An academic allowing herself to love writing, even if the future for Universities and Business Schools may be tough. How is it for you?

I am currently on study leave. Which basically means writing and quite often doing so in my pyjamas. Admittedly the first two weeks have been a bit rough, I was perhaps a bit surprised at that given how religious I had been about a Deep Work writing regime over the past year. But yesterday, the words began to flow once more. Sorry about the cliché. I was made up about this, I know there will be bad days again but getting some rhythm together certainly helps me. As I sat working at peace with the world for once I couldn’t help muse along with some things from deeply treasured friends this week. One was considering the ‘School for Business’ blog posted by Martin Parker on his last working day at the University of Leicester. As I tried to imagine the prospects of the future Business School or lack of, I was also struck by a tweeted comment in response to Martin’s post made by Jo Grady. It went along the lines of ‘University managers come and go. Collegial scholars do not. Be who you wanna see in universities’.

So, whilst my work yesterday was more solitary and not necessarily collegiate given I was drafting a sole-authored paper by myself for most of the day, I really enjoyed letting myself be a “proper f**king academic” for once. Thanks Gibson, that one always has and always will work for me. The current higher education context and climate admittedly is not all that rosey and it certainly has affected me substantially in recent months and I’d be the first to concede that I have perhaps let it consume me too much at times recently. However, as I wrote yesterday, I gave myself free rein to consider what are the most pleasurable bits of this craft? What bits help me to rekindle my love for academia?

I am writing about this elsewhere in my book but here are a few reflections about what I love about writing, especially.

…When I can write without any inhibitions, when I can speedily and sporadically put half-baked comments here there and everywhere to later join them together for a fully-fledged argument. Fixing a jigsaw I guess.

…When I can think across disciplines however outlandish the marriage might be and have the space to ponder about otherwise seemingly impossibilities.

…When I can really enjoy thinking about my broader research identity as an academic. A bit vomit worthy but essentially my elevator pitch or better, my proper academic bit. All academics have one of those even if they do not make it explicit and it certainly should not be the thing that is only worked out when one is in the labour market. It’s you, your research identity, the bit you can proudly stand up and say “This is me, this is who I am, this is what I do”. How does thinking about that on that research project connect with that other project over there? What do they compile and say about my research as a whole beyond surface level connections? 

…When I can write without the monster of the Research Excellent Framework or some other time dependent ranking sitting on my shoulders. I am not going to critique those agendas now, the whole point here is imagining the good bits, because there still are a lot. But I do like being able to say what needs to be said. Or at least what I think should be said. And if I can do that in an unorthodox fashion, even better.

…Working out something in a moment without really thinking too hard about it despite it perhaps being keeping me awake for months previously in a furor of anxiety.

…When my mind and body becomes addicted to the flow of the writing, when it wants to write and I want to write with it, rather than when I desperately want to write and my brain and fingers resist every single word.

…When it becomes even more infectious. Perhaps when I have finished at my desk for the day but find that my mind continues to run and race with ideas for hours on end. Working out the next bit of the scenario, finding a reference, building. Always growing something.

…When it allows me to be in a calm place and naturally produces creative, reflective and reflexive spaces. Specifically, in my 15 minute writing breaks I find that they offer some of my most fruitful thoughts. It’s always amazed me at just how clearly I can think when away from my mac, some might say skiving, putting the laundry on the washing line, doing the dishwasher etc.

…When it helps me to learn about myself, and as a result I find quite often that when I am writing a journal paper that I simultaneously have open my Academic Athlete manuscript draft primed for sporadic inserts. Whilst there is an argument that one should focus on one thing at a time and concentrate on it properly, I find it more disruptive to ignore these other thoughts.

So, if you sit down, free of all academic contextual and institutional ties and baggage, what do you like most about writing? What do you feel? And, how does it feel for you?

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.

look 765

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.

Climbing Mt. Teide: Patience and precision

So yesterday I went on a “little adventure” on my bike. Uh eh, we all know what the kind of ilk of Charlie’s little adventures take on. So, I went up Europe’s longest climb, Mt Teide (+2000 metres), in actual sunshine and jersey and shorts. A most welcome break from the current UK weather where I usually go dressed for the Artic.

