th of April. Thank God! Finally! I could feel the weight physically lifting from my shoulders and the stress draining from my body. It was fantastic.

Early the following morning I was on a train to Carlisle for a few days pottering about on soon-to-be mountain bike courses in the north. Kielder 100 is coming along nicely. The new Wild Boar 24 course has huge potential and then it was over to Whinlatter to help out at the Whinlatter MTB Challenge. This is where things took an unexpected turn for the worse. I had an accident involving a large, 25kg+ speaker crashing down onto the back of my head. Thinking there must be a bump forming I removed my hat and put my hand to the back of my head. It came back red. That's when the others noticed the blood running down the back of my neck. I've never had a serious head injury before and I have to say there's nothing more unnerving than seeing blood dripping from your own head - it's just not natural and all your instincts seem to be telling you to panic because there's something very wrong. Still, the week of rest probably did me some good.

Then it was off to Sherwood for the first round of the British Mountain Bike Race Series working with Martyn Salt for the first time. (He plays squash ya know.) I raced in the Masters category. I was rubbish. Maybe riding my bike over the winter would have helped. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Full race report coming soon on the race page.

So, 11 days, hundreds of miles, 4 forests, 3 hotels, 2 mtb events and one very large scar on the back of my head. At least life isn't dull. And the Summer is shaping up rather nicely now I finally have my redundancy.

Saturday, 14 March 2009


Port de Pollenca harbour
This time last week I was sitting in the sunshine next to the harbour in Port de Pollenca with a cold beer in my hand. I'd just finished the final ride on my 5 day cycling holiday/training camp to Majorca - a 25mile out and back from the hotel to the lighthouse on the north eastern tip of the island. It turned out to be one of the toughest rides of the week; an undulating coastal road on a rough surface complete with a pitch black tunnel carved out of the rock that sent your eyes funny and has made more than one person lose their balance!
Mmm, coastal road riding

Rewind back to arrival day on Tuesday and I'd picked up my hire bike from one of the many bike shops that have sprung up over the island in the last decade. I'd gone for one of the T-Mobile Giant aluminium road bikes. The rest of the day was spent drinking in the hotel bar.

Wednesday was a wet start - not entirely what I was expecting. I'd been promised warm sunshine and perfect riding conditions, leaving the bitterly cold British winter behind to get some decent mileage in. We'd been told by the bike shop guys that usually the weather was better inland so we should take that option if the weather was bad. Half an hour later it had stopped raining but was still chilly and didn't brighten up all day.

Paul is familiar with the island so was playing guide to our merry band of 7 - Ickle Paul, Big Dave, Big Kev, Ickle Kev, Gaynor, Sally and me. My job for the week was just to hang onto the back of everyone else for as long as possible - I had mixed results but was pleased overall with my performance considering the distinct lack of bike riding I've done this year. I even managed some bursts of speed on the hills (I never knew Majorca was quite so hilly!) and a wee bit of time-trialling shenanigans.

So, four good days of riding and actually feeling like I've done beneficial riding. Evenings were spent stuffing our faces at the hotel buffet trying desperately to replenish some of the thousands of extra calories I was burning every day by riding at ridiculous speeds into headwinds with people far fitter than I. All in all a most enjoyable holiday and a superb way to get fit.
Hairpins behind the Cap de Formentor

Day 1: 6 hours, 90 miles, 5000kcal
Day 2: 3h11m, 43 miles, 2400kcal, max hr 180bpm.
Day 3: 4h45m, 80 miles, 4000kcal, max hr 180bpm.
Day 4: 2 hours, 25 miles, 1400kcal.

Total for the week: 16 hours, 240 miles. (And my friends say my idea of a holiday is different to theirs - can't possibly imagine how...) More photos available on my flickr gallery as per usual.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Happy (Belated) St David's Day!

Okay, so I'm a week late, but due to my cultural ignorance (and the fact there aren't hundreds of Welsh people pub crawling around London on their national day unlike SOME nationalities, thank god) I wouldn't have realised if it hadn't been for a jovial young walker shouting it to me across a windy hillside last weekend.

