Monday, 19 September 2011

Coventry: A survival guide

Over the weekend I set myself the challenge of cycling to Cambridge and back from my home town (210 mile round trip), mainly just to see if I could. This of course is completely retarded as once you've started a 100miles-in-one-direction ride you kind of have to finish or you'll be stranded somewhere. So in reality this was a "I wonder how much it'll hurt to cycle 100 miles without stopping?" sort of exercise. AWESOME FUN.

Well it turns out that I can do 75-80miles OK continuously but then cycle into a wall and have what I call "major sense of fucking humour failure". This mainly involves losing the will to live and swearing at everything.

However, there is a certain miracle substance called Frijj milkshake which is made of awesome. Actual awesome is contained in those lovely 500ml bottles of joy. It simply has to contain something more than milk and chocolate flavour to have such miraculous healing properties. Maybe banned substances? I don't know. But it's awesome.

Cycle 75 miles. DRINK MILKSHAKE. Cycle another 30miles REALLY FAST :D :D
But anyway, I this Frijj worship is a digression from my real topic, namely HOW MUCH I FUCKING HATE COVENTRY.

Now for some reason I chose my route to go right though the centre of Coventry (so I could pick up the A428 that would take me all the way to Bedford...). This was a bad plan, even if it did mean that I only had to cycle on 3 roads for the entire way there. It was a bad plan because Coventry is SHIT.

But why I hear you cry?

Well if you have to ask, you've clearly never been. Its roads are off-the-scale awful.

Firstly, it fits into the (annoyingly large) set of cities that announce your arrival into its glorious self with a cheerful sign, only to be directly followed by a second sign telling you how far you have to go to reach it really. Because it was just fucking with you with the first sign and you have another 5 miles to cycle. Arsehole.

(My own home town of Solihull is worst at this - I've clocked it at 15 miles from one "Welcome to Solihull!! :D" sign to the actual town proper. Now that is mean.
Better suggestions for road signs into Coventry:

I'm on a roll!

OK, so you have unfortunately seen the Coventry sign and will soon enter its cyclist-eating depths. How will you survive? Well, luckily for you I have created this handy checklist.

1) Make a ritual sacrifice

Not strictly necessary but advisable. You've got to keep that road god happy!

2) Know your escape route

 Now this is only of limited use as the probability of escaping from inside the ring road once you're in there is negligible. However, you may find that repeating it to yourself as a sort of mantra will give you some glimmer of hope in these dark times.

Now relying on road signs isn't a great plan as most of them look like this with abbreviations a plenty:

You'll also find that maps are useless too as there are so many 1 way streets and random bus lanes and traffic lights. Sat Navs too. (While driving in Coventry with my mother her Sat Nav got lost and gave up. True story.)

You are quite literally on your own. I ended up using the knowledge that I wanted to go west and using the fucking sun ffs. The best plan of attack is just to keep moving and not show the city any sign of weakness. This is the fifth time you've seen Ikea? JUST KEEP MOVING IT CAN SENSE YOUR FEAR.

3) Bus lanes are fun

 There are a fair amount of nice green friendly looking bus lanes in the city. However, these mean that there are twice the amount of traffic lights (which you of course cannot activate because you don't have the necessary amount of metal that a 3 tonne bus does meaning you are in essence forced to jump lights - nice). They also appear and disappear seemingly at random meaning lots of horribly dangerous merging with traffic. Woo!

4) No one indicates in Coventry

This is because no one knows where the fuck they're going either. Develop Mark Cavendish levels of speed for sprinting out of trouble when cars inevitably try to merge into you.

5) If you go on the ring road you will die

Pure and simple!

6) There is broken glass everywhere

I have honestly never seen so much broken glass at the side of the road. It's like God surreptitiously emptied the stuff all over the city shortly after creation.

This makes cycling even more fun!

7) The Coventry Business Park: a.k.a. The Boss Fight at the end

Eight lanes of traffic + bus lanes all going in different directions? OH YES THAT'S GOOD FUN. The good news is that if you get out of that, you win at life and get to escape for good! Hurrah!

The short version of this blog post:
  • Don't plan a cycle route through Coventry
  • Frijj milkshake is great
  • Yay!
Night! :D

P.S. Drawing competition post to follow....

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Soul searching and dragons

Because the last post was not very lighthearted and a little soul searchy, here is a picture of me fighting a dragon as an antidote.

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay dragon fighting!

Oooooooooooooo this also gives me an idea for a drawing challenge!

I am not really that good at drawing (hello? I'm a stick figure?) Therefore, it might be quite fun if you submit ideas for me to draw. Perhaps of the format

Me _________ing a ___________ with a ____________.

e.g. Me attacking Stalin the Swan with a banana.

Keep it clean folks or I'll get moody and not draw for you... Stick suggestions in the comments below and I'll do my best --->

Not a climber

Why hullo everyone!