I was a little apprehensive to start with as many things could ruin a grand day out here. e.g. the weather could distort the view going up, the rental bike could disappoint or not fit correctly, the spd cleats I’d chosen to ride could have killed my feet (still don’t know why I decided that) and last but not definitely least, I’m not really a climber. Such is its length and altitude, the volcano has been one of Wiggo’s and Froome’s key factors in training for big tours.

I went as part of a group with a rental company who organise rides. In the early morning we were garnered from various parts of the island in a mini bus. En route to the shop to collect our bikes everyone seemed to be doing that endurance athlete initiation thing of testing out what the other riders might be like before they even got on their bike. What kind of body shape do they have, are they a triathlete, do they live in the hills, do they live in warmer climes and have actually ridden their bike outside in the past 6 weeks?

We collected our bikes from the shop which were then loaded on top of the minibus and clambered in our cleats ready to get to the bottom of Teide. As we drove I couldn’t help but think “the more we go up in the minibus, the less I am dragging up on my bike”. My fantasising was rudely disrupted by the mini bus stopping at what seemed to me pretty steep. “Uh oh, I’m riding up, from NOW?” Yep.

Then it began, we gently rolled out on undulating roads for 15km before a coffee stop. I say undulating, there was one very steep bit (the 2nd steepest bit of the whole route) where I prayed it wouldn’t be like that the whole way. Cycling in Europe means espresso only allowed. Thankfully that arrangement works for me. An Italian guy riding a time trial bike (!) paid for us all and then promptly headed off upwards. I didn’t see him again.

For the next few hours (no accurate data as didn’t have Garmin holder) I rode upwards only, in the granny gear. The gradient ranged from 6-11% the whole way. Relentless. The views were breathtaking but I don’t have many pictures because if I had stopped I would have dismounted onto a cliff edge. About a tenth of the way up the guide said to me “be patient”. These were words of wisdom, this guy rides this route every week and knew the beast.

And that was how I tackled it. With patience. The whole way. Just sit, suffer and enjoy. I only stopped once for a bar and some salts, otherwise I plodded it out. I’m not used to climbing of any sort really and so made the decision to try and avoid blowing up at any point because I was worried I wouldn’t make it to the top if I bonked. I’m not used to riding my bike with much patience, but it was so the right approach for this one.

I often joke as a cyclist/triathlete that rides, and certainly races, can be defined by a number of words beginning with ‘p’: pee, poo, puke and the worst, p-u-n-c-t-u-r-e (notice how I can’t write it in full?). Sorry for the less than savoury topic. Yesterday, however, I learnt to add a new positive swing to this vocabulary with “patience” and “precision”.

So whilst I had patiently sat it out to the top, feeling (and enjoying) the decrease in oxygen which would give my base miles for the year a big boost, I succeeded with patience and a little precision. The latter needed for handling the bike around the sometimes tight bends. On the way down, however, that duo was reversed: lots of precision and less patience.

Descending was a ball, and one I had waited for ages for. Hours in fact. Some of the group were a little worried, it is pretty high up! I didn’t suffer and enjoyed the thrills, riding down the Black Mountain during the Tour of Wales in very bleak conditions with much more technical sections has taught me well. It was poetry in motion, as I peddled occasionally but mainly just steered and the bike pretty much followed, humming on the tarmac and the mechanics whirring away. Whilst it had been 20 degrees most of the way up, it felt freezing on the way down and I’d forgotten arm warmers or a jacket. A kind lass lent me her arms, an example of cycling camaraderie that had been in full force all day as we adventured together.

As I sit here writing this post ride the morning after I can already feel my heart occasionally skipping a beat. Sounds strange but thats a good indicator of my fitness because that usually means my resting heart rate is somewhere around 41bpm. Usually I notice the beat skipping starting in April/May time as I start putting longer miles in but it seems Teide has served me and my pre-season very well.

If you are a cyclist of any guise, give it a go. It’s definitely one for the list. The views, alpine smells, clean air and descent all make the suffering well worth while. Oh and the rental bike, a Look 765 was the comfiest bike I have ever ridden. It’s not that expensive (relatively for a cyclist) and so this mornings coffee break may find me on Ebay.

Off for a steep hill run now around Los Gigantes. Ride and live well comrades.