Crickhowell town from the Beacons Way I'd decided to pop down to the Crickhowell Walking Festival to drop off some leaflets for the Slick 'n Knobbly Cycling Festival. A three hour drive on a Sunday morning after a night shift is never a brilliant idea but I arrived in the morning sunshine feeling rather spritely. My target for the day was Pen Cerrig-calch at a mere 701m, dropping down back to Crickhowell via Table Mountain. Every time I've been to Glanusk Estate I've seen the Darren Crag looming high on the hillside and I couldn't resist it any longer - I was there, it was there. Why not?

Wild ponies on Pen Cerrig-calch I decided on the indirect route starting at the Information Centre heading out west on the Beacons Way, then going off track turning straight up the hill to the west of the rocky out crop and skirting round to the saddle to join up with the path again. The ponies on the ridge were a nice surprise. The wind wasn't, nor was the exposure. Even though the sun was shining and the sky was blue, snow still lay in hollows on the northern slopes and the biting wind reminded me it was still only March.

North east from the trig point Finally I reached the trig point and time for a quick self-timed snap. Then a sharp exit south east to get out of the wind, heading straight for Table Mountain with Sugar Loaf as the oh so familiar landmark in the distance (that one's for another day). Three hours and 8 miles or so later I was back in town, content with my first solo jaunt into the hills in many years. I need to do some more of that. Excellent training for my Summer epic on Offa's Dyke with Tony though - can't wait!

Grwyne Fawr dam Monday was similar with a gentle 4 mile wander on one of the Festival's organised walks around Grwyne Fawr reservoir with another 20 or so walkers. For £4 we had a guided walk up along one of the old railway lines to the dam and back down the other side, with a brief history lesson at the start about the navvys who lived in the temporary village, the railway lines and the building of the dam. All making for a rather pleasant Monday.

More photos available on my flickr page.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Buzz of Live TV

Sometimes, I really, really love my job - I get a tingling feeling, butterflies in my stomach and a sense of truly being part of something special. It doesn't happen very often, but tonight was one of those rare occasions. Why? Because of Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway. Now, you may not like the show or the presenters, but in terms of real life, live studio, quality television production, it doesn't get much better than this!

The building and the studios take on an atmosphere; there's a buzz of excitement in the air, you can feel the magic of television. The "on air" lights flash red in the corridors which are ever so slightly clouded with smoke machine smoke, Studio 1 is in use packed to the rafters with a live audience, the scene dock is frantic with sets and props and costumes being moved, celebrities are being ushered around by an army of crew from dressing rooms, to make up, to green rooms and back again, Chris Akabusi and Jenny Bond are talking to Toyah Wilcox in the Luvvies Cafe and Take That have just wandered past. This is good old fashioned ITV Saturday night entertainment at its best - and some of the best in the business are downstairs in the studio making everything run smoothly. When ITV put their mind to it and tell the accountants and shareholders to sit down and shut up, they can actually produce some fantastic shows, just like the classic family favourites of old when they regularly got 15 million viewers on a Saturday evening.

Very little television is live nowadays, it's too expensive and too risky. But when a show like this happens in the famous London Studios, I'm proud to be part of ITV, you get the feeling you're working with true professionals who are passionate about what they do - this is what television is all about!

Sadly, tonight also marks the end of an era for me, and soon it will be the end of an era for ITV. My department was outsourced a couple of years ago to a company called Technicolor based in Chiswick and though a year overdue, the final channel migration happens in the next couple of weeks. This is the last day shift I will work here - I'm on night shift next week, and then it's all over. ITV's transmission has been here in the heart of ITV for more than a decade and I've been here 7 years. I'll be made redundant very soon and ITV will no longer be a complete television channel; it'll do everything except the thing that actually makes it work - the transmission.

I have to say I'm glad I'm leaving though. Moving the operation to a glass walled call centre on an industrial estate in West London is hardly the same as trundling across Waterloo Bridge every day, passing dozens of London landmarks and walking through the revolving doors of the London Studios (the ITV equivalent of the BBC's Television Centre) on the south bank of the Thames, having lunch in the canteen over looking St Paul's Cathedral. Every now and again pushing my way through the waiting paparazzi or crossing the red carpet of some awards show or other to get to work. It just won't be the same.

