Friday, 5 March 2021

My best days are ahead

 It’s five weeks to the hour since I was sat in the ED of our local hospital. Much has changed. 

My diagnosis is now definitive, and all experts (including me!) are in agreement about its cause, if not about the precise mechanism that it worked through. I have bilateral Brachial neuritis, caused by an autoimmune response to a Hepatitis E infection. Whilst this response has pretty much done its job, and I have comparatively little pain now, I am left with damage to the nerves between the brachial plexus in both arms to parts of each shoulder, arm and hand. I won’t go into details, of which muscles are affected, ask me if you’re that interested. What I will say is that it could have been a lot worse. I briefly joined a Facebook group of people also with the condition. Whilst I really sympathise with the posters, many of whom had been significantly affected far more severely than me, I had to leave the group. I didn’t feel it was conducive to the mindset I need to adopt.

I have a reasonable chance of a long-term full recovery, an excellent chance of a partial recovery, and a possibility that parts of the function may be impaired forever. This latter point is mainly in connection to my right thumb and forefinger, but I’m not worried, I’ll still be able to brake and change gear, even if I can’t write with a pen or do up buttons. Different bits will recover at different times, the speed of this is determined by three things. First, the distance any muscle is from the brachial plexus, the further away, the longer the recovery. Second, the extent and type of damage to any given nerve, (ie is any given nerve simply demyelinated and to what degree, or are the axons destroyed - the former takes a few months to be repaired, the latter could take a couple of years to re-grow). The third will be all about the quality of the conditions that I can create to effect the best possible recovery.

This last part is largely down to me, and although it is not an exact science, there are lots of things I can do to optimise my convalescence. Fortunately I was only mildly impacted systemically by the Hepatitis. I actually saw a Consultant Hepatologist this week who told me that I’d been very lucky to have had virtually no other symptoms of the infection, besides the autoimmune response and raised resting heart rate, blood pressure and liver enzyme function. These are all either back to normal now or very close to it. No fever, no jaundice, little fatigue. His view was that my pre-existing health and fitness had protected me from anything more serious. I’m counting my blessings.

Cook your sausages properly everyone.

But my recovery will fall into three broad phases, the first of which is optimising the conditions for nerve re-growth and repair. This process, apparently, is like growing very delicate flowers in a greenhouse in Winter. So I have to do some moderate aerobic exercise, but NOT to the point of fatigue, eat plenty of fruit and veg, as well as other unprocessed foods that contain Vitamin B12 (I’m allowed a steak a week!), but limit processed and refined foods, particularly chocolate. I also need to get plenty of sleep, eradicate stress, and do what I can to maintain joint mobility.

The second phase will be to re-build the muscle function as the nerve connectivity is established, and it’s important not  to do this too soon, otherwise there is a risk of damaging the motor neurone again before they are fully established. So it will be the lightest of exercises on my arms to begin with. Once I have a bit of muscle strength I’ll be able to do indoor cycling, but not too much to cause fatigue.

Finally once the recovery looks well underway, I will be free to resume more challenging training, but again, being careful to build it up slowly, so thoughts of audaxes and multi-day rides are firmly on the back burner for now. I haven’t set myself much in the way of timescales, just doing the traditional “take it one game at a time” approach. I am positive I will get back on my bike and ride it as well if not better than I used to, and I hope that comes soon. But my priority is restoring my health, so I’m not going to risk that by being impatient. No, really.

Thank you to everyone that has been kind enough to send support and love in what is a difficult enough year already, I do really appreciate it more than these words can convey. 

And I learned new things such as how to get dressed using contortions I would never have thought possible, as well as learning to tie my shoelaces without the use of a functioning thumb. Every day is a school day. To top off this very unusual year my beloved Irons are in contention to actually qualify for Europe, on merit. I’m not getting excited, but it does cheer my spirits to see us playing with skill and heart.

