Monday, 25 March 2013

A rower goes cycling, part I

Firstly, I know I am rubbish. This is my first post of 2013 and it's over half way through March! So yes, it's been over three months since I last wrote anything. FUCK. ME.


1) I've been teaching every single student in the University some sort of maths. 

This basically entails spending all your time marking, preparing for lessons and actually teaching and thus having no time to do your PhD. For people who actually want to do their PhD, or indeed have any life at all, I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT. 
2) I've been cycling lots and thus filled in the holes in my life when I wasn't TEACHING EVERYONE with training, eating and sleeping. And tinkering with bikes. That's important. (I can now properly index a rear derailleur - PRIDE).

So yes, many apologies. This is me trying to make amends, by, unsurprising WRITING A BLOG POST WOOOOOOOOO. Also, using fewer commas. Maybe.

Also, while I've been away I notice my pageviews have gone over the 250'000 limit which is like TOTALLY LOADS OF PAGEVIEWS *is smug*. But seriously. Quarter of a million. Whoa.

So, shit that's happened recently.

#1 I have made an effort to go out and meet people

 It will surprise none of you that, as a mathematician and someone who spends quite a lot of time training, I don't get out much. Like at all.

Some point around New Year I realised that I wasn't going to meet anyone turboing in my utility room (and would therefore die cold and alone) so I should probably actually make some fucking effort.  

I am honestly not the most social of people *surprised face* so this decision was kind of a big deal. I've honestly found the dating scene to just massively take it out of me emotionally (it just FUCKS with your self esteem), but on the whole I am at least slightly better at not being massively awkward meeting new people. Which can only be a good thing I suppose.

Railton tries meeting people

#2 I bought a new bike and didn't tell my parents about it and then they were cross :(

So in December I came to the conclusion that my steel, chromed-to-death track bike was probably not going to cut it forever so invested in something that was (a) very black and (b) very carbon fibre.

God, I love that chrome. SO. MUCH. FUCKING. CHROME.
 >>>>>eBay hunting>>>>>money>>>>>

I then obviously didn't tell my parents about it for a while because I thought they'd judge me.

And then they found out, which was both awkward and inevitable.

What, this thing with two wheels that looks suspiciously like a bike but not like a bike you've seen before? NA, TOTALLY NOT A NEW BIKE.

But hey! New bike! And I got to do exciting stuff to it like glue on tubular tyres to wheels, change cranks and bars and stems and cool things like that! :) Also ride it round and round in circles, which is also fun. Certainly more fun that changing stems.


#3 I have done lots of cycling

This has been quite an interesting change from my CUW days of getting up at 5am, getting the train to Ely, going rowing, coming home, dying of tiredness etc. etc. Now it's invariably just me, a training plan and a bike. I wake up a good two hours later, I get my bike out the garage and I go out cycling.

Sometimes nothing in particular happens. This is invariably A Good Thing.

Sometimes my neck is attached to the rear of my head, too. Just for shits and giggles.

Sometimes it got so cold my kit froze around me (it got down to -10 for a while in Cambridge in January).

Water bottles froze. I wore three pairs of overshoes (ROWERS: like pogies FOR FEET) and my feet still froze. I swear my Oakleys actually got frozen to my face at some point.

It was character building. Yes.

Sometimes I cycled past people who had driven into ditches for no apparent reason in the middle of the Fens.

(They were fine and this has happened twice now).

Sometimes tyre sidewalls blow out and you have to have an emergency stop at Saffron Walden to replace your utterly fucked tyre. This is after retrieving your bike which you've thrown into a hedge in rage after it blew up the second time already.

Sometimes you get your ego utterly destroyed on a ride, you blow up horribly and you have to be physically pushed home.


Sometimes you are a complete beast.

Sometimes you are shit and consider packing it in.

Sometimes it is SO FUCKING WINDY that you consider texting your housemates saying that if you don't make it home by midnight, please check ditches in the Earith area. Then you crawl home in bottom BOTTOM gear at 70 rpm and curse and swear at the FUCKING STUPID WIND for making it so hard to get home.

Sometimes it's just too shit outside (hey! enough of your "MTFU" chat - it happens!) and you don't fancy crashing on ice so you get your turbo or your rollers out and you get the fuck on with it.

There was a week or two in the New Year when it snowed quite a bit, so out came the rollers.