These are memories I will never forget. It's been a fantastic 7 years and I've had a great time with everybody I've worked with, I've met some real characters who have taught me a lot. It's been a pleasure to work with all of them (most of the time - working in such close proximity with the same people for so many years has caused the odd argument, think of us as the most disfunctional family you can possibly imagine and times it by 10, throw in some long hours, tiredness, PMT and some stress and you can just about imagine how tempers have flared.)

So good luck to everyone who's staying on at Chiswick, and good luck to everyone who will soon be joining the ranks of the unemployed during the worst economic crisis in living memory. I'm sure we'll all bump into each other again some day, TV is rather a small world after all...

Friday, 6 February 2009

More Snow!

This is the view out of my living room window at the moment:

And it's snowing quite heavily again. Most of the roads around here are closed, including the A41 and the A5.

We had another few inches of snow overnight, which is now sitting on top of all the ice and compacted slippery stuff. Not surprising nobody is trying to drive.

Can't wait to go out for a ride later!!

Saturday, 31 January 2009

A Pendulum Week

Things have either gone my way or they haven't this week. Monday couldn't have been better, everything fell into place with the perfect ease expected from life. Having a working bathroom makes life a hundred times easier - a day at work, back home on the turbo trainer for half an hour, jumped in the shower, cooked a hearty homemade meal whilst supping a glass of fruity red and settled down to answer a few emails and watch a bit of television. Life is good.

My perfectly effortless world was brought crashing down as quickly as I was Tuesday morning - yards from my front door I slid on a patch of black ice. One minute I was happily rolling down the hill towards the station on my folding bike, the next I was lying on the cold, hard road looking up into the foggy darkness somewhat unsure of what had just happened. I'd ripped a large hole in the left knee of my trousers and the right elbow of my coat. I returned to my house, changed my clothes, cleaned up the blood trickling down my leg, patched up the missing chunk out of my knee and set off once more - making it to the train station just in time to see my train leaving the platform. The next train was 15 minutes late. As was I.

The day improved but when I arrived home I still felt nauseous so relaxed and had an early night instead of going for a ride. Wednesday was long and boring and by the time I left work I was thoroughly fed up again. When I got home and opened my post I had a fine for not paying my congestion charge last week, £60. Thursday was also long and boring but spirits were slightly improved and the day went without incident. Things were looking up again.

On Friday I regained my cycling mojo - this had disappeared sometime just before Christmas. I had an excellent morning ride on my usual road loop; everything just seemed to click and I was happyily spinning along for a couple of hours, enjoying every freezing moment. Then my train was delayed, again (I'm going to have to stop writing about that as you can almost take it as a given these days) and work was chaos from the minute I started to the minute I finished. I didn't even have time to eat dinner! It was a relief to finally get home knowing I had the morning to myself.

I intended to pop out for another ride this morning, but I woke up with the tell tale signs of the beginnings of a cold due to being worn down, so instead I made a nice breakfast, some fresh coffee and planned a new route for my next ride. I was late for work (you know why...)

Monday, 19 January 2009

Gun For A Day...

just one day a month, that's all I'd want. Just a license to kill with a gun for one day... a month. And the world would be a better place by Summer. Why the outrageous statement you ask? This morning riding through London from work to the train station traffic was heavy. There were lots of buses in the bus lane so I was between them and normal moving traffic. I had two red lights on the rear, I was wearing high viz and reflective clothing. I had stopped at every red light and pedestrian crossing. I was going about my business according to the highway code.

The particular section of road I was on was full of nasty pot holes so I was giving the buses a wide berth. Then some idiot in a private hire cab decided he wanted to squeeze between me and the next lane of traffic - promptly clouting me with his wing mirror and knocking me into the fortunately stationery bus!