My main activity for the next few weeks is going to be walking in the countryside as much as I’m able to. So the end of lockdown is a welcome sight on the horizon, I need to find new vistas to see and paths to tread. Not that I don’t really value the beauty all around my home and thank my lucky stars for it every day. I think we are all ready for a change, and I for one see the lights In front of me

Sunday, 14 February 2021

A little divided

 So eleven days after my last post things have moved on. Albeit glacially, but given I now have use of a few more fingers, I know there has been progress. 

For a start it looks like a diagnosis. I definitely have a virus, and not in the vague, generalised way that doctors often insinuate you have one for unknown or unclassifiable conditions. No, I have Hepatitis E no less. Usually quite a mild illness, although I have hardly any of the symptoms that usually present. Maybe a bit of fatigue, but given the state of arms and concomitant analgesic consumption, it’s hard to tell the source of that. But the latest (of numerous) blood tests threw it up on Thursday, it also explains the raised liver inflammatory markers when there are no other signs of liver inflammation. It must have happened deep within said organ.

It may also offer an explanation for the rapid onset of excruciating pain throughout my shoulders and arms in the last few days of January. The key symptoms of rapid onset, that is, within 12 to 24 hours and no prior warning, coupled with the severity, and location, all point to Brachial Neuritis, an autoimmune response that, guess what, is often triggered by a virus. I’ll have a clearer idea on Thursday when I have my arm nerve conductivity tests (I hope), together with shoulder x-ray and further blood tests. Even if it isn’t that, my arms are not snapping back to life, so I suspect we still need to do what we can to find a cause.

The acute pain is gone, and I’ve cut back on the smarties, as my arms and shoulders are still inflamed, stiff and sore. Sleep has been a big problem, but even that is improving, aided by hot bath, hot chocolate and pillows placed at strategic points in the bed.

I realise I’m probably  getting close to some unpleasant physio, but I’m hopeful that the damage to the nerves is not as bad as I first feared. I still have lots of paranoid thoughts about nasty conditions I may have, as well as bouts of pessimism that this will be a permanent thing. But given I have managed two short walks in the last four days, lends optimism that there is a way back.

My family have been amazing, friends near and far have sent wonderfully supportive messages and encouragement, and my boss and colleagues have been quite simply outstanding. Better than any employer I’ve ever had, and that is high praise indeed. My boss even phoned me one late afternoon to tell me I was doing too much. You can’t buy that.

If you were one of those people who has listened, sent encouragement, good wishes or anything, then thank you, it has been an amazingly powerful in keeping my spirits up like you will never understand. In a cold, dark tunnel, with an icicle hanging over me, you were the light I moved towards. Like this metaphor.

Despite all of this, I’m still in the tunnel, and it’s still a horrible place to be in. I may not have the apocalyptic fear I had 24 hours into this episode. I also know my disablement is mild compared to those of others, and that I am fortunate to have money and resources to be able to tackle it. But the transformation that means I can not turn a key in a lock, or get a tin of soup from the middle shelf, is a stark contrast to the very fit state I had got myself into by the 3rd week of January. But I am grateful I can do things I could not do two weeks ago, velcro shoes are wonderful things.

Since I had my diagnosis of prediabetes at the beginning of December I had lost 4 kg, migrated to a very healthy diet, really upped the level and type of exercise, as well as curbed my enthusiasm for chocolate. Who knows, maybe that level of fitness has afforded a measure of protection. But it feels like a major setback from what I could do before. Knowing what I have and how to tackle it helps, sure, but it is not easy. One very major positive is that all that work has paid off in getting my blood sugar down to normal levels, albeit towards the top of the normal range. It shows I can reverse that.

So yes, it’s got better. I hope it continues as my fragile confidence can not take much in the way of physical setbacks. But I suspect it’s not going to be an easy Few months. That said, I’m determined in my usual way to face it and KBO as one of my friends would say. It’s what I do.

 So please continue to send messages like this.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

I was catching my breath

“Sometimes, I wake at 4 in the morning, Where all the darkness is swarming, And it covers me in fear”

Well, here we are, 4AM in the UK and I can’t sleep. Not because anything is occupying my mind but because the pain in my shoulder joint just won’t let me. This is despite the painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Guess I got that dose wrong.

