Day Forty Seven: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

Some years ago a friend of mine invited me to join him at a party in the countryside. A group of his mates were having a BBQ booze up.  It was in deepest darkest Dorset, in England. It was also located in prime mountain biking territory so we loaded our bikes into the back of his old VW Passat.

His car had more miles on the clock than the Star Ship Enterprise, the Millenium Falcon and all of the taxis in New York, London and Bangladesh put together. It had never been serviced. It was white with patches of rust but apparently it had character.

We were driving down the motorway when ‘Mr. my car is fine it has character’ said the steering felt weird.  He turned the steering wheel a good third of the way round and the car did not alter course.

“A bit of play in it then fella?”, I said.

I thought we were going to die and cause a horrendous pile up in the process.

A few minutes later on he complained that he was losing power.  We had left the motorway and were on a minor road, just about to crest a hill, when the engine died.  We pulled over.  Smoke was pouring out of the engine bay.

Its a bit hot”, he said.

It’s single-handedly causing global warming”, I replied.

My buddy decided to light up a ‘happy’ cigarette and wait for the engine to cool down.  He then attempted to leap over a small fence into a field but caught his arm on a loose piece of barbed wire, which ripped open his forearm.  He decided to give his happy cigarette a miss. Blood gushed out of his wound. Steam was still spewing out of the car. We sat on the verge and waited whilst he bled and the car steamed away.

When his arm had stopped bleeding the car started.  We drove about a kilometre down the hill when suddenly the entire vehicle began bouncing up and down.  The engine was in a series of death throws.  We swung over to the side of the road, opened the doors and stepped out.  It was quiet.  The only interruption to the peace was the sound of a lady trimming a hedge by the side of the road.  We looked back up the road.  There was a trail of green liquid leading back up the hill. Small pieces of metal littered the road. Not great then.

Out of nowhere a man appeared.  He wore a pair of ancient overalls, had a weird hairstyle and was strikingly tall. He looked like Max Headroom without the suit. He was in fact the owner of a garage located around the corner.  He was the only mechanic in the sleepy little village.  Max Headroom had a look inside the engine bay.

Guys, its knackered”. He said, without stuttering once.

We haggled over the scrap value price for the car and took forty pounds off him for his trouble and began a thirty kilometre bike ride to find the party.

It was one of the most enjoyable bike rides I have ever done.  I think it was the joy of leaving that smoking wreck of a car behind and of feeling free, being under my own steam and on my bike.  It was sheer bliss.
It is so easy to get caught up in a routine when training on your bike that often you forget just how very clever the bicycle is.  I am told it is the only invention that man has created that has not been used to kill someone with. That got me thinking of course about universal remote controls, clothes horses, hair dryers and the electric pepper grinder and how they may have been used to kill.

The next time you are out on a ride have a look around you when you are miles away from home in the middle of nowhere and thank that bike of yours.  It is a pretty cool machine and on the whole, is far more reliable than an old VW, even one with character.

I leave you with Max Headroom, courtesy of YouTube.  A classic bit of 80’s nostalgia.  I think I may put it onto my iPod tomorrow for my run. My cold should be gone by then and normal training shall resume 🙂

Day Forty Six: Eduardo’s Road To Fitnesss

The bunch had exploded into three distinct groups, with fragments of the former peloton scattered all over the road, individuals were trying their best to catch their breath before putting in a big effort to catch one of these groups.  The leading group was flying. The train had left the station and if you were not on it, you weren’t getting back on.

I was watching one of the last circuit races of the season and had positioned myself on the corner of the road at the start of the first of the two climbs on the circuit.  Before the race I had chatted to my wife about gear selection on the climb and we had agreed that it was a big ring climb.  She was going to use a 53×21 on its short, steep slopes.  I watched as the leading bunch flew past. They were using 53×19.

Rosie was about a hundred metres behind it with two other men, they were working well but I could see that they did not have the firepower required to catch the front group.  Behind them a larger group of eight was coming up fast.  Rosie and the two guys saw it coming, eased off and jumped in when it caught them.

