Wednesday, 12 September 2018

One day one photo - 12: My other vehicle is a Qashqai

I haven't owned a car since 2006. In fact for a time I even had two cars, after I took a job as a medical sales rep and had to take a company car even though I already had a car of my own.

So these days I am car-less. I had considered buying some wheels, but to be honest, as a single person with no children, living in London, I can't really justify having one. If I worked somewhere that wasn't easy to reach on public transport, and if it didn't cost me £10 to drive into Central London during the week, and if I knew I could get into Central London quicker than if I were on a train or a bicycle, and I could park my car for free then maybe I would consider it worthwhile to have my own car.

Owning a car would mean that most of the time it would be sitting in my driveway depreciating while I pay insurance on it, as well as the car loan. So these days I just use Zip Car or Enterprise, which has a branch less than a mile from where I live. It works out well when I need to go somewhere outside of London, or if I have large items to carry.

Quite a lot of the running and cycling races I do are easily reached by train or just by cycling there, so at times I go for a few months without driving. I do go through phases when I hire quite frequently - that has been be the case over the summer as I have been training to do a marathon, so that has involved me going to remote places to do trail running, and it's handy anyway to be able to get into a warm car after getting drenched and muddy on the trails. But in a few weeks that will all die down, and I probably won't drive much again.

That works well for me. I drive often enough to still keep my skills up, and qualify me as a London driver as opposed to a nervous weekend driver, but not so much that it makes hiring too expensive. My car hire budget is probably around £2,000 a year. For me, that's okay because I don't have the other costs associated with owning a car, and I get to drive brand new cars - usually a Ford Fiesta or Renault Clio, but also, quite often a Nissan Qashqai. None of those cars would cost me less than £2,000, so I think its worth it, and it also feels good to know I am doing my bit to help the environment.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Styling it out in Compiegne, Chantilly and Senlis

It was nice to be in Compiegne and have the chance to look around a stylish town. Riding around with a ton of luggage on my bike was beginning to get on my nerves, and I worked out that I could get up early and go for a ride sans luggage, up to Pierrefonds and back, before then loading up and riding across to Chantilly.

Very quickly after leaving the town of Compiegne the landscape changed from urban to the woodland of the Forest of Compiegne, and other forested zones. It was that time of day when those with jobs would already be at work, while those who would be taking things leisurely had not yet got up.

Pierrefonds Castle
So that meant I practically had these roads to myself. Pierrefonds village came around very quickly - it was only seven miles away on a flat road. At the castle things were fairly quiet, but I could see more and more coaches and cars turning up. This definitely seemed a popular place.

The first time I visited this area by bike, years ago, while trying to find Pierrefonds Castle, I bumped into an old local bloke. Even though he had lived in the area for over 30 years, he spoke about the castle with such passion and emotion like he was seeing it for the first time, and it was the most amazing thing.

He described how this wonderful sight just rises from the ground, suddenly towering over you in spectacular style. At the time I didn't know what all the fuss was about. But at this moment when riding there I understood exactly what he meant. One minute I was on a a narrow road with a few houses, then the next minute the turrets of this massive fantasy-like castle suddenly came into view, completely dominating the landscape in the distance.

The tower was clearly in view when in the distance, but then as I rode through the winding street that climbed uphill, the turrets disappeared out of view, only to become visible again when really close up.

I took the opportunity to photograph this castle before the seriously big crowds arrived. At this time, on a Friday morning, there was only a handful of tourists and the area was populated by local people at the market. It all looked very French and traditional.

Time was marching on, so I had to push on to return to Compiegne. This is such a lovely part of the world - if only I could have stayed longer. The practically empty roads only gently undulated through the woods, and the sun shone brightly. It was my ideal ride. Along the way, I passed an organised group ride of small children. They can't have been older than 7 years old. All of them wore high vis tabards, and there was a support car behind them like you would see in a professional cycle race. What a lovely introduction to cycling for this juvenile troop.

As well as the Pierrefonds Castle there was also the Armistice Memorial, and a museum of the First World War. Unfortunately time ran out on me as my visit was embarrassingly interrupted by a phone call from a panicked Veronique. The landlady of my studio had returned home during her lunch hour to clear out my room (thinking that I had already checked out). Finding my belongings, but no sign of me she rang fretting about where I was!