Fortunately I can tell most of this story with a simple cut, paste and edit from an earlier message to a friend. Modern life may not be solving one problem, but it certainly makes this public broadcast easier.

I have become a medical mystery over the last few days. I’m ok in myself (as we say - but what does that mean?) but have been through the mill a bit since last week. I spent most of Friday at ED because of unbelievably agonising and continual sudden pain in the joints & muscles of my arms and shoulders which started out of the blue last Wednesday afternoon.

They’ve got the pain stabilised now with some strong painkillers and anti inflammatory stuff (although there is still a fair amount of pain) and I’m undergoing all kinds of blood tests to see what it is- they don’t really know. Lots of theories ranging from Lyme disease to an autoimmune condition called Parsonage-Turner syndrome. My money is on the latter, as it fits with our family history. But to be honest, I’m past caring what, I just want it to stop.

I’m off sick from work, unable to do much and pretty tired- I can barely move my arms. I can type with a couple of fingers, a lot of the others have a numbness and pins and needles. The internet is, of course, a curse. I imagine it spreading to other parts of my body, or to my breathing muscles or heart. Or I find conditions which will have me dead in a week.

It’s also horrible seeing people around you powerless to help, and yet at the same time they do help. Mrs Mendip Rouleur - wow, what would I have done without her. Practically of course, but emotionally she has been amazing. I’m so glad she picked, and stood by, me. My family have all rallied round too, my son, brothers and particularly my amazing sister, probably the best Nurse in the world, and undoubtedly the best Sister. 

Beyond that my friends, colleagues and boss have all been brilliant too. Understanding, supportive, and keeping my spirits up despite the limitations caused by this pandemic.

Obviously I can’t ride a bike, or drive or even walk far. I can type with one finger of each hand but can’t write or put on clothes without pain. I don’t care about not riding, to be honest I don’t care if I never ride again, I’ll trade anything to have this sorted. Yes, we are even into “deals with God” territory. And I’m a staunch atheist.

Needless to say the British health response has been patchy. The Hospital was generally perfunctory.  I’m not talking medically, because there is little more they could have done. It’s more the complete lack empathy and understanding of what I am experiencing. I do realise they are under a lot of strain too, and some were lovely, it’s just they are not set up to deal with this right now. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations.

Of course, you may be thinking, it’s only a week, and it’s only some pain in your arms. I do appreciate others have things far worse and for much longer. And Thursday may bring some answers when the latest set of blood tests return, or we try other avenues. Things are looking up as at least now I feel I’ve got a good Local doctor on the case, so we’ll see.
I’m not asking for anything from anyone, just a bit of understanding. I have lots of dark thoughts in the last week, and I’m very frightened. Typing this has helped that too, for I don’t know what the short or long-term outcome of this will be. But I have retreated to Dr Lucy Hone’s excellent TED talk on resilience. Everyone can find it at this .Link

She talks about how resilient people have three key attributes, and they help too:

1. The awareness to realise that bad things happen to almost everyone, this is a normal and natural part of the human experience
2. Focus on what you can change, and ignore what you can not.
3. Ask yourself, is what I am doing helping or is it hurting?

You might be thinking why am I even writing this? The answer is really very simple. I can’t sleep and this passes the time and takes my mind of my shoulder. You realise a lot of things about how you use different muscles, and for what tasks and activities, when you can’t use them. It turns out that shoulders are really important in the sleeping process. The good news is that my next meds are due soon, it’s taken that long to type this. So just doing this post has been really helpful in getting me through the night.

Football is playing it’s part for me too, as ever. Despite the Irons capitulation on Sunday, the compression of the football season means there’s another game here already this evening. Of course we may lose, but it’s the best season for a long time.

Hopefully the painkillers on an empty stomach will induce some sleep, and if they don’t, there’s Netflix, or BBC Sounds or any one of hundreds of other options. Or just the music to send me somewhere else. I am, after all, Winscombe’s biggest Taylor Swift Fan 

Take care of yourselves.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Leave it behind

 I once went on an extended pub crawl dressed as Yoda from Star Wars. It was a very long evening as I recall, and sadly before the days of ubiquitous camera phones. So no digital pictures exist that I can share with you, although I’m sure some of my fellow participants, some of which I am still in contact with, may have some paper ones somewhere. 