 

Gifts for cyclists? Or rather, the gift of cycling?

bikes xmas

It’s that calendar month of the year that seems to offer a magical opportunity to don fairy wings and “let it all go”, “blow out”. A license for several thousand (extra) calories, an option to skip workouts, consume extra alcohol and freedom to reign and create a snowstorm of any of our existing routines. At the same time, there is also the myth “Oh, you are an athlete, you will burn it off very quickly”. Alas not. What I pile on my frame now wont contain the necessary macros for successful endeavors up hills in Spring. I’ll warn you now, the rest of this post will be full of cheese and scrooge.

I am a cyclist, in the right mood, I can give anyone a run for their money eating and on occasions (e.g. post Ironman) eat my body weight in cake. I have a very sweet tooth. I could eat at least half a Christmas pudding in one go, with a good load of trifle on the side, drowning in cream. That would also be after about 25 Celebration or Roses chocolates for breakfast, and a full Christmas lunch containing in the region of 5 yorkshire puddings. This off season thus far I have managed to continue bracing the cold much longer than I would normally and given my current fitness and body fat I am deserving of a little treat and rest. Perhaps sadly the somewhat less eccentric notion of moderation still needs to be applied. Getting myself into a food coma with a festive belly bloat helps no one in the Christmas survival exercise, because that is what it is for me. Like a lot of people, I genuinely struggle with the idea of Christmas, particularly because I am not religious. I struggle with its  commercialization, waste and equally with the forced happiness, there’s 364 other days of the year when I can be happy, no need for extra pressure for this one to work out.

Before you tarnish me with the scrooge hat, let me offer a little more festive cheer.

I have learnt to enjoy it in my own way and make some of my own fun whilst also spending time with those closest. We often hear of professional footballers training on Christmas day ready for their boxing day match, but I’m an amateur triathlete without such pressing needs for performance, and I still train on Christmas day. Every year. This is not some obsessive feat, but rather something I do out of love and it gives me the utmost of pleasure. It puts some grounding to the day as it’s my normal. Training is my pleasure all year round, so why should it be banished out of my life at a time when we are supposed to be enjoying ourselves?

Throughout the Christmas week (because let’s face it, that’s what it is these days), I train a bit harder and a bit more often. Not so much to cause lasting damage or injury, but enough to make a difference. Enough to know I may have knocked a few of the competition off the perch too. I also train more because it gives me the space to be exceptional within my normal routine and the routine in itself is my savior during otherwise unstructured days. I have a very managed approach to carbohydrates given my body shape and type and a few short sharp efforts are a good way to burn off any excess before it settles as fat, or before I ride sugar roller coasters from too many sweets.

And then there’s the gift giving. Buying for a triathlete/cyclist is pretty easy, they almost never have enough kit, on most websites there are gifts for under £10, under £50, under £100 over £2000. Basically, covering every price range possible from a pair of socks, to a box of gels, to a new set of carbon wheels and if you are very well behaved a new bike.

Of course, I find it hard not to buy cycling goodies when they are things I genuinely need all year round and are at a good price, but my best and most precious gift comes at Easter. When the clocks change and I’ve cracked the deal with the sunlight and I’ve sweated buckets indoors for months on end, pushed myself past boundaries I didn’t even know existed, increased my FTP significantly and I head outside with a new and better level of fitness. Boom. It’s perpetually hard during the winter and especially at Christmas, but for me, with a little bit of patience, that is true reward. Some Spring times I have raised a glass (non-alcoholic) in celebration of what is to come, knowing I am heading into racing season far better than I started the last and in the best fitness I could be. Providing no injuries, great things should come. This year the signs are good, by the time you read this on Christmas day I will have ridden my 6500th mile towards the end of my morning ride. The most I have ever done in a year but also with the highest wattage outed.

Festive best. Enjoy doing whatever you choose to do. Make at least a little bit of it your day if you can. If you are an athlete, you are an athlete 365 days of the year.

festive

Being Allegro: Riding the waves of being an academic athlete with music and tattoos

I already have tattoos, my first an M-Dot Ironman emblem on my left wrist, the second a self-designed initial of Bradley Wiggins on my right wrist. I got my third three weeks ago. Of course, I am proud of being an Ironman that has held a world ranking, and I’ll never stop admiring Wiggo. However, this latest piece of ink is more about me, being Charlie, day in day out. It represents the interdependencies and interconnections between being an academic and an athlete via the medium of music, a very large part of my life. Whilst the design took months to decide upon, the idea and what it resembles travels back to my teenage years: when I became academically minded and began to grow athletically.

