Monday, July 30, 2012

If only more people cycled

Recently there was a romantic piece in the Independent by Rob Penn on the joys of cycling. It concluded with a paragraph that sums up the reason why so many of us spend so much time on the roads cycling or running, on the hillsides walking or scrambling:
If you've ever experienced a moment of awe or freedom on a bicycle; if you've ever taken flight from sadness to the rhythm of two spinning wheels, or felt the resurgence of hope pedalling to the top of a hill with the dew of effort on your forehead; if you've ever wondered, swooping bird-like down a long hill on a bicycle, if the world was standing still; if you have ever, just once, sat on a bicycle with a singing heart and felt like an ordinary man touching the gods, then you share something fundamental with Bradley Wiggins, and you have reason to cheer him down the Champs-Elysées tomorrow.
It is a wonderful expression of how all of our individual efforts are connected.
But wait - scroll further down the comments column and there is antipathy and fear. It is amazing how many people have a visceral hatred of cycling because of boorish people who ignore the rules of the road and assume they can maintain a high speed in cities by relying on everyone else to get put of the way. I hate those people myself and can be as angry as anyone when jumping back to avoid a cyclist who will not stop for the lights. That is not cycling - it is selfish inconsiderate behaviour,  which happens in almost any form of human endeavour. But the images are so strong it is all some people think of when they think of cyclists.
The loathing must be countered because there is a growing momentum behind the idea that if more people use the bike for transport the health of the nation will be hugely improved. But for that to happen the infrastructure needs to be improved and that  means money and, for the first time in living memory, not putting the car first. In other words a radical step that requires at least the tacit support of a majority of people, so people who don't cycle themselves need to be persuaded that such measures are for the general good. Not easy, especially when you look at the reaction to some of the Olympic traffic lanes and proper, separated cycle lane would have the same effect. It can be done though as Holland and Denmark have proved but our culture is slightly different and we have a vociferous 'Top Gear' faction that makes such change difficult. 
Changing hearts and minds is always long and difficult but if it happens and more people cycle the idiots, the lycra louts,  seem less representative and the roads will also be safer. More people will feel the sense of exhilaration described by Rob Penn and fewer people will die prematurely through the diseases of sedentary living. 

It is an argument worth making.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sport can mean something

Source: Associated Press

Even with the Olympics still to come and a number of other great sports stories that have already happened (who, for example, would ever have believed that a long-term journeyman tennis player, barely able to scratch a living, would, as a wildcard entry, win the Wimbledon doubles title?) I already know what sporting achievement will give me most delight in 2012. It happened yesterday when David Millar won Stage 12 of the Tour de France.
The stage itself was the least of it - a long breakaway, with a small group managing to stay away right to the end is worth cheering but is not in itself enough; such breaks are regularly attempted and each year one or two succeed. Even though David Millar initiated the move and demonstrated his skill at road racing, that is still makes it no more than a very good win,  not a great sporting moment. No those happen when some part of the story of the day transcend the mechanics of the event to make the victory mean more than a win. In this case, in Annonay Davézieux, it represented redemption.
Even though most people are now aware of the David Millar story it is worth repeating. He started in the sport when the organisation of British cycling was an amateurish shambles and so as a young man he did what all ambitious cyclists had to do: leave for Europe to find a team to learn what professional road racing really was. At that time being professional also meant taking drugs. Although he started off both innocent about their use and against them in principal, he was eventually worn down. He succumbed with an attitude (or internal justification) of “well it just has to be done” and “it is my duty to the team”. It gave him no satisfaction but he thought it was his job and so it was until he was caught, arrested and tried. Publicly humiliated, cast adrift by his team and the sport, he seemed at the time another sad story of someone with great talent destroyed by the dark side of his sport. For most athletes who have been convicted of drug use that is all there is - the end, a simple case of rise and fall. But that is not where it ended for him.
Firstly took full responsibility. He did not hide behind denials, he did not try to claim he knew nothing and it was an inadvertent mistake or other peoples fault. He did not say he was forced into it, he fully admitted what he had done. It was as if he wanted to find once more the integrity he had locked away, and be able to look people in the eye.
He was also aided by friends who would stand by him and nurse him back to mental health on the roads of Britain. Through that he was able to rediscover just how much he loved the sport and it is this love that is at the crux of his recovery. It gave him purpose and a cause: to prove top level cycling could be done clean. After serving his ban he not only pieced together his career he became an advocate. At the time there was a lot of scepticism and an awful lot of people were very absolute in their attitudes, believing that a doper is always a doper and so should always be a pariah. But he faced them head on and never shied away from the issues and in the end his love of the sport earned respect.
That in itself that is redemption enough but somehow a win in the Tour de France 9 years after his last stage win (when he was drugged)  ties everything together and presents it in one glorious moment. He was once lost but he found his way and his exultation in punching the air as he crossed the line spoke more than words.
To me that is what sport is all about: not only the struggle to be your best and define yourself but also the chance to recover and try again if things go wrong or you take a wrong turn. There is always hope,  the hope, that this time things will work out. There maybe stark outlines in that there are clear winners and losers but the metaphors and lessons can be taken into our, messier, everyday lives. Examples of endurance and will show what we ourselves can achieve in our own, less exalted context. And redemption...We all need stories of redemption. We need to know that nothing is totally lost and that even if things look bleak there is always the chance we can find ourselves again.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Support your local running store