In my professional career there are a few film analogies and stories that I have milked to death, and this is one of them.

It was actually an organised work event, early 2000s as I recall. Nowadays the idea that a major employer would encourage that kind of thing - allowing, no promoting, the idea that hundreds of its People go round the pubs of Bristol and get paralytically drunk, (for charity) probably cuts across good Wellbeing practice. Who knows, maybe the event persists, I know it’s recalled fondly as evidenced by frequent Memories on Facebook.

In the light of 2020, the whole idea of Wellbeing has assumed massive proportions. I’m sure our ancestors, cave-dwellers, peat-walkers, and subsistence farmers etc would laugh at how we have moaned and griped our way through what is a fairly minor bit of pestilence, historically-speaking anyway. But then again, they probably had more resilience than we now have, and hadn’t yet figured a way to contrive their world into such an inter-dependent, convoluted techno-bubble. 

Bubble, a word only previously associated with “I’m Forever blowing” etc. Yes, I was in that crowd singing, a great day out it was too. Although watching football from the warmth and comfort of your living room has many advantages, it’s nothing like the real thing, particularly in the cold and damp of December. But yes, I have missed it. As for these other Jonny-come-lately “bubbles”, what’s wrong with just using the word “Group”? 

And DGMS on “self-isolation”. We used to call it quarantine which I’m almost pleased to see named as Word of the Year by the Cambridge Dictionary. What an honour. Back when a name was first given to it, it meant 40 days away from people, Italian and ships I think. Nowadays it means whatever the latest set of complicated local restrictions says it means. In whichever tier you are in.

There was also a time when the word “mute” wasn’t offensive, whereas now it’s just become one of those hilarious things to say to the person who can’t figure out the controls of whichever video platform they happen to be using that day. Or who has become so engrossed in reading emails that they’ve lost sight of the fact there was a conversation going on.

But behind all of my tongue in cheek cynicism, there are some serious points of course. We have all had to deal with a lot. My public face might look all cheerful, plain and professional, but outside of the sight lines of the camera it’s a mess. 

Cables and junk absolutely everywhere, tasks half-started and never finished, whilst lurking in the background is a bit of Christmas promise, to be quickly followed by the gloom of the New Year. 

Yes, it’s been tough. Yes that’s a metaphor.

I’m sure many of you have also struggled, and I’m no exception, but, in time-honoured fashion, I don’t want to make a fuss. Nor am I comparing my challenges with yours, or saying I know how you feel.  Our normal, bearable day-to-day struggles have been tipped over the edge by isolation, illness or the threat of it, but above all, by uncertainty and novelty. Not in a good way.

But just for once I’m going to break Shirley’s rule and make a bit of a fuss. Because finally my own poor choices have caught up with me, not in a big way, more in an early-warning way, face this or die horribly in the future way. Much as I’d like to bury my head in the sand, my heart won’t allow it.

I have been diagnosed with something called pre-diabetes. I’m 77kg, 171cm and have slightly elevated blood sugar than is good for me. I won’t give you all the detail about glycated haemoglobin, suffice to say that I’ve just slipped over the border into bandit country.  

Despite a fairly active life, and reasonably good diet, it has not come as the shock you might expect. For one, experts (them again) reckon about a third of the UK adult population is walking around with this condition, undiagnosed. That’s on top of about 10% who knowingly or unknowingly have full-blow Type 2 Diabetes.  A figure that is expected to rise quickly over the next few years.

My condition is far away from serious, it’s the beginnings of an early-warning sign. It was only picked up in me by a serendipitous  blood test. And whilst I have only just snuck over the line in terms of the figures, I have been fairly sedentary for the last three months, and been absolutely caning the chocolate. So in truth, I was not surprised that the last few months of 2020, on have this on.