The leaders were comprised of the 40+ Veteran men.  Lean, tanned and super fit, these boys would easily contest an open Elite race and I wondered what sort of carnage they would cause at a road race back in England.  Chaos is the answer. It would be brutal for the British boys.  These guys train. They train a lot. More importantly they race a lot.

At the front of this second group was the leader of the 60+ Veteran competition.  He was riding his beautiful Italian Pinarello, shod with expensive Campagnolo Bora deep section carbon wheels.  He was wearing a mask of determination, a focussed look on his face, his eyes wide, mouth agape as he took in huge deep lungfulls of air.

The bikes were all top drawer, pro quality machines with the best of the best kit on board. All the key brands were up on the start line.  Very few bikes had anything but the level top components from Campagnolo and Shimano. It was bike porn at its best.

Having spent many years working in the bike trade one does tend to become a bit blasé with regards to bikes, a result of having seen, touched and fondled more than my fair share of bike exotica. There were, however, a couple that stood out from the crowd.  One was a custom Carrera Estremo, used by the yellow jersey wearer, signifying the leader of the criterium series.  The other was not an expensive bike.  Quite the opposite.  It was a Decathlon. A bit of a shocker.

For those in the ‘know’ the professional team AG2R used to ride bikes labelled ‘Decathlon’ but these were actually made by Cyfac in France.  The bike I was looking at yesterday was not a Cyfac.  It was a real Decathlon.  A cheap piece of junk. OK that is a bit harsh but it was a pretty horrendous bike. A bike you would buy if you had no idea at all.  A bike you might pick up in a supermarket.  Well almost, perhaps just a shade better than that.  A nice swanky supermarket then.  One that had a deli inside.

Mr. Decathlon Bike Man had all the right gear but all of it was of dubious quality. No name brands that at a distance looked the part but up front were wrong. A bit like no name cola. It’s the right colour but the taste is all wrong and you certainly would not put rum in it.

Despite his bike, he was giving it full beans on the climbs.  He was fit and was obviously new to cycling.  I smiled as he attacked the climb again, pulling away from the small group he was in, only to sit up at the top of the climb and put his brakes on as he started the descent.  The group started shouting at him, asking him what he was doing.  He could not follow the wheels of his group and was highly erratic. He was trying. It was obviously his first race. And that is pretty cool.  Just think how much he has to learn and how much he will improve.

I remember my first bike race.  In actual fact it was the bike leg in a triathlon.  I was perhaps fifteen.  I had no idea what lay ahead.  Three of us were doing the event as a team. First off was the swimmer.  We thought he was a good swimmer as he was one of the best at school.

I remember waiting at the edge of the beach for him to arrive.  Hundreds of swimmers had already left the water.  I thought he had drowned, or had been eaten by a shark.  Finally after what seemed an age he arrived, panting and out of breath. He did not look too good.  He slipped the rubber band with the little team number off his wrist and onto mine. I jumped onto the bike and cycled off.  I had forty kilometres to ride, with eight two-kilometre climbs to tackle en route.  I really had no idea how tough the course was.

The bike I was riding was a bit big for me. It was blue. It had cotter pin cranks on it. They were not very robust and after about thirty kilometres the left hand-side crank arm fell off.  This did not bode well. I grabbed a rock from the side of the road and hammered it back on.  Ten minutes later it fell off again.  I ended up running with the bike up the hills, jumping back on at the top and freewheeling down them. This destroyed my legs and like the crank arm they too fell off and ceased to function.

I had no water and it was sunny. I ended up drinking water from a tiny waterfall, that emptied into a huge drainage area by the side of the road.  With my raging thirst quenched I finished the bike ride. I died a thousand deaths that day on that bike. It was however my first ever competitive bike event and one that I won’t forget in a hurry.  In the same way that Mr. Decathlon Bike Man won’t forget his ride yesterday.

At least he had a water bottle and his cranks didn’t fall off.

I leave you with a few photos from the race yesterday.