The lights at the next junction were red so I pulled up alongside the car and knocked on the passenger side window. He opened it up with a smirk on his face. "Excuse me, do you want to watch where you're going a bit more, you've just hit me with your wing mirror" I said. "Lucky I didn't 'it ya wiv somefin else then innit" he screached at me in an annoying, high pitched, '40-a-day', cockney accent. What sort of bloody response is that?! Obviously he was disappointed he'd only clipped me and was trying to kill me instead. "Are you fucking stupid?" I shouted back and rode on my way.

Who knows what his passengers in the back of the car were thinking, but it's not a car I would have liked to have been in for any length of time. I still don't understand his response - what an idiot. What was it supposed to mean? Understandably I was fuming! Mainly because there was nothing I could do to stop this fool driving dangerously through the streets of London with no regard whatsoever for cyclists! It's people like him that kill cyclists.

That's why I want to get in first. If this had been the day, I'd have quite happily pulled up alongside the car and shot him in the head. Idiots like that are better off dead, at least they can't do any damage to others that way. Shooting him was my first thought as I pulled up alongside. After he'd made the ridiculous remark I wanted to drag him from his car buy his scraggily, curly hair and beat the living daylights out of him with my bare hands - that would have been more satisfying. Apparently violence doesn't solve anything, but I'm sure in this case violence would have stopped the possibility of future injury to cyclists.

It took me the whole train journey to calm down. After that the day improved - which is fairly easy after that kind of start. I'm particularly looking forward to a relaxing hot bath in my oh-so-nearly-finished bathroom. And this glass of wine, my first sip in over a week, is tasting particularly good. There are some perks to working a week of night shift - for a while everything you do is just so much more enjoyable!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Things You Do

It's been an interesting couple of weeks with lots happening and more than once I have found myself pausing for a second just to get a complete picture of the situation I had found myself in.

For any readers of Tales from the Rock you'll know there was a minor vehicular incident last Tuesday - full story and embarassing phots on Tony's blog here. 'Drive Carefully!', yeah thanks Tony. It's the first time I've ever got my car stuck in 10 years of driving, and I was lucky I didn't hit the power lines! Despite this setback I still managed to get to the meeting with Welsh Cycling on time and all went well.

So it's Tuesday 6th of January and whilst most people are settling themselves back into their warm work places after the Christmas break, I spend the day wandering through pathless woodland in the Brecon Beacons scouting out the venue for the Cycling Festival. The temperature was still below freezing but I still managed to get excited at the prospect of what this forest may hold - the stunning scenery, snow capped hills, bright blue sky and crisp sunshine also played a part in the random giggles of joy.

Now, my friend Paul had driven us over to Crickhowell as I wasn't too happy with the state of my tyres after the incident earlier that morning. Leaving the estate we decided to pop down one of the lanes just to familiarise ourselves with the lie of the land a bit more. Up the hill and round the bend and the road opened out into a huge green field with a large house at the top. It was at this point Paul decided to stop and turn his van round. He began his 3 point turn in the narrowest part of the road next to the steepest part of the verge and no sooner had he completed point two of his turn, he found the van wedged between a fence and the grass verge. Half an hour later, in the freezing cold, dark evening, one of the estate workers used his Land Rover to drag the van out, sideways, down the road. It's the first time Paul's ever got his van stuck in 20 years of driving.

Back to my car and I faced the long drive home across the Cotswolds. Any of you that read this blog regularly will know I'm a great believer in 'signs' and listening to what the universe is trying to tell me. The A40 across the Cotswolds is twisty and dangerous at the best of times, with this cold snap who knows what condition it would be in. I didn't have to wait until I got to the A40; I got just past Ross-on-Wye on the dual carriageway and approaching the roundabout passed an accident on the other side of the road. 'Oh dear', I thought, and as I finished that thought the car took a rather skewed angle at which to leave the roundabout. Aha, black ice. I see. Heart pounding I put the three incidents of the day together and decided to meander slowly and carefully home that night, barely reaching the speed limit at any point. Home safe and sound once more; ready to spend another day in the middle of the countryside in the freezing cold, wind and rain. Oh the glamour.