My weight has been creeping up for years, gradually, stealthily, and I lazily ignored it. After all, I can still cycle 100km without really breaking a sweat, 200km in a day fairly easily, and my VO2 and FTP are superb for my age. But it’s not enough. Unfortunately, despite what the Daily Mail will have you believe, our behaviour isn’t the only factor at play here. Stress, genetics and lack of sleep can all play their part in influencing our blood sugar, so it’s not all down to lifestyle. Whatever the cause, I am going to have to deal with it, and look at eating more healthily, getting more sleep, reducing my stress and being more active. Easy eh?

Now is the time for me to follow Yoda’s advice. With any luck I can mobilise my compulsive gene to become a full-on healthy-eating and focussed exerciser. But in my heart of hearts I know that’s not me, I will just have to find my own way and do the best I can to reclaim my health, and push the numbers in the right direction.  

Right now I feel exhausted just thinking about it, and I am longing for the next week to pass so I can have some time off at Christmas. Much as the Rapha 500 appeals, I probably should have a break from setting myself tough challenges and concentrate on eating dust and grass. But then again, if this year is to have anything good come out of it, I should look on the bright side. I have the opportunity and the resources to do something about it, and the brains to make the right choices. 

As it goes I have been wrestling with a few other consequences of choices I made in other areas too. It’s time to let those anxieties go as well. I just don’t want to carry that baggage around with me any longer, so along with the chocolate, they will just have to go

                                                                            Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Courting opinions

 Today has been a very odd day. Surreal in places, but ultimately immensely satisfying. It is all about cycling and not about cycling at all. Let me explain.

Back in July I put a Go Pro on my handlebars so that I could edit together a short “film” about one of the 200km rides that Martyn and I did around Somerset. The film was OK, the ride was better, but it was vaguely interesting as my first foray into making YouTube clips. As is the way of these rides, I got home pretty tired, it was the first 200 I’d done since before the first lockdown. So the bike went away for the night, unwashed and the camera mounting still under the Garmin.

Because that weekend had what I can only describe as “perfect cycling weather” (warm, but not too hot, light breeze, sunny skies etc etc) I decided to make the most of it on the Sunday and ride over to Rodney Stoke to see, and then ride with, Steve on a gentle leg loosener. All compliant with social distancing of course.

On the way there I was involved in “The Incident”. I briefly mentioned it in a blog post, which for obvious reasons I had to subsequently take down from this site. The Incident was of course a close pass. I thought it the most dangerous one I’d ever experienced, and one of the worst pieces of driving I’d seen for a long time. I had to take avoiding action to avoid being hit.

Because of the camera being on the bike, the whole incident was captured in HD footage and was soon winging its way to Avon and Somerset Police. Two days later I found out that they’d issued a Notice of Intended Prosecution. In early October I was called as a witness in the driver’s prosecution for Driving without due care, and today that case came to trial. The driver was convicted, given 4 points on his licence and fined £482 inclusive of costs.

I don’t want to say too much about the actual trial, and all the details that go with it, you can ask me if you see me and are that interested.  But what did strike me about the whole thing, was how utterly unnecessary it all was. The driver did not have to behave as he did back in July. He could have used some logic and entered a guilty plea, or taken some advice from a wiser friend. He is not a man of means, and is now in the invidious position of having to repay that fine over the next year. His licence will carry those points for a few years, and affect his insurance premiums.

But will it change his behaviour? Well, maybe he might think twice for fear of future retribution and punishment. But I’m not convinced he really, truly understands how dangerous his driving was. It may be this is one small victory in the battle against our terrible “car-obsessed, got-to-get-in-front-at-al-costs” driving culture. A few recent events have brought out the best and the worst in people, and I think so much of our society has become too polarised, too quick to argue and too slow to listen.

Maybe court cases and “calling people out” are the way to tackle the ills of our world. But as 2020 draws to a close perhaps we can take some time to think of ways in which we could all get along with each other, and ideally, not come close to killing anyone whilst driving a car. By the way, 2020 has been bad, but ask Cambodians, Southern Slavs, Rwandans, and many, many more people all over the world, if there have been worst years since 1945 and I’m sure they will say yes. My 22, 916 minutes of engagement with Spotify do not signal a bad year either. 