Day Forty Five: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop
Doesn’t mean I would cross

Yesterday was a bit of a write off.  I woke up lying in a small pool of water that had escaped from my nose. I was feeling pretty rough.  It was such a lovely day however that I could not sit at home, so I decided to go for a gentle spin on the bike along the waterfront.  I thought I would listen to Coldplay.  Because I wanted to play and I had a cold.

Barcelona is full of boats.  In many ways it reminds me of Hong Kong.  I used to live in Sai Kung and would often find myself visiting friends at Marina Cove or Hebe Haven.  There are lots of places to moor a boat here and the locals seem to take delight in sailing.

If I have a recovery ride planned I choose my routes carefully.  I avoid any routes where I may bump into a group of cyclists because I know that I’ll get drawn into joining up with them and it will often end up being a much harder session than planned.

Cycle paths are good.  They are off the road which means I am far less likely to find myself stuck in ‘hammer mode’.  I can just spin along and check out the view.  Which is exactly what I did yesterday.

I freewheeled down the hill to Badalona, crossed under the train line and joined the coastal cycle path.  Turning towards Barcelona I cycled past the Olympic Port, stopping to look at some of the beautiful yachts moored in the area.  I continued on the busier track, doing my best to avoid the skateboarders and joggers. I then cruised past the sun worshippers on the beach. Anyone that wants to sunbathe at this time of year is dedicated. Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have been impressed by the innovative structures that these people have built on the beach. They are built so that the diehards that want to get a tan can do so without dying of exposure.  Don’t get me wrong its not freezing but I can’t imagine lying naked on the beach at the moment. But then maybe that is because I have a cold.

After my ride, which lasted just over ninety minutes, I took my place on the sofa and settled in to watch the world championship road race in Italy.  It was the womens race.  As is often the case with the world championships it came down to tactics as well as strength.  Nicole Cooke pulled off an inspiring win after an action packed final five kilometres filled with attack after attack.

I am off to bed in an effort to beat this pesky cold.  Tomorrow will be a rest day.  There is little point in training whilst this cold persists.  It is better to relax, catch some rays and watch other people race so I am off to a bike event in the morning.  Rosie is competing so I have made sure the camera is charged.

I leave you with ColdPlay courtesy of YouTube.  Let’s hope my cold is lost tomorrow.

Day Forty Four: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

People inspire other people.  I do not know who coined the phrase and I certainly do not know who coined the phrase ‘coined the phrase’ however what I do know is that I have met people that have inspired me.  I am not talking about public figure heads – people who wear Rolex watches and walk across the rapidly disappearing icecaps in Gore-Tex socks, dragging enough food to feed a small third world country behind them –  No, the people that have inspired me have been regular people.  People like you.  People that get corn stuck in their teeth, people that frequently burn the toast, people that do not race Alfa Romeo Maxi Yachts for a living.

One such chap was a leading research analyst, working at Bankers Trust in Hong Kong.  I was working as an in-house designer, doing my best to bring research reports to life, to make them exciting, to wake up fund managers from their daily stupor as soon as they laid eyes upon my work.

He wore a large smile with his dark grey suit and was liked by everyone from the tea lady to the managing director.  He had a great story to tell.  He had escaped from communist China by swimming across Mirs Bay into Hong Kong.

He told me that he taught himself to swim by digging a deep hole in the middle of a field.  He filled it with water and at then at night, under cover of darkness he would climb into the mini pool and tread water.  He did this almost every night for hours at a time.  He became very good at treading water but as he was to find out when he tried to swim across the bay, he was not very good at actually propelling himself through the water.

On night he decided he was ready for the swim.  He was to set off with some friends, who like him, were drawn by the bright lights and big city that was Hong Kong.  He had sewn some sacks together to serve as buoyancy aids.  Just as they were about to leave, a patrolling police unit spotted them.  They ran in the darkness and became separated in the process.

He dove into the water and blindly began to swim out into the darkness.  He spent all night swimming in fear of sharks, towards the faint glow across the bay, focussed on the lights upon the shore in Hong Kong.  He washed up upon Tai Long Wan beach in Sai Kung, and lay exhausted upon the sand. He never saw his friends again.