Once I dashed back she seemed more relaxed and a bit apologetic for making such a fuss. This panic from her was in addition to the fuss she had made the previous day when she dashed home from work, thinking that I would be at hers for 5pm, when in fact I didn't get there until about quarter to nine that evening. She was trying to juggle running the property while holding down her job, so I guess it must be stressful sometimes trying to get everything done on time.

A typical street in Compiegne
After a pleasant chat with Veronique and her son, I bade them good bye and toddled off along my way, headed for Chantilly. 
Before hitting the road for Chantilly I stopped off and took a few photos of around Compiegne town centre and its impressive gothic town hall that dates to the 16th century.

Compiegne Town Hall
This place definitely had an upmarket feel about it, with its timber-fronted architecture made the place look even prettier. It had the feel of somewhere like St Albans or Stratford-on-Avon, and made for a nice start-town for those who have to face the 260-km cobble-strewn classic bike ride from here to Roubaix! If only, I could have stayed longer - but I had to push on to Chantilly.

My ride to the town known as the Captital of the Horse, Chantilly, is highly recommended. Most of it was traffic-free or on quiet roads. The first part of the ride was on a tarmacked path that followed the river Oise. Then at Verberie, near Pont-Sainte-Maxence, I was then on a main road that had a segregated cycle path, and I continued along a rural road full of corn and pumpkins. It reminded me of my allotment, but just a gazillion times bigger! Looking at fields full of crops like this gives me so much admiration for the farmers, especially when I think about how much work I have to do just to maintain a 30sq metre patch of land, and they are responsible for 30 football pitches worth of produce.

Again, this afternoon the roads seemed so empty, to the point that it made me wonder if I hadn't received the memo about something that was going on! In the end I reached a place called Senlis, and I realised that that the memo had been for everyone to go and have coffee in this beautiful ancient town.

Ancient facades in Senlis
This must be one of the best kept secrets in France. I had heard people talk about Compiegne and Chantilly previously, but never Senlis. But in fact, I would say this town had more character than the other places. The buildings date from Roman times, and hark back to ancient times when royalty lived there. The place certainly had a historic with interesting facades, lining cobbled streets. There was a pretty descent smattering of luxury cars parked outside some of the cafes, as well as folks on Harley Davidsons. I was quite happy to people-watch on my old faithful Planet X push bike!

By this time it was around 4pm, the sun had gone in and the sky looked quite threatening, so I quickly made tracks to Chantilly, which was about five miles away. Once again I was on a quiet, woodland lane. Google maps suggested I take a forest trail which followed quite the tributary River Nonette, but it would have been a bit too bumpy for my pannier rack and I didn't want to to take the risk. It turned out to be useful on-road rather than off-road because suddenly I got caught in a massive shower, which could have been a messy affair! Instead, I was able to stop on a recessed part of the road and shelter under the trees for around half an hour.

Once the rain stopped my run in to Chantilly was straight forward as I basically followed the signs on what was the bike route of the triathlon, so the route took me straight into the grounds of Chantilly Castle, where I was able to pick up my race pack and start getting nervous about my challenge for the next day!

Click here for my route from Compiegne to Chantilly.

One day one photo - 11: Sports Massage

I get amazed when I meet some of my fellow amateur athletes who say they have never had a sports massage before. They must be so lucky to be able to train and compete without needing a massage.  But no, wait - when I get into such conversations with these people it is exactly because they've got an injury that has stopped them from running or cycling, and they are looking for treatment.

But still, it does surprise me to know that here they are at the age of 35 or 40, and it is only now that they are leaving "the age of innocence" when they could just run and cycle as much as they liked without getting any overuse or wear and tear soft tissue injuries. My age of innocence finished when I was 26 and ended up with patella syndrome, which kept me out of any proper running for about a year.

It all happened when I was living in Paris and took part in the half-marathon there. I didn't know much about training programmes. I just ran it, based on the fact that I was fit and my weekly runs were 8km, so it wasn't as though I wasn't used to running. Sure, if it was bad for me my legs would hurt and I would stop and get the tube home quite easily. After all, I lived in the 12th arrondissement, and most of the route (at that time) went through the 13th arrondissement, so it would be easy enough to get home.