I was shaken by the Incident, so much so that I acquired two new cameras (the original GoPro fell off on a descent on the Mendips, into a long-grass verge, never to be found), but I have yet to fit them to my bikes. Partly because I want to feel that bike riding is about fun, friends and fantastic views. Partly because I don’t need any more extra weight than the second lockdown has given me. It’s amazing how much chocolate you can eat in a month. 

Cycling largely is so joyful for me, and right now we all need more joy. I do for sure. But engaging with all that bad driving just doesn’t feel like any form of joy, and I can’t help but think there must be better ways to change things. Too much fighting

For once I am at a loss to know what the right thing to do is. In the meantime, here’s Bristol, in the dark of lockdown, from the bike ride I did last week.


Saturday, 7 November 2020

A Newtonian distraction

 For once I am going to write an unashamedly geeky post about cycling. Nothing about politics, life and death, films, music or the lockdown. For those of you struggling with big world events, or local issues, or family crises of any kind whatsoever, this post is the ultimate escapism. 

Back in March, for reasons I promised not to mention, I found myself with a bit more time on my hands. Time that of course I used productively to do more cycling. Now, as the dark approaches and the weather turns more inclement, that time is being whittled away and I have to take my opportunities whenever they present themselves.

Still, back to March. As I had all this time for riding, I decided I would ride when the weather was nice. A sunny Spring and the lengthening of the days, meant that was quite often. A further benefit of this fair-weather riding, coupled with the fact that I was riding on my own, and so I didn’t have to worry about spraying anyone with water and Somerset’s finest mud,  meant I could ride my Planet X bike all the time. The lighter bike. 

And the results, and bear in mind the only person any of us truly competes with is ourself, were very encouraging. After a tough year in 2019 with the whooping cough, and an early bout of that illness I can’t mention in March 2020, I saw both my VO2 and my FTP steadily, if not spectacularly, increase in line with the lengthening daylight.

Even when our life-affirming cycling trip to the south of France fell by the wayside, a quick pivot to the Land of his Fathers, allowed me to keep some kind of mountain-focussed goal in my head, to spur my motivation. This was particularly important as that available time started to shrink, for reasons I can’t mention.

Then, on the evening of 26 August, I found myself with a couple of hours to spare till sundown, so decided to head out on a loop of the airport, Bristol airport. Now, for Strava aficionados, I give you the Wrington-Redhill climb. One of my most climbed segments in the whole of the world, as I write I have done it 273 times since I joined Strava at the start of 2014 (an average of 39 times a year), but in 2020, Relatively hardly at all (only 15 times). The simple reason for this is because this climb is on one of my favourite commuting routes, and for reasons that I can’t mention, I’ve not been going into our Bristol office much since March. It was also a lovely evening.

It’s a very benign climb. The full route from the actual village of Wrington to the top of the hill at Row of Ashes, includes five steep sections (of 8-12% each), but this segment truncates that longer climb by chopping off the first and last two ramps. Consequently the segment has an average gradient of only 3.6% over the course of its 2.11 kilometres. Because most of my efforts are done whilst commuting to work I tend to bimble up it, enjoying the views and the sunrises, depending on the time of year.

When I was reviewing my Strava results after that ride on 26 August, to my astonishment I found it was my 3rd best ever climb of the segment, at a stunning 7 minutes and 9 seconds. Look, I know what you are thinking, and I know my place and ability. I’m competing against myself remember? Even if I wasn’t, despite there being 2,103 better performers on this hill than me, And my best was a few years ago, there are still 2,393 people who are either slower or can’t be arsed. Honestly, you Type A people, just relax. There are worse things going on, but I cant mention them.

Anyway, this “performance” was something of a surprise. It hadn’t been a commuting ride, but I hadn’t been making any specific effort to blast up the hill, so I put it down to a bit of good form (don’t you all?) and forgot about it.