He managed to track down some long lost family, he went to school, studied hard and joined Bankers Trust as a senior research analyst.

What on earth has this all got to do with fitness? Treading water in a field at night? Long open water swims? No, none of these things. I was just thinking about what it takes to succeed and about the  phrase ‘If you really want something you can achieve it’.

And no, I have no idea who coined that one either.

Tomorrow I have a short recovery ride planned.  If the sun is shining I shall cycle along the waterfront past the marina before heading out to the indoor velodrome to watch some track racing.

I am looking forward to the start of the road race season and am glad I am not having to tread water in a field at night.  Think about that the next time you need a bit of motivation. I leave you with U2 and ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ courtesy of YouTube.

Day Forty Three: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

At present I have just over two euros in my pocket.  I know it is there because I decided to count my change whilst I watched the American Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson beg for seven hundred billion dollars.  That is a lot of money.  You could buy quite a few Large Hadron Colliders. You could even buy a spare one to use whilst the guys in Switzerland fix the one they broke this week and still have enough change left over to have purchased Lehman Brothers.

You could on the other hand take advantage of the low price of wine at the Carrefour supermarket around the corner and buy a fine 2004 Rioja for under three euros a bottle. The economy is certainly pretty messed up.

I am sitting here eating kimchi.  I wrote yesterday that I would try some different types of food and, true to my word, I purchased some horrible cuts of meat from the supermarket after being unable to cater to my wife’s request to find any fish that did not taste of fish.

Little did I know that a day later I would be eating Korean food.  It is not quite what I had in mind, thinking that being in Barcelona I would be focussing on traditional food from the region, but kimchi it is, and it is delicious.

A grandmother prepared it.  Everyone knows that grandmothers make the best home cooking.  Food cooked by grandmothers always tastes better than that of their daughters.  Fact.  No dispute. It simply tastes better in the same way sandwiches cut into triangles taste better than those that are simply cut in half.  The old (she looks old) Korean lady is the grandmother of one of the international students that attend the same school as my girls.  Somehow, along the way, the grandmother found out that I liked food that is highly spiced.  She presented me with a large bag of bright red kimchi, carefully wrapped in plastic and tucked into an old carton of, what appears to be, brown sugar.

Having grown up in SE Asia, Hong Kong to be precise, I have been fortunate enough to have experimented with numerous dishes, from all over Asia.  As it happens Korean food has always ranked way up there in my list of favourites.

Back when I was racing my bicycle full time, I used to treat myself to a Korean BBQ every now and then. The restaurant of choice was located in the once sleepy fishing village of Sai Kung, in Hong Kong. A rather incongruous place for a Korean restaurant but one that had a loyal Korean following.

The restaurant was small and was arranged around booths, with a table in the middle that contained a gas fired BBQ grill.  Customers sat on benches either side of the table.  Small demure Korean girls brought out raw meats, fish and random vegetables to your table, along with copious amount of beer.  This was good. You were then given two sets of chopsticks.  This was confusing.

A wooden pair was meant to be used for attempting to deliver the raw meat to the grill without dropping it in your beer en route, and for turning over the meat whilst it was cooking.  The smaller plastic pair of chopsticks was used to eat with. The general idea was not to mix the two pairs up as you would (a) burn your lips on the hot wooden chopsticks or (b) melt the plastic ones on the grill. It was a mathematical certainty that with enough beer inside you both ‘a’ and ‘b’ would take place.

Bright red, hot and full of flavour.  Kimchi is a superb cold killer.

Bright red, hot and full of flavour. Kimchi is a superb cold killer.

Back to Kimchi.  Apart from the taste, which, as I have already said, is truly delicious, it is considered a ‘healthy food’ by the US magazine ‘Health’. In fact it is listed as one of the top five “World’s Healthiest Foods” for being rich in vitamins, aiding digestion, and even possibly retarding cancer growth.  Hmmm….all good then.