One of the advantages of writing a blog is that occasionally you get free stuff to review. The idea of presents is always exciting so I like it when it happens, just as long as two tests are passed. Number 1: I have no serious reservations about the company. I know commercial companies are commercial companies and their main aim is not to sprinkle good cheer and fairy dust but I need to know they are not shysters and mountebanks (luckily banks have no great interest in running blogs). Number 2: I would use the product. I do not want stuff for the sake of stuff. I want to be polite: if someone gives me something I want to be able to write something nice about it.
Recently I was offered the chance to choose a running jacket from Up & Running  and this pleased me mightily because they are a company I am more than happy to endorse. They run my nearest running shop, in Watford, and every time I have used it I have come away happy. The staff have always been extremely friendly and helpful and that human contact combined with the feeling that the person is both keen about running and knows his stock adds an awful lot to the transaction. It is one of the reasons it is important for local shops survive in the face of competition from online bargains. 
However my sample product came from the online arm of the business and a very strange choice it is. Normally, in summer, I would not think the thing I need above everything else is a windproof, water repellant jacket but such has been the glory of June that is exactly what I thought. Crazy!
Now that I've got it I'm sure the weather will improve and there will be days of blue skies and balmy air with need for nothing more than a T shirt and shorts. I will just check. Oh no - Wind and spitting rain. Looks like my jacket is an excellent choice.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Juneathon 2012 Day 30 - Summary

Juneathon 2012 Day 30 - Summary
Gym - 35min
So Juneathon 2012 has finished and so I award myself a rosette. There is actually another reason for the photo - it has been a good year for the roses. This year's weather might bear little resemblance to the ideal of summer but the rain and moderate temperatures have obviously suited some plants and flowers. It is a pleasure to be out and appreciate how lush and green the landscape is. You see things are never all bad, which is a good link into my Juneathon efforts: it's not all bad.
After a virus, which had left me short of breath and feeble of limb for about 3 months, my only objective was to work on basic fitness. Cycling is quite good because it is load bearing there are times you can coast, walking is always the base of everything, and the gym is a way of working on strength. Rotating those three things seemed a balanced approach as they could all be done gently, at intensity that felt appropriate. I didn't include running because it felt too hard (I had one run with Tom during the month and it did indeed feel hard).
I might not have done anything of any great athletic virtue but this June has been a great success for one simple reason -  I stuck at it.  At the end of May I was not sure I would manage anything at all: I felt a great internal weariness and doing anything was a big effort. Now things are on the up and I have an optimism that I will be able to get fit again. It will take a long time because I am on the bottom rungs but at least I am on the ladder. Juneathon has been a beginning. 
So the stats have been:
Walking - 11 sessions, 15 hours, 44 miles
Cycling - 8 sessions, 9 hours, 122 miles
Gym - 10 sessions, 6 hours
Running - once, 2.9 miles