Fast forward a few months to Wednesday of this week, and so much has changed. It’s cold, it’s dark, windy, and worst of all, it seems to be perpetually raining. And all that time I mentioned? Mostly gone, as I’m having to use my waking hours for things other than cycling. So a dry and still night Prompted me out the door in the direction of Bristol. I also had a small errand to deliver something to a colleague on the Wells Road. It now being November, and my Planet X being off the road for wheel repair, I was on the chug-a-long steel bike. Actually, it’s beautiful to ride, looks amazing and is equipped with just about everything you need for Winter riding. Which means that as well as being very comfortable, it is also very, very heavy. 

Needless to say my ride up Wrington-Redhill did not pull up any trees. At 8 minutes 40 seconds it was very firmly towards the fourth quartile of my own personal performances. Although it was a very lovely evening, with mist down in the valley, stars up above, and a nearly-full moon to illuminate proceedings. If I was allowed to mention it, I’d say it made me feel glad to be alive.

But the wheel I was using also has a Power meter in the rear hub, and I was equipped with a Heart rate monitor (and yes I do have a Heart) so enabling me to make some direct comparisons with that climb back in August. Brace yourself, it’s about to get geeky.

So why was my November ride nearly 20% slower than my August ride? What had caused such a dramatic decline in the speed of my climb? The obvious first choice would be that I was just bimbling as usual. Not putting in as much effort or worn out from a day at the coal face or ground down by the events out in the wider world. Well, actually no. Power output and average heart rate, at 211/163 for August and 212/164 this week were practically identical, if anything slightly more effort in November. There’s a possibility that the meter has been calibrated differently, but I’m pretty sure my heart hasn’t.

Students of physics, and specifically potential energy, will have seen one obvious answer. The energy require to move any mass uphill is a function of its mass, the amount of vertical ascent and the Gravitational constant (as I’m sure you knew). The latter two obviously haven’t changed in three months, although it does feel like the world is shifting on its axis sometimes. But obviously the mass has. Not the rider, no, despite what you might be thinking. I’m actually about the same as I was then. It’s the bike. Equipped with mudguards et al, as well as more and thicker clothing and lights galore, my Winter ensemble tops out at around 15kg, whilst the Planet X is a mere  8.7kg. So a proportion of those watts would have been used to carry lift that extra weight up the 85 metres of the climb, and the speed would have been sacrificed.  But how much of the fall in speed is used to do that? The equation to calculate the sacrifice is :

Energy = mass x height x gravitational constant [9.8 m/s] - for the truly geeky. 

It’s not a huge amount of energy though, 5248 Joules which equates to 1457 Watts being used to lift up the extra weight. Now, the figure from my power meter, of 212Watts, actually means I’m putting out 212 Watts per second on average. So in 8 minutes 40 seconds I am putting out 110,240 Watts in total over the whole climb. Which means that just 1.3% of my power output is used to carry the extra weight, which would make a difference of just 7 seconds.

The one caveat I’d put on these calculations is that it is 37 years since I did A level Physics, brighter minds and geekier cyclists may know better and I’m open to education.

If my Maths are right, what else would account for such a slower speed when the engine (me) was working at a similar level of output? We need to do a Sean Kelly and made the calculations. So what other factors are in play here? Well, for one, there is air density. As it’s a relatively shallow climb wind resistance plays more of a role in determining speed, and in the Autumn with a temperature of 7C the air would have been more dense than in the Summer when it was a relatively balmy 17C. 

Also consuming a few watts would have been my dynamo hub, not much I grant you, but those lumens have to be powered from somewhere, so the illuminating light of Exposure would have been paid for in speed.

And for those of you that know the local area and follow me on Strava, and are finding it hard to sleep in these troubled times, take a look at my angle of approach. Momentum is everything, unless you are Fleabag or Jeremy Corbyn. In August I was hitting the start of the segment at about 20 mph as I’d come from Congresbury, whereas this week I’d approached from the 10% ramp out of Wrington itself, so had no impetuous push from the landscape.

But the real big determining factor here, and I’d claim, without any evidence, (who would do such a thing as that?) that it’s the case for all PBs on Strava by middling cyclists where the gradient is less than 6% (that’s a pretty bold and specific claim isn’t it without a research-based study to back it up, but oh well, that’s modern life) Is the speed and direction of the wind.

