On Finding My Mojo

Since my Triple Ironman last year (here) I’ve been struggling with my mojo, culminating earlier in the year with some serious soul searching (read about it here). But, the last month has seen a complete turn around, which is down to four things.

Firstly, I’ve been able to run again with the help of some very specific stretches. I’ve not been going far, but I’ve done three park runs in the last month.

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Secondly, I reached the mile stone of completing 300 Strava challenges, and to celebrate I rode 300km, from Lanarkshire to Lancashire (read about it here). I wasn’t sure when I set off whether I would make it, but my wife said that I looked like I’d been for a walk in the park when I arrived home.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I had a great cycling holiday with my wife up in the highlands of Scotland. It was fantastic and I especially relished the fact that you have to take it easy when you’re loaded up with panniers.

Finally, Veloviewer added a new metric, the maximum cluster score (read about it here). I won’t explain it again, but to improve your score you have to search out new roads and places you’ve not been before.

In the last month I can safely say that my mojo has returned and I’m back to enjoying going out cycling and running, on my own or with my beautiful wife.

Salisbury: Cycling, running and designated habitats

My parents have recently moved to Salisbury, so me and Helen (A.K.A. The beautiful wife) decided that it was about time we visited. Bikes and Nelly (A.K.A. The Hound) were packed into the car for the loooong journey south, without passports.

Only a couple of minutes walk from my parents house there are some great running tracks alongside the River Avon. On the Saturday morning we had thought about joining in the local parkrun, but as we were off to London later that day, we opted to run along the river instead. Hopefully this would tire out the pooch as we were leaving her with my parents for the day.

The River Avon and area is full of designated habitats, as you can see in the photo below, along with the out and back route that we ran (Strava here).

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The brown areas are Local Nature Reserves (Avon Valley and Bemerton Heath) and the green areas are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (River Avon System and Avon Valley). The Avon Valley is both a SSSI and a Local Nature Reserve. If you want to find out what designated habitats are near to where you live, search for ‘Defra Magic’.

As you can see from the next photo, Nelly really enjoyed the Avon Valley.

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On the Sunday morning I managed a short ride on Otis (Strava here and blog about Otis here). There is a terrible ring round in Salisbury and far too many busy ‘A’ roads, but I managed to find some very nice quiet roads going in a similar direction to the previous days run. There was a cycling event on as well, as I saw plenty of other cyclists with numbers, some directional arrows and a couple of marshals. My short route also found quite a few more designated habitats.

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The Lower Woodford water Meadows SSSI was particularly pleasant. A Strava friend, seeing that I was in the area, suggested that if I had the time I should go up Camp Hill, which I managed on the Monday morning. It wasn’t a huge hill, but it reached 12% and had a couple of good corners.

While I was out cycling, Helen repeated our run from yesterday, once again with the pooch. She gave it some biscuits on the way back, and managed a top ten place on a Strava segment. Helen keeps on telling me that she isn’t much of a runner, but she sure looks like a fit runner to me.

My Strava friend also suggested that the next time we were in the area he would take me on a ride around the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, see below.

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I’ve got to say, that looks like a great area to ride around. Salisbury, we will return.

Sniff Testing

My job occasionally involves something a bit different. Last week I was having an odour acuity assessment, or if you prefer, a ‘sniff test’, to determine my sense of smell. I was having my nose calibrated. In a clinical room, a very small amount of n-butanol is released into one of two funnels (see photo below), at a known concentration, and you have to say which funnel the smell was coming from.

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If you get the first two attempts correct, then in the next round a smaller concentration is released. This continues for ten rounds until your nose is calibrated, to determine how sensitive your nose is.

Most people can detect n-butanol at a concentration between 20-80 parts per billion. My score was 8ppb, so either I have a very sensitive nose, or the machine wasn’t working correctly that day.

With this information, I can perform a ‘sniff test’ out in the field. If a developer wants to build a whole load of houses next to a sewage treatment works, someone has to go there and have a good sniff around the place. The results would then be used in context with my calibration results. This all adds to another string to my bow.

Chorley

I took the afternoon off work to go to Chorley. It wasn’t my idea of fun as I had a court appearance. Combination of moving house, selling my car and driving too fast all in the same week. I had a chance to look around Chorley and had a pleasant coffee somewhere in the town centre. I very much like the small benches shaped like books.

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If you look closely you can just see Toothless hiding.

I wasn’t so keen on the warm welcome at The George, which is maybe a little too warm for my liking.

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On the whole Chorley reminds me of many northern town centres, a little bit run down with too many pound shops and betting shops, although I’m sure it has plenty of potential.

Cycling Plus

Like most people, over the years I have bought many different cycling magazines to while away the hours on train journeys or waiting in airports. I don’t really follow racing, so many magazines don’t hold much interest for me, the same with mountain bike magazines. Despite being a triathlete, triathlon magazines very rarely get looked at. By and large I found them a bit dull and repetitive. If you’re new to triathlons then buy a magazine for a year, and then you’re done, as the same articles will appear regular as clockwork the following year.