I have decided to take two days off training.  I feel I need to have a bit of a rest.  I believe that I am knocking on the door of being over trained at the moment.  If life was super chilled and I was not juggling looking for a job and dealing with life’s other challenges I could probably handle a greater training load. But I can’t.  One thing I have learnt is that if in doubt. Rest.  Over-training will set you back much further than losing a day or two to rest.

In the case of cycling, over training often happens when a cyclist is training alone and is driven to exceed.  The days are long and rather than sit about watching wildlife documentaries on the television they head out on the bike and ‘beast’ themselves.  Either that or they don’t rest enough coming off a hard event, starting too early on their next ‘block’ of training, without allowing adequate rest.

I am sure many a professional cyclist has trained hard for a long stage race, to find that they have peaked just as the race begins.  For the first few days all goes well and then? Well and then, their legs fall off.

So having said all that I feel quite happy sitting here eating my red-hot kimchi.  I have researched the numerous health benefits and know that I am not over-training. I also have just over two euros in my pocket, which is probably more than the American Treasury Secretary has in his, unless he has managed to get his seven hundred billion dollars.

I may even go a buy a bottle of Rioja.  If I have any change left I will save it for my next rest day.

Day Forty Two: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

A traditional flamenco guitar is made of Spanish cypress and spruce woods, which accounts for its characteristic body colour. It is lighter in weight and a bit smaller than a classical guitar, to give the sound a “brighter” and more percussive quality. Volume has traditionally been very important because the guitarists needed to be heard over the sound of the dancers’ nailed shoes.

I was riding with a professional flamenco guitarist, who like his guitar was quite a bit smaller and lighter than average.  He was a mountain climber, a specialist that shines when the gradients increase and the road points upwards.  Yesterday I was riding straight into a soul destroying headwind, following the N11 along the coast towards Arenys de Mar. The wind was evil. It was not gusting.  It was a constant, in your face type of wind.  A wind carrying sand off the beaches.  A wind doing its very best to halt my progress.

I started off the ride in the small chainring, which on my wife’s bike is a 39 tooth inner ring.  To combat the wind I was keeping a high cadence of around 100-105 but was still crawling along at 28kmh.  It was getting monotonous, the scenery was not changing fast enough for my liking so I decided to break up the monotony and do some intervals.  The plan was to ride for one minute in the big ring, using a 53×17 gear ratio.  I would ride flat out for the whole minute, then shift back to the small ring and recover for a couple of minutes, repeating this for as long as I could maintain the one minute flat out pace.  I had just completed my fifth interval and was in recovery mode when the bike riding guitarist overtook me.  I slotted in behind him and had to grit my teeth as he sped up when he realized I was on his wheel.

In general anyone that races a bike has to have a competitive streak running through them and this chap was no different, he gradually sped up. I caught him looking at our shadows cast in the road to see if I was still behind him.  I decided to work with him and we began to share the lead, each one trading place at the front at regular intervals.

I was just beginning to wonder how long we would be doing our ‘through and off’ when the other guy motioned that he was going to turn around at the next roundabout.  We would then have a very strong tailwind.  I shifted up into the big ring ready for the speed that was to ensue.

For a little climber, the guy was fast.  We were knocking on 50kmh for most of the way back.  He put in some really hard turns on the front and I responded with the best that I could give.  When we finally had to slow down, nearing Allela, he began to chat.  In perfect English.

He told me that he raced for a club and spent the rest of the time playing his guitar.  He was a professional flamenco guitarist. What a lovely life.  To make a living playing music at night and keeping fit on the bike during the day.  Not a bad one.

I took a good look at him.  He had a musicians funky designer facial hair, all sculptured and slightly mad looking, it was a facial advert of his creative leanings. He was a compact little chap. I am certainly no giant on a bike but this chap was really tiny.  I thought about how strong he must have been on a steep climb given his slight build and made a mental note to check out his website to view his race results.

Upon returning home I jumped into the shower and then had a peek at his website.  Unfortunately I could not find any of his race results.  This does not mean they are not posted up there. The whole site was in Catalan and I could not understand a word.  It made me think about the Catalan language.  Being pretty hungry after my ride, it also made me think about Catalan food.

