Bike stuff

June 16, 2012

I’m starting to realise just what a sociable sport cycling is! Already on one of my very first forays on my new racer I was quite surprised to be caught up by another cyclist who kept me company until our paths parted.

As I’ve already written for the last couple of months I’ve been part of a group that meets on Sunday mornings to cycle together and I’ve really enjoyed the social aspect of it. Cycling seems to lend itself to chatting (unlike running where it is really difficult to hold a conversation due to the general jostling around of your body!) and there is something about the way that you ride along side by side without eye contact that makes it easy to strike up a conversation. So I’m kind of sad that the sessions with the group are finished now (or are almost finished, but since I am now in Namibia I can’t go along this week!). At any rate, I have concluded that while I love (and prefer) running alone, I like to cycle with others, so over the summer I’m going to have to find out how I can sustain that.

Well that was a kind of aside. What I really wanted to write about was my first ever bike race. Last Sunday (during my 40 hours at home between business trips) I took part in the self proclaimed oldest bike race in Denmark. There were three distances, 125km, 50km or 28km. I decided to go for 50km as being a reasonable distance considering my current level of ambition – and the fact I had to catch a flight later the same day.

As it approached I found myself a bit nervous and unsure of what to expect. Though, to be honest, I think the general stress of my brief weekend at home was a contributing factor. Anyway, there I found myself on the train with my bike first thing on Sunday morning. In true Danish style they were offering free train travel for participants so I loaded myself and my bike into the bike-compartment along with a few others who were obviously heading to the same place.  Now, as a Scot I am used to the idea that complete strangers strike up a conversation with you on the bus, the train or anywhere else for matter, but after more than 20 years in Denmark I have learned that this is definitely not the norm here.

Well, apparently unless you are wearing padded shorts, a helmet and have a bike with you – or so it would seem. I had only just

Speedplay Light Action

settled into my seat when the guy next to me started asking me about my pedals. Now I should mention here that my pedals have received a fair bit of attention in the few months since I got my bike. If you have been following my blog you will have realised that I’m just not that into the gear. I’d never had click pedals (if that is what they are called in English) before, so I simply took the recommendation of the bike shop (Speedplay Light Action in case you’re interested). I’ve been extremely satisfied with them: I had some apprehension at the start about having my feet clamped to the pedals, but in practice I haven’t had any worries or problems with it at all. Then again I have nothing to compare them to! Anyway, I’ve had several experiences of people – well, only men actually – asking me about my pedals. So it wasn’t that much of a surprise when this guy also asked me about them. Though he did go a bit further than most and had me lift my leg up so that he could examine the clamps on my shoes! The conversation continued from there and I surprised myself about how much I actually was able to keep up with the bike-talk. Apparently I’m learning something!

The race itself proved to be a lot of fun. The first few kilometres were a bit hard work with constant overtaking but after that the field thinned out and I got into a good rhythm. And then guess what? At about 15 km I fell into step (or do you say into pedal in this case?) with a woman who was cycling about the same speed as me. So we got chatting and kept chatting for the rest of the race and crossed the finished line together! And if that sounds like we must have been taking it easy then think again. I think we probably pushed ourselves more than if we had been alone and when there were windy bits, we took turns to go in front which really helps a lot.

Of course the great thing about competing for the first time in a particular kind of race is that you are guaranteed a new personal record! Because I’m so new to cycling I have no real idea of what is good or what is bad, and had no real expectations as to what time I was aiming for. I had some kind of vague idea that I wanted to get under 2 hours for the 50 km, so I was more than pleased with my 1 hour 50 min. I was even more pleased when I later discovered I’d come 23rd out of more than 800 (female) participants. I suspect this is mostly because the really good cyclists do the 125 km route, but no matter, it was a bit of a confidence booster for my first bike race!

The Ketchup Effect

June 8, 2012

When I decided to become a freelancer a couple of years ago one of my worries was whether I would be able to keep my travel activity at manageable levels. My line of work requires that I travel, there is really no way around it. In the years prior to the BIG DECISION I had typically been travelling around 80-100 days a year, albeit typically trips of not more than 1 week at a time. The problem with that was that I was usually expected to be wherever I was going from Monday to Friday which meant that many of my weekends were taken up with travelling, which really eats into family life.

If anything I expected my travel activity to increase as a freelancer and most likely to include trips of a longer duration. But I reckoned that at least 1. I would have control over what assignments I accepted and 2. My office would now be at home which would allow me more flexibility in my working hours to better fit around family life.

So far though I’ve been very lucky and the travel has by no means been excessive. While I have had projects enough to keep my busy full-time (and more if I wanted), the majority of the work has been home-based. In 2011 I only had around 30 work travel days spread out throughout the year which was definitely manageable! So far this year I have only had a couple of week-long trips.

Until now. Do you know the ketchup effect? (Shake, oh shake the ketchup bottle. None will come and then a lot will!).

Yes, well this week I’ve been in Amman, Jordan since Sunday and I head home again this evening (Friday). Then after less than 40 hours at home I head off again on Sunday evening to Windhoek, Namibia where I’ll be for 3 weeks.