I went slightly insane.

By the time you've listened to a couple of hours of trance and stared at the same paving slab unflinchingly for just as long, your brain goes to a weird, far away place (as if to retreat away from the incessant boredom and pain) and when you emerge blinking into the real world, you're not quite right in the head.

A consequence of this is I can now however roller no handed, which makes me feel like a complete boss (even if I still can't get on them without a wall).


Also note the tool board. It's a NICE tool board.

Rollering has been fun - I've certainly now firmly left behind my rower-on-a-bike thing of doing everything at 80rpm and grinding round the Fens in huge gears. High cadence FTW basically! LOOK AT ALL MY CADENCE LOOK AT IT.

This foray into cycling has also occasionally been good for obliterating my ego. There's nothing quite like blowing your doors off 20 miles from Cambridge and while crying into your Garmin having to be actually *pushed* home by your ride mates. (Especially when you start the ride completely smashing it in the face, spending all the time on the front etc.) Oh god, so embarrassing.

For this reason I owe Tim Williams many coffees.

It's like I've had to learn my limitations all over again; 2K race at Nottingham? Yep, know what I'm doing. Some godforesaken hill in the Peak District somewhere? I am invariably dropped after a minute or so. 18K in a 1x? COOL. Do a 4 hour ride? I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING *FLAIL FLAIL*. It's been a pleasingly steep learning curve basically. Rowers often just assume they'll be instantly good at all other sports because WE'RE ROWERS AND WE'RE AMAZING so it's kind of good to have your arse handed to you sometimes. (Or a lot as the case has been.)

I think in these past 6 months I'm fitter than I ever have been (this is going by resting heart rate) - I've never been an aerobic monkey and I think all of the seriously long sessions over the winter (I mean, let's face it rowing sessions are usually 90' tops right?) have done me a lot of good.

I still can't climb for shit. I mean, I've lost a stone since my rowing days but I still can't climb for shit. RAILTON DOES NOT DO HILLS OH NO.

Other stuff.... erm. I still LOVE DA WEIGHTS, obviously. Such obsessions are hard to overcome. Now I have to do leg press though, which is exciting. I always objected to doing it for rowing (since there's no point making leg strength that your core can't support right? -> do some fucking squats instead) but it does seem a lot more relevant for cycling.

For months and months I did 3*20 reps of everything weights related. It was fucking horrendous. Here is how it usually transpired:

Nowadays I usually equate "good weights session" with "has religious experience in the leg press machine".

I'm also running out of plates in Fenners MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Will have to start getting some of the insistently-bicep-curling men to sit on the machine soon :D

>>> FUCKING HELL, I've left writing this too long - this is turning into a massive meandering epic as per usual. SORRY.>>>

Other cool stuff - I signed up with a cycling team, which was unexpected given that this happened in February and this sort of thing gets sorted out much earlier in the year. A team on advertised on twitter that they were looking for some female riders, so I was like

... and the rest is history.

This is me doing my first race under their colours (my first race ever actually):

(Huw Williams)
As you can see, I am really good at pulling exceptionally attractive faces while cycling.

This appears to be a good point to tell you about my first race! So, let me set the scene.

It was February. It was at the Cyclopark in Kent. And I had no idea what I was doing. There were about 15 girls in my race (the 3rd/4th Cat race - ROWERS: think IM3/Novice), about 10 in the other women's race and a metric fuckton of men in the two men's races. There must have been a good 80-100 people on the circuit - it was fairly mental out there.

So, the three other races went off ahead of us, leaving us 3/4 Women lined up ready to go.

I had my aggressive face on. The fucking-amazing-Oakleys were ON. The bike-formerly-known-as-Thor-and-now-known-as-Atreus2 was primed and ready to go. You could've eaten your dinner off my cassette it was so clean. BRING IT THE FUCK ON.

We started.

It was instantly clear that I wasn't very good at drafting people. This is BAD.

One girl fired off the front of the group in the first couple of laps and we never saw her again. The race was now on for second place. (Lesson learned: be more attentive next time!)

Another amazing Huw Williams picture! (Again showing me not drafting anyone).
We got to about 5 laps to go and the group of girls was now down to 8 or so, with only the front 4 girls doing any work (guess which group I was in). I was getting twitchy and pissed off.

So, naturally, I attacked...