You may know I operate on two categories of noise: deafening silence to work, or ear bleeding music when I am not. Whilst I train to music often (a separate story for another day), when I am not working I will have my headphones on. I own at least ten different pairs and I go everywhere with them, including the 6-minute walk from the car park to my desk in the mornings, to make a coffee, or to walk to a meeting two minutes away (I am not kidding). Sometimes I am trying to take myself to a different (probably happier!) place but often I am thinking and reflecting in the short and long term, finding my energy and rhythm. That energy then seeps into my academic work when I return to my desk and sit quietly. Perhaps I am thinking about something I wrote that I was pleased with, perhaps a perfectly nailed set of intervals performed cycling or running before work. I also look forward, sometimes a paper I am thinking of writing for instance, my listening therefore becomes the space where the dots are connected and the final part of the jigsaw falls into place producing a coherent argument. Perhaps I just feel ropey and want to be in someone else’s world.

Here it is:

tatt3

What do the various parts mean?

Primarily it is based on Blink 182 because they are my favourite band (since a teenager), for those not familiar, fast pop punk music. The roman numerals in the middle obviously (hopefully?!) total one hundred and eighty-two (a bit late now if not). The blue and pink colours have also been mixed to match the official colours of the band. The words “A new hope” represent the title to one of the oldest Blink songs that contains one of my favourite (albeit short) bits of guitar. But, the words in themselves are also significant, you’ll see why in a moment. It is located on my right bicep, directly opposite my heart, also not insignificant as the right side is where the heart pumps blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen and function.

The aspect that connects it all together is the wave on the left side with a music note at the bottom. To some extent, it reflects the ups and downs of my character, in Blink 182 terms: “I’m a little shy. A bit strange and a little bit manic”. I wouldn’t say I am manic in the medical and strictest sense of the word but I do live my life with many roller coasters, those are a bit fun, and the troughs and quieter bits create the energy for the ups. If we deconstruct a wave then, it is something we usually understand as form of disturbance, predominantly has a moving ridge, an urge and a rush of feeling. It can move more freely and gently, back and forth or it can move as more of a sudden occurrence.

In creating that rush of feeling, another important point of the wave is the Crescendo – the crest – akin to peak performance and the euphoric moments when riding my bike. One does not do the athletic things I do without being an endorphin junkie. I can get my fixes in many ways but some examples might include a personal best of some form or winning a race, for example. So, the crest is the peak, it gradually gets louder, creates excitement, and its petering or crashing out does not have to be bad. The point is that it is a cycle, it picks up again with its rhythm.  It’s “A New Hope” but that hope does not have to derive from something gone wrong.

wave

Moving on, if we think of the composition of music broadly, beyond the single note etched on my arm, there are several elements: rhythm, dynamics, melody, harmony, tone colour, texture and form.

Lyrics are often the part that touch most people in an emotive sense, but for me, the defining aspect is the rhythm – the element of “time” in music, when you tap your foot, you are keeping time, in time with the pulse of the music. In Greek, rhythm (rhythmos) means any regular recurring motion, some form of symmetry that is marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, but also of opposite or different conditions. Not too dissimilar to the peaks and troughs of the wave described above.

The rhythm is divided into two parts: how long the beat lasts, and the tempo: the speed of the beat. It is the tempo of the music that emotively affects my thinking and feeling, and I think about both academic and athletic things listening to the same tempo of music. Tempos are not specific and relative to each other but they do have some broad categories:

tempo

And they are described in the following ways:

  • Largo = Labored
  • Adagio = Slow
  • Andante = Steady walking
  • Moderato = moderate
  • Allegro = fast/happy
  • Presto = Very fast

So, how does this tempo play out in what I listen to?

I own around 700 full albums, which is a fair bit of music, but even with a few examples below and what I have explained already about Blink 182 whom predominantly sit around 125 beats per minute (BPM), there is a pattern emerging here. I nearly always listen to a specific speed of music, none of that slow and sad stuff, never, not on even the darkest of days. I’m into “Allegro”, music that is relatively “fast” and “happy”.