I’m definitely NOT complaining though. While I am about as big a fan of airports and planes as I am of hospitals (a necessary evil!), these are very exciting projects which I’m delighted about working on.

So here I am in Amman and next week I’ll be in Windhoek, and life is good!

Tri Fun

June 1, 2012

Me completing my first triathlon in 2009

On Monday I completed the second triathlon of my life. In both cases they have been “mini” women-only triathlons. This one, Rudersdal Kvindetri, was organised by my local Triathlon Club SigmaTri so I was on home ground for the 225 m swimming (in a pool), 18 km cycling and 3 km running. If you’d like an idea of what such an event looks like, the club made this great video to promote this year’s event.

A few weeks ago I was at a lecture by Torbjørn Sinballe (former World Champion in long distance triathlon, the only Dane to have reached the podium in the Hawaii Ironman, and even more significantly, Coach for my recent Friday morning swimming classes – arguably the most challenging of all his achievements!). Torbjørn said that one of the things he loved most about triathlon is its inclusiveness – and that the last ones over the finish line are celebrated just as much as the ones who come first. Presumably he has never participated in a women’s only event, and since I have only ever participated in women’s only events I’m making an assumption here, but I’d bet you that these kind of “mini” women-only triathlons exemplify this in the extreme! The participants come in all shapes, sizes and fitness levels, but the one thing they have in common is that they are really having great time.

One of the fun things about triathlons is that not only do you have to do the sporty bit of it, but you have to manage the logistics of having to switch from one to the other. At this triathlon a section of the local sports field was marked off as the “transition zone” (as I believe it is called!). There were lines of bike racks set up and the idea was that you put your bike in the rack and place all your stuff next to it, ideally in some kind of order so that it is easy to do the transition as quickly as possible. Participants were set off in heats starting every 10 minutes from 10 am until 11:40 am or so, so there were people running in and out of the zone all the time at different stages in the race. I started at 10:30 so had a good chance to hang out in the “zone” both before and after and observe how people managed the logistics.

A surprising number of women had proper tri-suits on. Tri-suits are either one-piece or top/shorts combinations that you can wear for the whole thing. I don’t have one, though I do have some tri-shorts, so I wore those with my sports bra for the swimming, as I didn’t fancy having to struggle into my bra when I dripping wet! I then had a shirt ready that I could just shove on top before the cycling. Others resolved that issue by swimming with their bra on under their swimsuit and either then changed or just shoved on shorts and top over the swimsuit. Not everyone was so well prepared though and I did actually witness a rather well endowed woman strip the whole lot off, thoroughly dry herself and then get dressed! This is in the middle of the sports field with people milling all around – welcome to Denmark! At the other end of the spectrum I saw one woman wearing a wetsuit for the swimming. Just to get this clear – we swam 225 m (9 lengths) in an indoor swimming pool. A wetsuit does seem more than a little extreme. We concluded that she must be using it to practice her transitions for a more serious triathlon. I seriously hope so!

As we were swimming in a pool we had to share lanes – 4 to a lane. This meant that we had to negotiate with each other over the order we would swim in. I suspect that if it was a male-triathlon there would be quite a competitive edge to the negotiation process, but when we are talking women the conversation goes “oh, I’m not very good”, “oh I’m not very good either” and thereafter a discussion about how bad each of our not very goods actually is! In the case of my lane we apparently managed this process quite well because we ended up in the appropriate order of our actual speed. Though the fastest one who claimed she wasn’t very good actually lapped two of us, so I think she was actually a bit over-modest! Unlike the last time I did such a triathlon (in 2009 I believe) I wasn’t last out the pool for my heat this time! Only something like 5th last! I decided just to go for breast-stroke as I knew my crawl would collapse in the heat of the moment and I was happy with that. At least I had no panic attacks which was the primary goal.

The range of bikes was just as varied as the swimming gear! Everything from top-end racers to everyday bikes with bag racks, baskets, child seats etc. We spotted one woman on her way out of the zone with a huge carpet bag on her bike bag rack. I’m not sure if she had her energy supplies with her (and was expecting to be out on the route for a while) or whether she suspected the rest of us were going to nick her gear if she left it behind.

I definitely reaped the benefits of my new racer and despite being one of the last out of the pool I was overtaking people throughout the cycling (and wasn’t overtaken at all). Wow, I love my bike! I actually finished the cycling faster than I was expecting. I was obviously also faster than my family were expecting because when I got back to the zone I could see them over at the snack stall not paying any attention to me at all.

Running is of course a lot less “technical” so the differences were less obvious there. Though by that stage there were quite a lot of people walking, though most managed to pull a sprint out of the bag as they approached the finishing line. I managed a bit of overtaking here too. When I crossed the finish line I could see my family standing at the bike finish waiting for me to come in there – so much for moral support!

Honestly it was so much fun! If you’ve never tried it I would definitely recommend it. It certainly won’t be my last time!