...and latched onto the back of a passing men's group.

This was not cool.

I really didn't think about it at the time - I just did it. I just knew I *had* to get away and that if I got a gap I would probably keep it. I stayed hanging onto the back of the men for 3/4 of a lap before being blown out the back, then I just mashed it into the finish. I came second...

...But I came second by being a cheating arsehole. Some girls were a bit pissed off with me after the race, but I didn't really think much about it so I just went home and was like "well, that was OK. I didn't die".

As the weekend went on though I felt more and more bad so eventually just emailed the organisers, explained what happened, apologised, recommended that they DQ me and promised not to do it again. So that was my first race. A DQ :)

Race #2 them came around about a month later (I had an annoying tendency to come down with something in sync with these races, rage). But yes, on the 16th March I was down at the Cyclopark again and I had something to prove. 

A lot to prove.

The weather this time round was what is commonly known as "fucking horrendous". It was raining, it was cold and there was the mother of all headwinds down the finishing straight. That day was a day for a suicidal move. The weather was so shit that a completely batshit crazy move might just work... So that is exactly what I did.

We started. There were a surprising amount of women there - about 20 or so. And my, was it fucking cold.

The hairpin. I was about halfway down the pack. We get to the couple of switchbacks, I move up. We move onto the finishing straight of the first lap and I am fourth wheel back. The wind has dragged the speed out of everyone.

I attack.


It's just head down till I make it to the hairpin again. JUST MAKE IT ROUND THE HAIRPIN RAILTON. DON'T FUCKING CRASH NOW.


...And no one has come with me.

I am in the big ring. That group is not going to see me again. Because fuck you, that's why.


It is time for courage legs. I have an hour to hold on. Then it will end. If I can hold on for an hour I will win.


...I won and it was beautiful.

As you can see I have not mastered any sort of pro victory salute yet.
Honestly, it was just FUN, and I was proud to do it in ASL360 colours.

 I wanted to see if I could do it really, and a 1 hour TT with a group of girls at your heels is just a good way of learning stuff about yourself. I mean, it was fucking stupid - they were the worst tactics in the entire world - but it was my brand of fucking stupid. And it worked.


#4 I find myself being a poster girl

To finish, I would just like you all to quietly appreciate the irony of Newton (more on that + yesterday's boat race in the next post, hopefully not in three months time) picking the *most* unphotogenic, unladylike girl in last year's CUWBC squad and turning a photo of her into a motivational poster.

On *that* bombshell, I bid you good day!


  1. First of all, this is not what unphotogenic looks like. Not by a long shot. Deal with it, Railton. Secondly, even if it was....I thought you would be pleased the Newton had the good sense not to find the most Barbie like rower and ask her to pose in a minty thong. Instead, they probably went for the strongest rower there was to be on the poster...the person who seemed to know what she was doing. Pleasing development, no?

    1. It is true - times are a changing! It was a bit of a shock to see this on twitter though :)

  2. That photo is amazing! As above ^^

  3. YAY I love this post. Having "retired" from rowing last summer I've since taken up cycling too (we just formed our own club so we wouldn't have to meet new people). I have entered THREE (fairly long) sportives in the coming weeks which seemed all fine when they were a way off so I thought by then I would (a) be much fitter, and (b) summer would have arrived. I'm beginning to think I've totally misjudged both these things. And I haven't been nearly bold enough to enter an *actual* race. So this is all pretty impressive!

    Also, likewise with lowest resting heart rate ever, now about 52bpm, and I'm not even that good at remembering to train like you. Turns out cycling might make me live longer, as long as I don't get squished under a lorry on my way to work.

    1. You formed your own club so you didn't have to meet new people?!?!?!? OMFG ROWERS. I know a couple of London Phoenix people (ask @forstertweet?) and they are great. Also, Huw Williams runs some "women getting into racing" sessions which were really useful for me - have a look on here:


    2. Well not *specifically* so we didn't have to meet any new people, we just had ideas about the sort of (quite laid back) training we wanted to do and there were a lot of retired rowers interested in doing the same thing. We're a proper cycling club but despite a number of queries NO-ONE has dared come and meet us yet!

      Thanks for the link, we're at least half girls and some of us venturing into sportives (and maybe racing) for the first time!

      If you fancy a ride out of Putney any weekend, give us a shout - you've *kinda* rowed at Vesta before, so you shouldn't find us too scary...