  • Blink 182: After midnight (167BPM)
  • Up all night (156BPM)
  • Always (158BPM)
  • Goo Goo Dolls: “Over and over” (123BPM)
  • Avicii: “Wake me up” (124BPM)
  • Train: “Working girl” (124BPM)
  • Ed Sheeran: “Castle on the hill” (135BPM)

It is also not insignificant that the BPM of the music I listen to are relatively close to the Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) riding my bike. For instance, a standard British Cycling warm up starts at 90RPM and progresses to 110+ RPM. When I am racing full pelt I’d expect to see 120RPM at least. For most of the time then when I am not training I will be listening to music at 120BPM which is not far away from an effort level of 8 out of 10 when doing my sport.

Adding these rhythms and waves together it represents a series of cycles and daily patterns that bring my worlds together and create moments of pure elation in my otherwise normal day. It is extremely telling that I listen primarily to music that is labelled “happy” and use and embrace it as a form of energising my worlds. I know our ups and downs can be caused by the chemicals in our brains, but I know for a fact that I can use music to fundamentally alter the way I think, feel and embrace the rhythms of my life. It is the space where I garner some confidence and above all else, believe. It’s also my medium of energy. Had a mediocre – ‘meh’ – day – spruce it up on the way home. Had some good news? Whack up the volume, celebrate and dream. Had a terrible day? Bad enough that you just can’t think of anything else? Put a song on repeat, lose yourself in the beat, let it carry you along.

There is so much more I can say on music in relation to both of my worlds, and if we add driving and travel to the mix it shows even more, but it’s beyond the scope of my ever-growing post here and my multiplying to-do list for a Monday night. I’ll save it for a chapter in the book. In case you are wondering, I have considered what the new ink will be like when I am 70 years old and it simply is no issue. This is me, this is it for the rest of my days, it’s my love, my drug and where I find authentic happiness. For now, I’ll sign off with my favourite race philosophy: “Let’s pick up the pace and the volume”.

Mars “Protein” bar: A reconfiguration of “Work, rest and play?”

index

The Mars Bar was first produced in Slough by Forrest Mars Sr., an American who adapted the US chocolate bar “Milky Way”, making it sweeter and better suited to the British taste, a treat to help: “work, rest and play”. This embraced a versatile approach to work, with advertising in 1982 proclaiming the bar was suited: “In any job, whatever its size”. The “play” aspect of the slogan closely associates between the bar and either playing or the spectating of sport, most evident in the “Believe” campaign at major events such as football World Cups and Olympics. The features of the Mars bar have also been targeted at different consumers. For example, targeting a ‘lighter’ and more appealing version at females in 2002 – with a slogan – “pleasure you can’t measure” or adapting the cocoa strength for specific geographical regions. Regardless of the slight nuances and tastes, I could be wrong, but historically their appeal has come from being an ultimately unhealthy snack that produces a sense of satisfaction not accomplished from carrot sticks and hummus?

The market of healthy snack and protein bars has long been saturated with products to suit every shape and size, all occupying varied lifestyles: from normal gym-goers to more serious athletes, from workaholics to working mums, from cradle to grave. These products tend to market themselves with different combinations of macro nutrients comprised of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Such variations include higher fat and lower carbohydrates, higher carbohydrates and less fat, high protein and lower carbohydrates, the inclusion of specific types of vitamins, and those which are gluten, nut and additive free etc. In short, each one of these products are scientifically designed and sold as containing the perfect nutritional content for functional consumption at a specific time of the day, but have not really been perceived as having the satiation of sweeter unhealthier culinary delights, like the Mars Bar. Their function is very much in tune with a modern era that requires us to self-govern and optimise our health.

So, in September this year, when Mars launched its new protein Mars bar I was little perplexed. Apparently “you can have all the same great taste you love in a Mars bar now with 19g of protein” and with far less sugar, fat and carbohydrate.

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This new Protein Mars bar is ultimately appealing to a very large part of the population whom have become obsessively healthy because it offers the potential for a little indulgence (combined with a very well-known brand that has traditionally been a treat) whilst upholding our predominant self-conscious health agendas. This is not really what we would expect from a Mars bar.

Of course, there is much divided opinion on the company’s Twitter Feed espousing both opinions regarding taste and function. Opinions of taste are rather polemic: “disgusting, too chewy”, or “sweet and delicious”. With the product’s function, these views are also polemic: “these aren’t proper health” or “these are great, they let me be healthy without actually being healthy”.

For sure, Nestle will make significant profit with their diversified bar, given that it has traditionally promised something nice but now with less damage to our physiques attached. However, is the conversion of something that has historically been the epitome of poor health a wonderful addition to the world gone mad with health and fitness then?

