Riding outside in the UK winter is…

…Looking at 5 different apps on your phone before finally grasping it will never actually be 20 degrees and dry in the UK in January

…Dressing to go to the artic then sweating like you have the flu before even putting your    shoes on

…On that note, cursing everything in the world whilst you navigate your latex overshoes    over your cycling shoes

…Wobbling like a toddler when your first head out after months of a stable indoor bike

…Needing a wee within five minutes despite going ten times before leaving the house

…On the flat noticing just how much power you’ve built this winter. Nice one rocket

…And then having your hopes dashed as you hit one of Suffolk’s slight bumps and Thursday’s legs day smarts the whole way up

…Enjoying the burn in your lungs from the fresh air and feeling the beat of your lower heart rate. Thanks Watt Bike

…Loving the sound and feel of the rubber tyres on the tarmac. The hum. Yes, the hum

…Doing an out and back route just to get the benefit of a tailwind on the way home

…Snot everywhere, everywhere, despite the best directed snot rockets

…Seeing a slither of blue in the sky and telling yourself Spring will be here tomorrow

…Being thrown sporadically into the middle of the road due to the wind and using deep    rims

…Enjoying swearing at drivers again. It would seem the British public haven’t developed     their driving awareness over the winter like you have your cycling prowess

…Forgetting about work for a bit, too busy avoiding being flung in the ditch

…Whacking up the volume on your bone conduction headphones and riding like you stole your own several grands worth of bike

…Going the long way home just to go down a good hill at 42mph. Cheap thrills, eh.

…Hoping you beat a few by being out today

…Enjoying a post ride bath a bit too much, knowing in a few week’s time that will be ice     cold and after a brick run

…Looking forward to a lunch of champions before remembering it’s measly chicken and    leaves. Again. The six pack thanks you

…Realising after a quick snooze that you’ve only been 45 miles, still time to do some work and writing

…Having a bright red face for hours after. Horrible wind burn. I’d prefer sun burn

…Being able to walk on a Monday

…Buying a new bike. The January sales are dragging on. Damn. Welcome home #7.

Here’s a little snippet of a memorable tune from my ride as I climbed the last hill home:

“Staring at my empty glass just trying to figure out what to do

And I needed you, to tell me what I already knew

I caught myself around the kind of thoughts I never knew I could have

Show me how to move on, show me what it’s like to be a (wo)man

Yeah, I needed you, to tell me what I already knew

Anyone can tow line, the choice is yours son to live a life, find a way to rise above

Your only here once now

What goes around comes around

Grit your teeth when they kick you down

Find you way, find your love, your only here once now, your only here once now”

Ben McKelvey – Only Here Once.

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On journeying with my turbo trainer: Part One

One Wednesday night in December turned out to be sadder than I expected. That day I lost a friend. Except this wasn’t a human friend, it was a machine, my Tacx I-Magic Turbo Trainer, the crème de la crème in its prime ten years ago and the first “virtual” turbo trainer that meant riders could train to videos (more on that in part two). On that night, “Doctor Bike” (my Dad) had just texted me and said the motor was finished. The worst bit. The lifeblood and the point of no return. As I sat there, with a tear trickling down my face (you all think I’m nuts anyway so admitting that won’t change things), it was a tear not primarily consisting of sweat for a change but one imbued with sad emotions, I was overcome with a flood of memories.

It’s not unusual for an athlete to have their favorite piece of equipment perhaps a bike, racket, a pair of boots or trainers, type of golf ball, and that’s usually the case either because of functionality or some seductive commercialized appeal. However, to be honest this wasn’t about either of those aspects. As it aged, my Dad and I did everything we could to prolong both the mechanism and the bike that I rode on it. It had new tyres, it had updated speed sensors, I invested in different software, it had new pedals, new cogs, new cables, I ditched the headset display etc. It was quite frankly well past its sell and use-by-date years ago and we spent so much money on it that I could have easily have had a shiny new one a few years previously. I say “we” because the bank of Mum and Dad was always open and welcoming.

So why was I upset about this knackered bit of kit going to heaven?

That emotion arose from the journeys physically and metaphorically that I had travelled in and with its life. My tears were filled with the utmost of nostalgic pride. The Tacx trainer was housed in “The Sweat Box” – literally a box room portioned off from the conservatory that permanently reeks and is generally pretty damp and cold, particularly after I have sweated in it. But these few square metres represent one of the closest marriages of my two worlds: being an academic and an athlete.

Some big, important and significant things in my life happened in and around that box. It was my saving grace more times than I remember but some notable ones include: the morning of my PhD viva, the day before an interview for my first academic post, the days before virtually every half or full Ironman I’ve done, travelling to the World Champs to represent Team GB, when I had just put my 15 year old cat to sleep and had one last ride “for Harry”, when I had my first (and second and third) tattoo and didn’t want to bend or train my arms too much, when I put it on the highest climb mode to prepare for the Tour of Wales, when I had my wisdom teeth out and was told not to exercise, when I would leave for an early morning flight and have a quick ride in the middle of the night, when I had more anxiety than was physically possible to contain, when I needed endorphins, when I couldn’t sleep, when I couldn’t write, when I needed to burn calories for a treat for tea and even a decade of Christmas mornings preparing for gluttony. That’s the short version of a very long list.

The message is clear though: it was and still is up there with being one of the most fruitful spaces where I can believe in myself and my two worlds.

Beyond that, it was the place and bit of kit I used to learn to become a cyclist and endurance athlete. I’m too modest but I can at least recognize that it was a huge factor in training to ride for Team GB at the World Champs (2017) and becoming an All-World-Ironman Athlete in 2016.

It might have seemed liked a wussing out option when I didn’t want to face the British weather, indeed, I hate riding in anything below 10 degrees, but the idea of it being an easier option couldn’t have been further from the truth. It just wasn’t cold. That was all. For all other intents and purposes, I trained like a machine and more precisely and harder than I could do outside. It had every level of intensity from recovery ride to endurance training and sprint efforts requiring a bucket. I even won a Virtual Tour where I rode about 15 hours on it in one week in 2015.

It only ever got a bit boring when I was there over 3 hours but even then I liked that it tested my resolve. It taught me how to learn to handle pain, be patient, it taught me discipline, it taught me how to train in power zones, it taught me precision and consistent pedaling, to stay still etc. As the years went on, I also took great pleasure in learning to deal with its “surprises”, namely the gears jumping up and down circa 3 at a time, or its sporadic flat tyre or less than smooth riding.

By being easily accessible at home it also supported me in my disciplinary pursuit of consistency. If I wanted to train, I could. There were no places to look for excuses. If it’s the middle of the night and I didn’t want to be in the dark, put the light on, if I needed fuel, walk ten steps to the kitchen, fifteen more for a wee, if I needed a dry shirt, climb thirty steps upstairs (of course not with your cycling shoes on) etc.

The consistency it afforded me I believe was also fundamental in my improvement. The best athlete isn’t the one who trains exceptionally but not regularly enough, the best athletes in my view are the ones who train regularly, well enough to improve their fitness but more importantly within themselves enough to maintain regularity of sessions. The results come from consistency and navigating life’s challenges 365 days a year. If there’s not enough time, 45-60 minutes on a turbo trainer will do the job. That isn’t just something for a more performance minded athlete, to my mind its resonance travels to the average recreational gym user.

Of course, in replacement I have a new Wattbike Atom now. Spoiler alert: in part 2 I will surely tell you how much I love that. But I really hope I don’t forget how far I’ve come with my Tacx I-magic.

Never worry about having a favourite. Favourites are winners whether they are functional or are your comfort blanket.