    3. Yes! Since you've already done stick figure drawings for our club rowing camp, we should ask you to do some for our cycling club training camp!

  4. The photo is brilliant. I shows determination and confidence at once. They couldn't have chosen better to get their message across.

  5. yay! looks like youre having fun and your blog is back. i probably contributed a significant number to the 1/4 million clicks by checking your website regularly. well done on your win! courage legs all the way. kasia

  6. really? every single student in Maths?

    I like your blog, until you act like a total self-indulgent jerk on it.

    1. "really? every single student in Maths?"

      OK, OK, you totally found me out. This is an example of something called "hyperbole", a define often used for comical/whimsical effect. Given there are around 12'000 undergraduates at Cambridge it would be both exceptionally unlikely and exceptionally logistically difficult to each every one of them maths. I think the easiest way of doing it would be some mandatory online lecture series. I would keep the Arts Students engaged by periodically showing slides with pictures of beautiful people wearing fashionable clothes in ironic, edgy places. I would also tell jokes about dinosaurs and swear a bit as to be down wit da kidz.

      "I like your blog..."

      Why thanks! I'm glad you appreciate the c.8 hours I spent making this post!

      "...until you act like a total self-indulgent jerk on it."

      Now this raises an interesting point. Given that writing a blog (any blog, let alone one primarily about *myself*) is by definition pretty self-indulgent, I'd be interested to hear your recommendations about how to make this *not* self-indulgent. In fact, aren't all vaguely creative endeavors self-indulgent? What about doing sports? Or choosing to eat chocolate cake? PLEASE ADVISE ME HOW TO STOP ALL THIS SELF-INDULGENCE as I clearly can't cope without your guidance.

      As for being a jerk, although I do try to rip the piss out of myself, generally be quite self-effacing and muse on my own limitations and flaws I'll admit that I sometimes can be a massive dick. Such as that time I claimed that I taught all of the students ever, even though that was patently untrue, or that time I wrote about myself all the time on my blog. I'll try to keep that sort of behavior in check, thanks.

      Also, finally this.

    2. Great Blog. Excellent post. Cool reply (though surely that's what the delete button is for)

      As a ex maths grad I had absolutely no problem understanding that the phase about every single student in maths was not literal.

  7. You can blame the reference from Sufferfest (on FB) for my first visit (all the way from NZ) - the great pics and commentary have kept me coming back.. I'm going to share your posts with my 12 y/o neo road/track racing daughter who feels like she is the only person in the world who is learning to race ;-)

    1. Woo! Yeah, the Sufferfest is great! I was also really quite pleasantly surprised how nice everyone is over on their facebook page (given that these are people who like to torture themselves on turbo trainers FOR FUN).

      And yes, tell your 12 yo that people double her age are just learning to race too :) I wish I'd started all this that young! :)

  8. Railton: important and relevant question.

    Are you going to trial again in 2015? Your first sporting love must be calling you from the far future... surely?

    1. Really don't think so tbh! Aside from the fact that my PhD funding will well and truly have ended by then, I'm not sure I ever want my entire season dependent on one race again.... More on this in future posts.

    2. That is disastrous news. Who the hell is going to write about the awesome tideway experience if you're not there? Do it for your followers.

    3. ...there will be others :) And I'm guessing Newton/BNY Mellon wouldn't like my rather sweary take on things anyway! Times they are a changing!

    4. Well I can't pretend I'm not disappointed. But what rowing has lost, cycling has gained!

  9. Having never raced on a bike, could relate slightly less than to rowing posts. Still enjoyed reading this, as always. Happy days!

    Well done on the win, must've been sweet! And keep writing :D

  10. Time for another post? Because, y'know, Giro and stuff.

  11. Wandered over here from Abradypus' blog - never rowed or cycled, but you made both seem quite accessible and are funny as hell so I demand another post before the 3 months are up!

  12. Thanks very much for your large information .And knowledge full description . I think it is Sus a topic that many kinds of people face many problems. thanks for this.
    meeting people,

  13. Hi Anna, I had a conversation with a random stranger on a plane from LA to Boston last week, and it turned out we both read (and love) your blog. Keep it up! You are an inspiration to many of us around the world :)

  14. Oi Railton, wot no posts?

    1. Railton is in PhD hell. So we must be patient.