I've just returned from a wee summer school in St Andrews on *drum roll* Solar Plasma Physics.

Lots of physics-y maths-y types talking about the sun and magnetospheres and things for a week. Awesome! St Andrews has also got to be the most weird city I've visited, being seemingly made up of transient populations of students and American golfing tourists wearing some truly awful clothes. And not awful in a good way. Awful in an awful way.

An example:
Awful in a good way. Photo credit
 Even better is the fact that Obama has worn it.
Casually wearing a 3 wolves 1 moon t shirt. All casual like.
Whereas awful in a bad way...
Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.....????? I swear the guy's trousers three from the left were curtains in a previous life and the guy two from the left is just wearing his wife's pyjama bottoms :D Photo credit

 Yeah. Odd place! Anyway, thought I'd share this quite cool video of the sun's outer corona, where you can see flares and mass ejections going off. The dots of light with bright lines streaming out from either side are the planets Mercury, Mars and Venus and NOT UFOs as the guy who posted the video seemed to think :-) (The sun itself has been blocked out as otherwise it just drowns out the image from the corona).

Here's the link to it so you can read its description. It's rather "OMFG LOOK AT THE ALIENS OOOOOOMMMMMMGGGGG". And the assumption that NASA would know nothing about image corruption. Lulz.

In other news I've also spent a bit of time in the Peak District again, learning the meaning of the word suffering again.

There were a lot of horrible steep valleys with tiny villages at the bottom then hugely steep roads out again.

 Also, randomly, lots of thick freezing fog - in August! Very not-fun without lights while wearing summer kit.

 When I bought my bike about a year ago (from eBay yaaaaaaaaay eBay) I was informed by the nice man I bought it off that he was selling it because he lived at the bottom of a steep hill and it didn't have any "granny gears" on it. I cheerfully ignored this and all was well as I cycled round the bloody dead flat roads of Cambridgeshire. It was only when I repeatedly found myself at the bottom of 20% climbs that I began to appreciate what he meant!

I came, I saw and I manned-the-fuck-up
So, with this picture of me labouring to get my fat arse out of various valleys, imagine my surprise when I found myself catching someone up on a hill. My mind raced. Surely I was the slowest climber this side of Derby?

Yes, there was me wishing I had never been born and there was this guy cycling round WITH NO GEARS AT ALL. I decided that bike-karma would come and bite me in the ass if I did this man the dishonour of being overtaken, so I dropped back a respectful distance (so I couldn't even be accused of drafting) and waited from him to turn off. Anyone who is nails enough to cycle round terrain like that with no gears (or free-wheeling ability) has my respect! Overtaking a guy like that on a hill when you have gears is like overtaking the yellow jersey holder in the Tour de France when they have a mechanical #contraversial.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm certainly not blaming my lack of low gears or even my being unaccustomed to hills to my being shit at hills. It's fairly clear to me that my being shit at hills in entirely due to my being a fat bastard. Simple as.

Weight can often be a bit of a sensitive topic, especially among women, athletes and female athletes. However, I like to call a spade a spade and in this case I freely admit that I am too heavy and need to lose some fat.

Rowing has done me a lot of good in general, but I think it's fair to say it has ruined my relationship with food. Everything was fine and dandy until things started to go a bit wrong in the lead up the the U23s last year.

I got up everyday at 6am, trained fucking hard, tried to not screw up my degree and went to bed religiously at 9pm. I was teetotal, single, barely went out and hardly ever went home to see my family (due to the lack of river there). When university ended for the year, I had a shitty job cleaning. All of this was fine and I could cope with while training went well. However, when the dream of U23 World Champs started slipping away my outlet became food. Essentially instead of hitting the bottle, I hit cake, chocolate and Ben & Jerry's really fucking hard. 

I largely got away with it while training twice a day, but when I packed it all in in November last year I unsurprisingly couldn't really get away with eating an entire tub of Ben & Jerry's and a bag of cookies for dinner anymore. I think my worst moment was eating an entire 1kg of Dairy Milk in one go. I have no idea how I didn't vomit after that. Bad fucking times indeed. Binge eating sure does have one hell of a feedback loop.

I now graze 80kg when at my peak I weighed 73kg. I am not fucking proud, but I knew what I was doing and I knew that it would have repercussions. However, the first step of sorting out a problem is admitting you have one and I've now reached the point where I've realised I really do want to change (the catalyst being how awful it was getting up hills!). My training volume has being going up steadily all summer (and the one great thing about starting off relatively unfit is that your rate of improvement is huge!) and with that my cravings for shit food has decreased.

Therefore the time has now come for a diet overhaul, some self discipline*, a tonne of mileage (mmmmmm mileage) and being an athlete again. I also have a Boat Race to win. Bring it fucking on!

 *You are allowed to hit me over the head with a Toblerone if you ever catch me in the confectionery aisle of Sainsbury's....