This revised chocolate bar, from one of the biggest brands on the market, seems to emphasize something far more significant that is indicative of how we now think and live our work, rest and play in a modern world flooded by productivity and performativity. Whilst reticent of the general shifts towards healthiness in our consumption practices, it also carries Mars’ heritage of a treat, at the upper limits of acceptability and enjoyment. This further diversification from Mars seems a step too far.

We are no longer considering the “pleasure we can’t measure” but with this latest invention we now “measure every bit of our pleasure”. Undoubtedly with products like these that will continue to market – we will make a conscious decision on whether we consume such based on their macronutrients and our perceptions of their pleasure rating. Of course, consuming responsibly and in moderation is indeed part and parcel of the modern health agenda, but now the moderate part of moderation seems to be lost. Perhaps within this responsibility we have the responsibility to let ourselves go with an uncalculated treat? Otherwise it now appears we work at our rest and play, and we likely even do that during brief interludes during our working days, all of the time.

As the festive season with all its calorific demands looms upon us, consider your choices wisely.

Being a responsive academic: On the radio and in “the zone”?

Monday and Tuesday this week involved very long hours with end to end meetings and a lot of travel, and so by the time Wednesday came around I was well up for a day that involved just 6 hours of meetings and stuff. A whole two hours spare in my working day for….a power nap? Catching up on emails? Filing an expenses claim? Eating food sat at my desk rather than chewing and walking to or from it?

In my usual 5.30am wake-up quick morning news check (before I peel myself out of bed for training) I could see there was a lot of traffic on the Government’s launched inquiry into vaping and e-cigarettes late on Tuesday night. No time for in-depth reading, interesting, but one for later – and to send to my wonderful research assistant for safe keeping.

Anyway, Wednesday ‘hump day’ didn’t quite live up to its alluded expectations of a gentler pursuit in the journey to the weekend. Mid-morning during a meeting I did a quick cursory glance of my emails and saw the BBC in the subject. “XXX from BBC Radio 5 live here, can you give us a call as soon as you get this, we would like you to talk about the Government vaping inquiry this afternoon”.

For someone who is relatively new to this academia game, I surprisingly have a lot of nostalgia for an ancient scholarly way of living that I have never actually lived. The kind who reads and writes in a dark room without an internet connection and engages with civilization and people about once a week when they go to buy groceries from a shop 15 miles away up a mountain.

Should an academic drop everything at short notice to response to news related to their funded project? Or is it perhaps not a little churlish of me to say no when we are supposedly the experts on this topic? Or do I ought to remember that Impact, Dissemination and Outreach are the boxes that a modern academic is required to tick?

I had two days notice when I last went on BBC Radio Leicester and 3 weeks when I went on BBC Radio 4. Ample time to prepare. Can I really do this in circa three hours?

Can I speak about a project that has no data yet? How will I wake the cat in time to deliver him the obligatory ten practices of key points?

I’m an academic, who is supposed to talk for part of her living but who in other guises is a perfectionist and does not suffer a lack of control at all well. Can I be “on form” in three hours and avoid making an entire plonker of myself?

I suppose the answer is yes. Game time.

ISDN line and room booked: CHECK

Key aims of project rehearsed: CHECK

Notes prepared to key questions anticipated by BBC: CHECK

Early afternoon meetings re-arranged: CHECK

Lunch eaten: CHECK

With those bits seen to it was then very soon time to get in “the zone”. “Good afternoon, this is your captain speaking….” (it does actually feel like that!).

At that point the adrenaline was flowing, a gentle raise in heartbeat, safe in the knowledge that there is little I can do in this moment but live it in full force and be myself. I am no expert in the psychology of speaking but just like when I race, I cherish those rare moments and opportunities to be the best that I can be in any moment whilst being me and also being me who carried earlier reservations.

Unsurprisingly it all went very fast from there on in. Done and dusted in a flash 7 minutes and the world didn’t end. All good. Job done. One up to Pocket Rocket.

Out of “the zone”, leaving the dungeons on campus (where the recording studio resides), feeling a little relieved I reflected on the past few hours. How had I got myself through a minor state of terror being the academic and person that I am towards doing something that was actually rather fun, enjoyable and filled me with pride to do what I do? And with the added bonus of being able to talk about something affecting people’s lives right now?

It’s all rather easy, really. Just like being a triathlete at a race.