August, tail wind - westerly- of 15.8 mph. It may not sound much, but if you are a cyclist, you will know it is. A full-on, right-behind-me tailwind. Whereas on the misty night of November, - northerly 2.2 mph - and with the side of the hill sheltering me, that’s as near to cycling in a vacuum as you are going to get.

So there you have it. Physics eh? Bloody hell. If anyone would like to work out all the parameters in detail, be my guest. I’ll even pretend to be interested. I’m just pleased to have taken you minds away from all the real-life shitshow at the moment. But, this shows the importance of critical mass, momentum, power, heart,  competitiveness, data, how to use your time, and having something behind you. Those and density, always important. Oh and being good at Maths too.

What’s that? I promised It would be about geekiness?  It is, isn’t it?

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Time is a train

 Life operates in phases and cycles, that are not always apparent at the time. It’s only when you look back with hindsight that you can see things have changed and you are into a new phase of your time. But sometimes there are events that knowingly come towards you, like a train.  They approach slowly at first, before they hurtle into the station and you have no choice but to watch them smack you in the face. I’m ready.

Nearly twenty years ago I was reading all the books about childbirth and how to be a father. Oh, how I laugh at the naivety now. The real thing was even better than I could have imagined, but also so much more difficult. You just have to ride on the waves that it brings. Now, as I write this, another very real thing is happening.

For those of you that haven’t guessed, Junior Rouleur is off into the big world on Monday, to University no less, to “study”. No matter how much we care for him, he’s leaving us, and rightly so. Being a parent is a complex thing, it never, ever stops. You really do just get to carry them, even when they don’t want you to. Now is one of the moments, he and I may be one, but we are decidedly not the same. It’s time for him to find his own way, his own paths and his own phases.

Of course, it’s not the end of the world, far from it. There will, I hope, be periods when we don’t see him in quite a while, he’ll no longer be just down the hall in his own room. Covid notwithstanding, I hope he’ll be out meeting new friends in low-lit rooms, drinking wine and having a good time. But no matter what happens, he’ll always be my son, and I will always love him. 

There are dangers out there of course, not least honesty. None of us really know at that age what we want, hell - I still don’t sometimes. But you can rely on us to tell you, what we think. I hope we will continue to tell each other everything -even those those things we are not supposed to. Because that is the core of our bond.

He will make mistakes I’m sure, cross lines he shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter to me, even if it matters to him. You have to learn these things for yourself, and although I can provide a safety net, I can’t protect him every time he crosses the road anymore. That may seem cruel, but letting your children go is the best thing a parent can do when the time comes.

They have to fly. It’s no secret that our world is in darkness right now. It feels like a difficult time to let go, and I feel I could have, should have done more to prepare him. But my pesty conscience isn’t much help right now. He’s going to have to embrace it all, and know that our love will be there for him if he falls off the wall.

And I’m sure that most of his life will be joyful. The last six months must have felt like he was living underground what with all the restrictions. He’ll get into all those late night conversations talking about things you can’t explain, as well as kissing the sky with lots of new friends. From the child will mysteriously emerge a fully-rounded man.

He will throw his arms around all of it, and even in the times he is still up at six o’clock in the morning, and having to get to a lecture by nine, he’ll see the sunrise of possibilities, and travel a long way from us. And one day find his way back home.

He has had tough times in his life already, and has developed a resilience most of you can’t imagine. He can’t always be strong. But he’s wiped the tears from his eyes, coped in the dark, trashy days, and always finds his own treasure somehow. 

In fact he’s a bit of an acrobat, I think all young people have to be these days. He doesn’t always believe things in the naive way I did at his age. He’s more questioning, but he’s also a lot more level headed too, he doesn’t let the bastards grind him down.

Above all else he is my, our, son. I am already deeply proud of him. That may be a common sentiment amongst parents, but just as no one can prepare you for parenthood, no parent can viscerally feel any child is loved more than their own, by them. So there will be a little mourning as I drive away from the University, but at the same time, I want him to embrace this dangerous idea, that he doesn’t need us anymore.