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Cycling Plus, on the other hand, is a magazine that I have a subscription for, as generally it has a few good articles each month. This month was their ‘Bike of the year 2017’ edition, with 25 bikes tested ranging in price from £2-2,500. All of the big names were represented. In fact, only the big names were represented. The top five were from Specialized, Trek, Boardman, Focus and Giant. I’m sure that if I was to ride any of these bikes I would be very impressed. (I’m often easily impressed). The cynic in me would suggest that these bikes made it to the final because they all spend large amounts of money on advertising in Cycling Plus, although only Specialized and Focus advertised this month.

Smaller brands are generally only featured if they are offering something different, for example, the Evanson on page 32, or if it’s an £8,000 superbike. I was then going to write about a smaller brand from Cheshire and how they offer great value and that the bikes they built are too good to be reviewed alongside the big name brands. I then Googled the brand and found page after page of negative reviews, all from a couple of years ago so the brand might have changed, but I struggled to find even a single positive review, except from their own Facebook page. I was genuinely thinking of buying on bike from this smaller company in the future, but now I’m not so sure.

Finally, in defense of Cycling Plus, they do have a certain obligation to review bikes that people might be able to find online or on the high street, and smaller brands can have a longer waiting period.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve sat down to blog about something, and the end result is not what I was hoping for, and therefore seems to lack a certain hook. Nevermind, my next blog might be better.

April Fools

1st April, the only day of the year that people critically evaluate things they find on the internet before accepting them as true.

When I was young I remember being taken in by more than a few April Fools day pranks. Now-a-days not so much. This could be because I’m more of a cynic, or because the pranks are too obvious. There were loads of them posted on the internet, but here is my critical evaluation of a few.

Brooks running shoes sent me an email letting me know that they had made running shoes for dogs, which was very apt as later that day I saw on old Lurcher who was indeed wearing shoes.

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Obviously an April Fools day prank, but good natured and a bit of fun, much like the one from Cycling UK. I have completed a few sportives that they have organised, so often receive emails to entice me to sign up for more. This particular one did look amusing.

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I like how they have photo-shopped out the front wheel of this guys bike to make it look like he could be riding a unicycle. This one again made me chuckle, and I can imagine that the marketing departments have a bit of fun each year coming up with new ones.

Fizik, the shoe and saddle manufacturer also had some fun, as they were advertising new shoes that would protect against disc brakes. They were made of chain mail. I wonder if Owain Doull will be getting a pair. I think they look great, but would be a bugger to clean if it was muddy.

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One company that didn’t get it right was Skratch Labs, a small nutrition company in America, who much like OTE in the UK only produce natural products. I won’t desciribe their ‘prank’ but suffice it to say they missed the mark. It wasn’t offensive, it just wasn’t funny and was trying to be too serious.

Trek made fun of themselves with their habit of naming bikes with anagrams, for example Domane, Emonda and Madone. This time it was the Nomade, or No(t)made. I especially liked the bit about scientists:

We didn’t believe Trek’s top scientists, but then we bought them lab coats. And when they repeated their findings while wearing the lab coats, they looked so much smarter. And then we did believe them!

My favourite though was from Park Tools. The SA-K9 shop dog tool apron, which even has space for a small bone, as well as being durable and flea resistant.

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I was laughing thinking about Nelly running off with my tools, and then having to explain why she had lost my 6mm allen key chasing a squirrel.

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Nelly, above, would probably not make a very good shop dog, although The Edge Cycleworks in Lancaster have offered.

18pence per mile

I’m the kind of person who likes to keep stats and the odd spreadsheet. I have one that I use to keep track on how many miles each of my bicycles has done. My Principia (https://beardsandtriathlons.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/my-best-bike-ever/) is in 3rd place with my Scott in 5th. 1st and 2nd still belong to bikes that I no longer own. My Cannondale which I had for 17 years, is in 1st place, and is the bike graveyard. He was a good bike. This was from the 1999 Lanzarote Ironman.lanzarote-1999-2

In 2nd place is my old Colnago, currently being ridden by my wife’s youngest son, who has his second triathlon coming up in April. Good luck Danster.

Back to the topic, and once you have all these stats, you need to do something with them. I started to keep track on how much each bike costs, including new chains, tyres and servicing at my local bike shop.

My Forme,

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which I commute on, has done over 8,000 miles, and works out at 18pence per mile as it was a fairly cheap bike. My Scott, which was more expensive but has done more miles, works out at 21pence per mile. My Trek, on the other hand, has cost me over £1 per mile as I’ve had it less than 6 months and its not even done 1,000 miles.

My last car, an old beat up Citroen, which cost me £1000 and was sold 18 months later for £150, worked out at somewhere between 31 and 45 pence per mile. This is including tax, insurance, MOT, new alternator and petrol. My insurance was £700 a year as I hadn’t had a car for ten years. Why don’t you try to calculate what your car costs per mile, but you have to add up everything, including fuel and that cheap air freshener. It’s a scary amount.

My train journey from Lancaster to Wigan and back works out the same as my Forme, at 18pence per mile, although my bike will probably work out cheaper in a few hundred more miles. That reminds me that I need a new rear tyre and a new chain before the end of February.