I managed to get through the 21.1km without any issues, apart from the fact that it was quite a wet day - as it usually is when the Paris Marathon takes place!

Feeling motivated, I then went to join a running club based at the Bois de Vincennes. Sadly I only lasted two or three sessions when I developed severe pains at the side of my knees and on my left patella, to the point that I was limping. One of the coaches there said that I had tendinitis, and I went to see a sports doctor who told me I would be fine within four weeks.

It was a very long four weeks....I spent six months visiting the sports injury department at La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital getting massaged, undergoing ultra-sound treatment and going weights all as part of my rehabilitation. Not being able to do much sport, go to the gym or run in the way I had been accustomed to all my life up to then was very frustrating, and it annoyed me not being able to take part in the various races and sports events around me.

It was only when I returned to the UK about eight months later that I contemplated any form of running, and had to start everything from scratch - running for just five minutes, then ten minutes and only steadily increasing the time on my feet, until six months later when I was in a position to run five kilometres without getting problems.

As a precautionary measure I started going to Crystal Palace Sports Injury Clinic, as it was known back then. They were very good, and have been ever since. I have been going there for over 20 years now, and I swear by them for getting the right treatment and monitoring for my legs and keeping injuries to a minimum. I regularly get massaged - particularly at moments like now when I am doing quite a lot of racing, and preparing for a marathon. Sports massages have definitely helped to keep injuries at bay.

I have not been completely injury free over the last 20 years, and have had Achilles problems along the way, and a recurrence of mild tendinitis, as well as golfer's elbow through mountain biking. But that loss of innocence in 1995 means that I am very conscious of not overdoing things, and  none of my injuries have been as debilitating as what happened after the Paris half-marathon. So as long as I keep on getting massaged I like to think I will generally be okay to carry on my competitive activity - touch wood.

Monday, 10 September 2018

One day one photo - 10: Harvest festival

Actually no harvest festival has taken place. Maybe I should have one. It just reminds me of when I was a kid and the school used to do one around this time of the year.

We always had to take something in to school that could then be donated to less fortunate folks (this was in pre-food bank days).

My mum would generally give me a tin of baked beans or tomato soup to take in, and I would feel a bit embarrassed that we we weren't taking something that had come from a farm, like the word "harvest" implied. If only we had an allotment or vegetable patch back then.

So this is the latest release from my allotment. Everything there came from packs of seeds that cost around £2. Actually, I confess that the tomatoes came from my neighbour's allotment.

Apparently this has been a good year for tomatoes and people just can't give away enough. So he's been dishing them out to everyone who comes by.

I have had a great supply of courgettes though - green ones, yellow ones, and ones the same colour as marrows. The corn has been good too, though in these busy times I ended up picking them a bit late so they were a bit dry to eat.

As for pumpkins - I am just glad to know I have got something in time for Halloween. The last time I grew pumpkins was a couple of years ago, and I planted them so late in the season that they weren't ready until late November!

For someone who could never even manage to keep a cactus alive, I don't think I do too badly now. This year was quite challenging in the excessive heat, and I had to get down to my plot two, sometimes three times a day to water everything, and going away even for a weekend was out of the question. I was morphing into a farmer!

But it's paying off now, and I can also look forward to chicory (endives), fennel, and nasturtium, which conveniently need less attention than some of the other crops.

Furthermore, the secretary of the allotment society will be happy to see that I am making an effort. So hopefully I won't be on his list of people to get a warning letter! This good life isn't so bad!

Sunday, 9 September 2018

One day one photo - 9: Bacchus half-marathon

One of this year's sporting goals was to run the Paris marathon, which took place in April. I did all the training and got into a good place with my running.

Then it all went pear-shaped literally the day before - a trio of events stacked against me and I ended up not doing it. Still wanting to salvage things in some way, I considered entering the New York marathon, which happens in November.

In the end I chose not to enter it because there was too much at stake if things went wrong again and I decided not to go. Also I wasn't sure if my wish to go was just a knee-jerk reaction, so preferred to wait a few months and reflect before forking out £2,000+ to go across the Atlantic.

