Archive for March, 2013

24
Mar
13

guilt

I’d been so good. Running, cycling. Slowly building up distance. Then…

I had planned a 50km cycle for Saturday and a 20km run for Sunday. Early weekend mornings recently have been taken up with this combination for the past 4 weeks. I’d worked my way up from 10k runs and no cycling to a 17k run and 40ish kilometre cycle. Then I heard that snow was forecast for this weekend.

I thought perhaps I could outwit it by waking early on Saturday morning and getting in at least one of my two sessions before the snow hit. Wrong. At 6.45am, I woke – ready, primed – to find that the snow had come down overnight. Bugger. Seems the weather doesn’t keep regular hours after all.

I did see a few hardy souls out in it over the weekend, wrapped up, grimacing their way through the snow. And I could have joined them but for 2 things. I am training for a Trans-European cycle trip and Half Marathon in 5 weeks. A tumble from the bike in the snow or a slip whilst running could easily mean that the trip would need to be cancelled – which I obviously don’t want. Secondly, to force myself out in such harsh conditions would make the training feel like a chore – I had a glimpse of this mindset whilst training for the Marathon last year. Losing the fun of getting out and running / cycling at this stage would be sad – particularly if I am to spend 5 days in the saddle followed by a Half Marathon.

So instead. I head off into the garage where the weights and bench are and go hell for leather on the free weights for an hour. Then spend the rest of the weekend tackling chores and ferrying my kids around feeling just a little guilty that I haven’t got out on the bike or for a run. And it’s this guilty feeling which I am hoping will give me additional momentum for when the snow and ice does clear and I can once again continue to prepare for what will probably be one of the most physically tough but potentially enjoyable things I have attempted.

16
Mar
13

jack wolfskin vapor trail xt jacket review

I’d started to fret: I needed kit for my forthcoming cycling trip across Holland & Belgium en route to the Maas Half Marathon. It all had to be functional, lightweight and easily stowed when not in use. Top of the list was a jacket – the first and last line of defence between myself and whatever the Dutch and Belgian weather could throw at me. I’d read a few reviews of different jackets and was searching for something lightweight, waterproof and windproof that packed down small enough to stuff in a rucksack pocket. The Jack Wolfskin Vapor Trail XT looked like just the ticket…

I have had the jacket for the past few weeks and had the opportunity to try it out in a number of situations. English weather being what it is, the jacket has been used in fog, drizzle, heavy rain, sleet, snow and wind. Whilst running and also on the bike it has performed admirably. The Jack Wolfskin website claims that it is waterproof, windproof and remarkably lightweight and I would agree with all 3. I am always dubious of claims that fabrics can keep rain out but breathe enough to keep you dry inside but even on a breezy 17k run where I worked up a real sweat, it kept the moisture from my skin and the wind out – avoiding that chilly, clammy feeling you get with some outer layers. The jacket is well designed with velcro closures at the cuffs and drawstrings at the waist, neck and hood ensuring that drips and draughts are kept out. On the bike, it is long enough at the back to not expose any flesh to the elements, ensuring both warmth and dignity are kept intact. If adjusted correctly, the hood fits snugly around the face and the built in peak keeps the rain from your eyes. There is one internal mesh chest pocket which doubles as a carrying bag – roll the jacket up and flip it into the pocket and then stuff it into a rucksack pocket or hang it from a belt loop. I was initially confused by the lack of additional pockets at hip level (stopping to use my phone, I was fumbling about for somewhere to put my gloves – ending up looking like someone “doing the locomotion”) but this is a small criticism of an otherwise excellent jacket. In fact it is this minimal, essential approach to the design that makes the jacket so functional and, at only 290g, lightweight.

VAPOR-TRAIL-XT-JACKET-MEN-1104451-4034_1_Front

I went for the “leaf green” which is bright enough to be easily visible without being hi-viz and has reflective detailing on chest, shoulder, cuffs etc. to add that extra bit of visibility after dark. There are other darker colours (blue and charcoal grey) that are less ostentatious for everyday wear. But for me, the jacket needs to be purely functional – it must keep me visible, dry and comfortable for 400kms of Benelux landscape and, going on the performance of the last few weeks, I am confident that Vapor Trail XT will go above and beyond the call of duty.

07
Mar
13

the map is not the territory

“The map is not the territory” is a lovely phrase that is generally used to mean that study is not a substitute for experience. However, it’s literal meaning was also true on Sunday morning when I set off to explore Cycle route 61 from Hertford to London. As part of my training for the European Road Trip in May I though I might get some miles in by cycling to work – 26 miles each way. Google Maps had advised a cycling route that basically follows Cycle Routes 61 and 1 all the way to Tottenham where I would jump onto the road and finish my journey. From the route. It looks plain sailing, if a little convoluted and I decided that I would take the mountain bike just in case the going got a little gravelly.

Which was just as well because about 6km into the ride, the going does indeed get gravelly. Then it gets muddy. Then potholed. Then poorly signposted and veers off at a sharp angle, crosses a road and then ducks back onto the track through a gap in the hedge only to then wind it’s way up and over a hill. By the time I had reached the M25, I decided that perhaps I should head back as I was running out of time. The outward route took me 1hr 55mins. The return route (on the road) took 55 mins.

For a leisurely ride for the reasonably competent cyclist, the route is fine. But as a usable commutable alternative to travelling on the road, it is woeful. Poorly signposted. Not really “maintained” to speak of and meandering – meaning that you cycle much further than you actually need to reach your destination. The terrain means that it has to be tackled on a mountain bike and if your journey is a mixture of cyclepath and road you either ride the road bit on slow, knobbly tires or you take a road bike and risk multiple punctures using slicks off road. I personally have no problem cycling on the road, even in heavy city traffic but I fail to see how a canal towpath with a few red directional signs makes a usable cycle route for day to day use. I would like to think that this was an isolated incident but when I have tried to follow cycle routes previously, I have always come up against similar problems. Or worse – the cycle path that suddenly disappears. Or is 2 metres long. Or is badly maintained, gnarled by tree routes pushing up through the tarmac, bejewelled with broken glass or pock marked with dog shit.

Which is why this piece of news today about massive investment in London’s new cycle routes is long overdue. It is a start and is a massive leap forward from the current “lets paint a blue bit in the road and call it a cycle super highway” mentality. So I am hoping that this is a step in the right direction and a genuine effort to get people using bikes. For it to be successful, the scheme needs to be well implemented and then MAINTAINED. Now we just need facilities on buses and trains to transport our bikes into out towns and cities (even in rush hour) and we can look forward to cycling becoming as accessible and widespread as it has been in other parts of Europe for the last 30 years.

 Soundtrack to this post: Swans – Can’t Find My Way Home




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