What is Catalan food? A brace of rabbits, grilled over an open fire, watched over by a man with a dense moustache and unruly eyebrows? A bubbling cauldron of prawns and monkfish, cooking upon a gas stove aboard a trawler moored off the town of Roses? An elegant salad of beans and crisp celery leaves served with marinated salt cod, perched delicately upon a cool designer plate in a trendy restaurant in Barcelona? I think it is all of these.  I think I need to try to cook more of it.

Fish Section at our local supermarket

Fish Section at our local supermarket

I have been living here since mid-July of this year, when I arrived on my motorcycle from the England. I have gone out of my way to sample the local food when eating out, trying as many different dishes as possible whenever the chance has arisen.  However I seem to purchase the same items each time I go to the supermarket.

I am not referring to things like toilet roll, toothpaste, milk or butter.  it is the things that make up our main meals.  You see I always seem to end up on a sort of supermarket autopilot, visiting the same isles, the same shelves and selecting the same brands of food.

I have decided to buck the trend.  You know, be a little bit daring, nudge myself out of my supermarket comfort zone and try to fill my trolley with a variety of food, with at least a third of it new, as yet never purchased items.

Barcelona is known for seafood.  We live on the edge of the ocean.  So it is rather fitting that I should buy more fish.  I talked to my wife about this and she has some pretty clear ideas about what sort of fish she likes. Rule number one is that it can’t taste of fish.  So off to the supermarket I go, in seach of new food. I hope to find something typically Catalan, something traditional, in the same way that a flamenco guitar is traditional.

Who knows, I may even find some non-fishy fish. 🙂

Day Forty One: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

Remember in Aliens when the engineering technician is looking for ‘Jones’, the crew’s cat? The guy walks into a large room calling out “Here kitty, kitty kitty.” It was a scary moment in the film.  You knew something was about to jump out from behind a dark corner and rip him to bits.  It made your heart race. The damn cat was aware something was there, that’s why it had run off.  Cats can tell when a twelve-foot Alien with acid blood is hiding behind a pipe and some chains.

My lightweight running cap was useless at keeping the rain off my head.  I wore it not for its rain protection but because it was covered in reflective logos, which would have been practical, had I been running on the road.  Instead I was running at night, in a thunderstorm up in the hills in an area covered with ancient ruins and a monastery.

To say it was a little bit eerie would be a bit of an understatement.  Freddy Krueger would have been nervously looking over his shoulder, as the lightning lit up the landscape, momentarily casting shadows amongst the ruined buildings, forming dark shapes beneath the boughs of the wind-swept trees. Even Freddy would have stayed home.
I forced myself to laugh at what I was doing. I was running not on the wide, open (safe) trails but had chosen perhaps the darkest, creepiest trail in the whole area.  Full of impossibly black areas, lying just off the trail, hidden behind tall shrubs choked in vines and covered in thorns.  Several times the thorn bushes tore at my legs, commanded by the strong winds, making me jump out of the way.

I was not alone either.  Twice I encountered people standing five to ten metres off the trail I was running along, their heads bowed, chin tucked into their chests, in defence of the wind and the rain.  Each time I spotted them I felt anxious.  What other lunatic comes up here in this weather I thought?

I spotted the guy ahead of me on the trail calling for his dog.  His dog was nowhere to be seen.  In his hand, he held one of those roller leads, the self-retracting type for small dogs. He had tied a couple of black bin bags around the handle, used for picking up the offending article should his dog make a mess on a pavement.  He looked nervously at me so I smiled to put him at ease.  I don’t know if the Alien got him or not.

I ran hard last night, spurred on by my thoughts of madmen with knives, hiding in the ruined doorways of dilapidated buildings, I sprinted up the climbs chased by imaginary Rottweilers and raced through the dark corridors of trees, with an Alien in hot pursuit.

My fitness is coming along nicely, helped no doubt by a vivid imagination.

I leave you with a classic scene from Aliens, courtesy of YouTube.