The months and months of training and learning are etched on my liver and can be delivered in an instant. I wasn’t going to forget the key aims and debates of our project. I live and breathe those virtually every day. Instead I prepared and organized the more local situation and made sure I could press the “on” switch at short notice. In those moments that embrace the more immediate and short-lived performative elements of academic work, I often draw on the embodiment of being very fit and healthy and that in itself brings a load of energy and confidence too. I had the fundamentals already and just added the magic ingredients of food/fuel, a few tracks of my favorite tunes (always headies before something big) and armed myself to deliver.

Over and out.

On riding for 24 hours: Discipline got us there!

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Two weekends ago I embarked on quite an adventure, even by my endurance athlete standards. A 24-hour solo bike ride around Brands Hatch race course. Before I head into the gory details, the short of it was that the result was 3rd female soloist, over 18 hours moving, 108 laps and circa 20,000 calories burnt. Mileage was 262. And let’s also get one thing straight: this was the hardest thing I have ever done. I went to places I didn’t even know existed. Full Ironmans are a walk in the park compared to this and the fact I still believe that two weeks later is a firm indicator its true.

I had already written in the days before about the enormous military mission that we were about to embark on and so when we arrived at the track, already feeling a little bedraggled, it’s easy to understand why for the first time in my life I had chills down my spine. I have never had that before in a race setting. Immediately I went to my default race philosophy, one also used by the cyclist Geraint Thomas: “Convince yourself that none of it matters, even when it matters more than anything you will ever know”.

I’d been training and looking forward to this since Janaury 2017 but at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon before the 3pm start I just could not get my head around the fact that this was the last hour before I would be getting on my bike for 24 hours. N.B. It was called something less polite than a bike after about 10 hours of riding.

So, here are the high/low lights:

At 4pm (the first hour!) it absolutely tipped it down. Wet and cold rider. First kit trashed and needed to be worn for 5 more hours.

After dry clothes at 6pm (I couldn’t wait any longer) I rode for about 3 hours which was pretty non-eventual really as there was too much further to go. In the zone.

9-10pm I could see our plan was working and I was starting to make progress up the field as others tired so I decided to keep pushing into the night.

11pm brought a big smile, as I left the paddock for my next one and a quarter hours stint my Dad put my freshly charged lights on my bike and said, “See you tomorrow”, as I wouldn’t be back until after midnight. That genuinely brought home what we were doing.

2am. Delirious. I remember going to the toilet, I didn’t need to, it was just something to do rather than ride my bike. The whole thing was all starting to feel a little odd. My eyes were blood shot and stinging, and I felt so spaced out I could barely manage to even open the door handle to the toilets, let alone hold a conversation.

Sometime during the early hours, my dad also joked that “We are going home today!” that made it feel temporarily better too.

3-4am past delirium, now into “The waking dead” shift. The coldest part of the night and pedalling without even knowing I was doing it. After the tenth jam sandwich I realised I never wanted another. I was also approaching the point of never wanting to ride my bike again. Ever.

4.58 am I couldn’t take anymore. Yes, I remember the exact minute! Because my body was spending all my calories keeping warm, I was just getting too tired and could have easily slept on my bike. It was getting really quite manic because of the fog, lack of visibility and slippery track. So I sat in the car with the intension of 20 minutes sleep. After just 5 minutes I got such bad cramp in my legs and was shivering so profusely that I called it a day. “Up you get, back on that thing”. Relentless.

8am – Breakfast! One’s sense of taste and appetite after so much food and sugar tends to go a bit crazy. So I had cold chicken noodles. Delicious and perfect to take us up until lunch.  The fog was at last lifting and so I could dispense of lights and my headlight. Good job.

At about 1.30pm my Mum had managed to work out that if I could do 10 more laps then I would secure 3rd place and that became my mission. Once done I had a brief sleep on a cold concrete floor at 2pm, before heading out for the final time at 2.20pm for 40 minutes of victory laps.

When the chequered flag came down at 3pm that was one very proud moment. In a flash all the bad bits had been forgotten and the gushing moments of pleasure from being an endurance athlete came flooding back. Pure elation and very surreal.

The recovery?

