20 years on (part 1)

Last year I rode for 3 hours in January, having been ill after Christmas, but also because life is, well… busy. 2014 is special though. Amongst many changes I have found the time and motivation to ride, partly driven by the probably foolish intention of completing my first Super Randonneur series: my longest completed brevet thus far is 400km, and only twice, with a ten year gap between rides. Last year I only rode a 200 and a 400, and I did not really prepare sufficiently. A long ride with Emma and Rich in April went some way towards preparation for these but I suffered in both, unhelped by some poor navigation and ridiculous weather.

This year is indeed special. It’s a special anniversary for me and @accidentobizaro and fortuitously linked to the Yorkshire hosting of the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. I also need to prepare myself mentally for next year’s big challenge, the 2015 Paris Brest Paris randonnée, all 1200km of it. Forcing myself to ride more, and to finally risk a 600km ride (weather and health permitting), is all part of something bigger, quite what time will tell. Part of this has been riding more with others, although I still favour solitude. 23 hours and 500km into 2014 feels a good place to be, a base to build on, and I hope the next weeks will be as kind to me. For those of you that have read my other more personal posts on this blog, you will know that cycling is an integral and yet somewhat problematic part of my life, and I hope I may have succeeded in laying to rest some demons in the last few weeks.

I’ll write more on this special year…

Time to get off…

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So, here it comes: I may need to take a break from cycling for a bit. I have been feeling physically and mentally out of sorts for the last few weeks, and despite some very enjoyable rides the signs are there that I need to change focus: there will certainly be no Festive 500 for me, and I may even eschew the rollers over Christmas. I’ve been here before, and it always amazes me how little riding I did when I was off work with depression – and how little it directly helps my low mood now I am generally better. Cycling has a more background and indirect effect on my health and well-being: prophylactic rather than topical, and like any treatment, dosage needs careful and constant management. There is a constant temptation to increase volume or intensity to fill gaps in life, yet that can lead into a spiral of worsening mood and physical state. It is entirely possible that I’ll feel differently tomorrow or next week, but that’s exactly the point: riding on feel is a reliable way of managing both fitness and psyche once one has learnt to listen to the signs. I am still learning, and it’s a skill I need to remember and practice.

4822 km so far this year, 2539 last year, so a good point to rest!

Welcoming doping into the home?

Paul Fournel is one of my favourite writers. ‘Need for the bike’ ranks alongside ‘The Rider’ as a paradigm of attentive, illuminating observation: that its topic (like that of Krabbé’s masterpiece) is cycling, is a bonus.
I wrote previously that although I respected and understood Fournel’s essay on doping in ‘Need’ I did not share his conclusions. He has a longer and more embedded understanding of the European tradition of competitive cycling than I, and a healthy dislike of false oppositions and hypocrisy. However, I fear the acceptance of doping as normative, however rational this might be: maybe my Anglo-Saxon lust for fairness and ‘truth’ is too deep, however hard I try to be more philosophical on such matters.
In the most recent edition of Rouleur (Dec. 2012: 86-7), Fournel responds predictably to recent revelations about Armstrong, and their place in our developing understand of doping in sport. He calls for us to ‘welcome’ doping, noting that perhaps only this will enable us to rationally control and assess its impact.
I am not yet ready to welcome doping. However, I welcome Fournel’s critique of the often hypocritical approach to anti-doping we are in danger of adopting. We have a choice: either sign up to legalisation and control, or properly fund and support a huge and multi-faceted prohibition, with the attendant complexities: ethical, legal, psychological, medical and scientific.

It’s been a good year… for blogging

Prior to joining twitter and starting to post here I became a regular visitor and sometime contributor to the clinic, over on cyclingnews.com and hence my outlook was dangerously skewed towards the effect doping was continuing to have on both professional and amateur road racing. However, over the past year I have written about music, about depression, and most recently about my own cycling efforts and ambitions.

I started this blog for two reasons:

  1. to learn how to use Twitter and WordPress to reach an audience; and
  2. to contribute to online discussion of cycling.

I wonder how I did? Continue reading

Commuting = Training?

As readers of this blog will know I have a slightly complex relationship with cycling. I do, like many non-racing cyclists, have an interest in maintaining and improving my cycling-specific fitness, and like many regard my riding as ‘training’, although given my lack of engagement with randonneuring at present, I am not quite sure what I am training for…

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Sport and concussion: anecdotes, research and action

Yesterday’s Tour de France stage saw one rider abandon with concussion (only after other riders complained he was a danger to them) and another ride to the finish after having fairly obvious concussive symptoms. Many sports have had issues with traumatic brain injury (TBI), and have had to issue increasingly detailed guidance on how to identify TBI, and what to do. Rugby Union, for example, provides a range of guidance to officials to ensure that players with suspected TBI are not permitted to continue. It was reassuring to see one team doctor, Prentice Steffen, of Garmin Cervelo, looking for the same thing in cycling, prompted partly by Julian Dean’s experience after crashing in this year’s Volta a Catalunya.

Both my father and his best friend played contact sports. Both had experiences where they played on through concussion. Both had neurological problems in their sixties. Of course, these problems might have occurred anyway, but the link between moderate to severe TBI and later onset neurological disorders is well-founded.

Watching someone being encouraged to continue to compete after clear signs of TBI disgusts me, and this is what it looked like happened yesterday in the case of Chris Horner (whether such encouragement was implict or explicit). What on earth are medical professionals thinking when they permit such nonsense? Not only do they risk further crashes or exacerbating an original injury, they show how basic medical sense is being overruled by sporting motives. Of course, we can all miss the signs of concussion, but that is why clear guidance is necessary from the top down, and needs to be applied consistently.

Cycling and depression: finding a balance

Ex-professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton (in the news again recently, which you will know unless you were asleep for 60 minutes) claimed in 2009 that his second positive test for doping (DHEA) was the result of his taking a herbal remedy to counter longstanding depression (Bonnie Ford of ESPN as usual does an excellent job of summarising here). Hamilton is not the only professional cyclist to have suffered from depression during or after their career, and I have often wondered about the relationship between training workload as a cyclist and mental health. I recently read two blog posts about depression by active cyclists (Scientist, you’re a failure & Drugs and Mental Healthcare) and this got me thinking about how exercise and mental health interact. In this post I write about my own experiences, share some academic research on the topic, and speculate a bit about depression and cycling in general. I am not a mental health professional (although I am an academic working in the area of empirical psychology) so please take my words with this in mind.

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