In the meantime I began to toy with doing trail runs, and the idea of even a mountain marathon in a national park became appealing. I didn't sign up for a mountain marathon in the end, but what I have plumped for is the Beachy Head marathon. It's going to be 26.2 miles up and down through the South Downs - around 1500m of climbing.

I do like that area, having cycled there a number of times with my mountain bike or my cyclocross bike.
Mbaba Mwana Waresa running with some elves at Bacchus half marathon!
A run around there will definitely be a challenge. So with that in mind, I have been doing lots of trail runs. 

And the Bacchus half-marathon was one of the milestones in my preparation.

You will have guessed from the name that this event relates to wine. And yes, it certainly did! Held at the Denbies Vineyard in Dorking, this race also showcased the tipples from the Surrey wine producers.

Well who better to sample them than we runners! So at each of the six drink stations there was water, but on top of that every runner could have a small glass of one of their wines. We were treated to things like Juniper Hill (sweet white), Zig Zag (red), and White Downs (sparkling) - all named after places in the local area.

I was doing just the half-marathon, but there was also a full marathon option, which basically involved doing the loop twice, and therefore having at least 12 small glasses of wine! Now that's a challenge!

In addition, it was a fancy dress race. Being dressed up is strongly encouraged, as you do look a misfit turning up in your club running kit! It doesn't matter what fancy dress you wear - there's no theme. I ran past a few Wonder Women, fairies, tigers, elves, and many Batmen!

This race was our answer to the Marathon du Medoc, in France. In fact, that event took place on the very same weekend.

My costume was probably quite conservative as I went as the African female equivalent of Bacchus - Mbaba Mwana Waresa. This goddess wears a colourful long dress, headgear and a lot of jewellery. So for me I just dressed like I was going out for a dinner party in Surrey (dahling), but stopping for a little run with a wine and cheese aperitif along the way!

My run was a fun affair - probably the easiest 13.1 miles I will ever do in a race! It's not that the course was easy. With 400m of climbing along the North Downs Way and the Pilgrims Way it was no walk in the park - well actually it was a walk for many! On a number of sections most people were reduced to walking, particularly in the first half which gradually climbed up to Ranmore Common.

As most of my running recently has consisted of uphill running on trails I wasn't phased by the slopes. What made the race easy for me, was the fact that I could stop as much as I wanted - to savour the wine, chat to people at the drink stations, take photos and make adjustments to the odd wardrobe malfunction.

It was more like my usual Sunday morning training run, probably with the same amount of stoppages except that in the Bacchus half-marathon these were more fun than my usual loo breaks or consulting the Ordnance Survey map!

The time recorded on my Garmin was 2hrs 14, but my official time was 2hrs 45. I really had been savouring the atmosphere, and would definitely recommend it!

Saturday, 8 September 2018

One day one photo - 8: Bye bye Factory Media

The end of the assembly line for this cycling media outlet
It was quite a coincidence and also a surprise when I received the letter from Factory Media's administrators today.

I had recently been having trouble receiving payment from them for the features I was contributing to one of their titles, Total Women's Cycling.

In fact, on one occasion when I rang chasing up payment the guy in their accounts payable department said to me that they were awaiting payment from their debtors before they could pay me. They were already two months late settling my invoice.

I managed to speak directly to their finance director who eventually paid what I was owed. But then a further contribution I made went into overdue payment status. When I chased this up they were apologetic, talking about wanting to maintain a good relationship with contributors, blah blah blah. But they still didn't pay, and after another chaser email I then received the letter from their proposed liquidators.

Maybe I should have seen the clues - the late payments, and editorial staff leaving but not being replaced. But it's not the first thing that comes to mind when dealing with a publishing company that owns 15 titles........

In fact if I had checked the Companies House records even 18 months ago I would have known straight away that Factory Media were in big trouble. With net liabilities of around £2 million they would have been struggling to cover their costs back in Spring 2017.

It's quite scary when I think about the work I was doing for them, supplying those invoices in ignorant bliss! I was lucky I got my pay! So there we are. I am just under a couple of hundred pounds light, not knowing whether I will ever see that....

I wonder if this is a sign of the times for the cycling industry. On the same day Evans Cycles announced they are seeking £10m in an urgent bid to keep the firm afloat. In addition, Rapha have had to close down one of their divisions. I hope that things can still remain remotely buoyant in the cycling industry.