Well, that was all very fun. The legs were a bit sore but nothing in compared to my self-diagnosed “endurance-flu”. I often get it in events more than 12 hours and it goes along the lines of a sore throat, indigestion from so much sports energy stuff, dehydration, sick, headache, groggy, sleep deprived and generally feeling rotten. And Oh My God. Blood sugar crashes like never before. In the three days post riding, I ate the world. Given the calorie and sleep deficit, recovery necessitated a very managed approach with light riding but all is good now!

I won’t lie, I was disappointed with the mileage, a cyclist of my ability should be heading for at least 350 miles. Of course, there are a huge number of factors to take into account but I firmly believe in warmer and flatter conditions then I would get closer to that. I am minded to do another attempt early next summer but I can’t drag my parents through that again. The poor souls! I will be needing a hand. The job description includes (in no order of importance): stay awake for 24 hours, charge Garmin, feed and water rider, pain relief, provide and dry clothes, keep tabs on distance, sort out mechanicals, monitor and charge lights, be visible to me when riding and do the transport stuff. Contact me if interested!

Ultimately, regardless of my moaning about the mileage, this was a pretty big achievement. If there’s one thing that got us to the end, and on the podium, it was good ole fashioned discipline and consistency. I rode for 75 minutes with 5-10 minute breaks for 24 hours. Although the “breaks” were hardly rests, I don’t remember sitting down with a cup of tea chilling during any of those. I was busy shoving a little food in, changing clothes at 6 hours, keeping tabs on battery in lights and garmin, and massaging my feet. However bad I was feeling, we rarely changed anything unless absolutely essential to the performance. No big sprints or efforts, just plod all day long, literally.

I should have done this first but I owe a massive thanks to all of those who dragged me through the night in what turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve done. You will never know how much those words and support helped me. An equal giant thanks to my parents. If my job was hard, then I feel damn sure they had it harder. I was kept awake fuelled by an inordinate amount of sugar and adrenaline and a bit between my teeth to just get the job done. They just had to drag themselves through the night working their hardest for a cyclist.

That’s almost certainly me done racing until next February/March, I’ll be back soon with something other than race reports and promise to keep developing and updating my page during the darkest months.

I need your help? 24-hour bike ride starts tomorrow! 

At 3pm tomorrow I will climb on my bike at Brands Hatch race circuit and then continue to ride it until 24 hours have passed and it is Sunday at 3pm. Some people will be doing 6 hours, some 12 and some 24. Some will share those blocks of time with others. Not me. I’m going “solo”. That means I’ll be doing all 24 hours powered by my own legs and energy, with my two static domestiques in the paddy.

With recent events riding for GB and the ongoing foot saga I have briefly considered not riding, I couldn’t do a shorter distance or time because that wouldn’t give me anymore satisfaction than not riding at all. The answer is all or nothing.

The biggest problem is the foot pain, although it is slowly improving. After all, my decision to ride became easy and very clear when I was out running in Spain. The issue is not a fitness one, whilst I only have just over 4000 miles cycling in the bag this year, I know that’s not my concern. My legs are just fine and my capacity for endurance has never been in question for years. I’m the kind of idiot who could do an ironman tomorrow without really doing focused training. So it’s not an injury per se, it’s more being uncomfortable and hurting but there’s not necessarily any damage going on. At least not that has been seen during assessments.

OK then, what’s our mission? 24 hours exercising pain management. The plan? Drugs. After that? 50 minutes on, 10 minutes off, repeat 24 times. This is the team contract (Note that Charlie has a shorter list!):

Contract

And here is the huge list of kit:

Kit

So where do you guys come in? I need your support, messages, insults, whatever. Just help me keep going round and round when I’ve bonked, got a mangled head or crying with pain. Or if you see average speed slipping give me an arse kicking for that too. You can use Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, walls, text messages, whatever you choose. If you send me stuff in the hours of darkness then you’ll get extra points. Regardless, everything single one of those words will be meaningful and very much appreciated by me and I’ll owe you big time. I will get messages on my Garmin bike computer and on my phone in my breaks.

Also send love to the support team who are my parents and who are dead looking forward to a night without sleep watching their mental daughter ride around a track continuously whilst being her lackey.

You can track me here:

http://revolve24.com/uk-race-tracking-and-results-2017

And as I have already said, I am doing the solo for 24 hours and racing number 271 .

I’ve known a year about this and I’m still floundering the night before with kit, of course. Standard hurricane Charlie. That means I need to sign off and panic now but I’m going to learn a lot about myself this weekend and will write a more intellectual post after.

For the win.