Moving forward, as a supplier of words in this sector I will need to be more aware of clues when making my editorial decisions.

Friday, 7 September 2018

One day one photo - 7: Sugar-free diet

I am now of an age where it is common to start taking pills to manage that trio of mid-life healthcare problems - high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

Prescribing for these conditions is so common that some doctors even advocate that everyone over 40 years of age should be on pills, or maybe a polypill - at least a statin to control the bad cholesterol. Then we are constantly bombarded with how sugar is the enemy and that type 2 diabetes is the ticking time bomb.

I get all that, and I do my bit to keep these problems at bay. But I have to say, as I get older I have to work harder and harder to manage it.

I am pretty disciplined with managing my lifestyle factors - keep down the salt intake, as there is a family history of hypertension. I'm not a big cake or biscuit eater so that's not a problem. And you may have guessed, dear reader, that I like to do a bit of sport!

But, for all the training and racing I do, and despite having a good body mass index and pulse rate I have still had high readings for blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol. The doctors in my area are keen to manage these priority conditions in the community, and is very quick to try and put everyone with a raised reading on some kind of medication. But I said no, no, no!

As someone who has spent many years working in pharmaceuticals and reading about clinical trials I sooo don't want to take medications for any condition if I can get away with it.

So the answer to managing any high reading is to have even tighter control on my lifestyle and managing the numbers.

No such thing as a sugar-free diet - sugar is all around!
As mentioned, I've never been in the habit of eating much in the way of sugary things, and I'm not a big alcohol drinker either.

So I have really had to look closely at everything and the granularity of it all and really find out where the sugar is to stamp it out.

The fact is, there is sugar just everywhere. It is nigh on impossible to have a completely sugar-free diet.

Clearly stuff like cakes, sweets and biscuits are big culprits; then there are things like baked beans, processed foods, ready meals. sauces that go on salads. And don't even think about having juices and smoothies!

But then even "healthy foods" recommended by Public Health England have sugar - pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables, nuts, wholemeal breads, a Mediterranean diet.

I have eaten lots of those things, but apparently these so called "good" sugars have given me no joy in reducing that all important HbA1c number that indicates whether or not you are diabetic. So I have had to significantly reduce the healthy stuff too!

So now, I am on things like porridge with pumpkin seeds, eggs, meat, fish, courgettes, french beans, nasturtium. These last three items are things I have been growing on my allotment and in the garden and are sprouting all over the place! No choice but to eat them really - good job they are low in sugar!

I have to be very measured about things like tomatoes, lentils and pearl barley. Sometimes I push the boat out and have some Ryvita or tortilla chips. Bread is strictly off limits.

But I have to say, this no-sugar diet is tough. My shopping trips are really prolonged as I spend ages poring over nutritional information for even the smallest packet of seeds. After 45 minutes in the supermarket I may leave with just an aubergine, a tin of tuna, and some pumpkin seeds!

This lack of carbohydrates has left me often feeling hungry too. When I have one meal, I avidly look forward to the next meal. In fact, I am constantly thinking of food! If I were of a slightly less resolute disposition I would be feeling hangry - and not a pleasant person to be with!

But anyway, after two weeks of following this monk-like diet I have noticed a 3kg drop in weight, and perfect blood pressure. I will need to take a blood test for the blood glucose and cholesterol readings. Hopefully they should be okay too - they'd better be after all this!

I can live with a slight drop in weight - I am now 57kg, but I think losing more weight at this rate may make me disappear, and I may not even have the strength to carry my bike during a cyclocross race!

To be honest, in the long-term I can't see myself following this regime so strictly as it's not that practical. The cyclocross season has started, plus I am preparing for a marathon, and I can't see how I will survive those races with such a low energy intake. Woman cannot live on courgettes (and pumpkin seeds) alone!

It's not even sociable either when going to a restaurant or a dinner party. You can't really have a good time sitting there with a carrot and a glass of water while everyone else is tucking in and enjoying the evening. I even have a race coming up where there will be wine and hog roast on offer. For the £40-odd I paid I don't want to miss out on that!

So for now, I will stick to the this no-sugar diet, but after a couple of weeks I will revert to a hybrid of this diet with normal food. You've gotta live a little.