May 21 – “I want to ride my bicycle…..”

This month’s theme is cycling. Earlier in the year May seemed like the perfect month to talk bikes and cycling. By now I’d have been out on my bike plenty of times enjoying the Spring evenings. I’m still waiting 🙁

Training & Racing Update 

Training has become much more enjoyable. Swimming pools opening has put a smile on my face. What wasn’t quite so enjoyable was the first venture into open water of the year. I wasn’t smiling as I eased myself into the lake and acclimatised. The water is considerably colder this May compared to last year. It’s also good to train with others again, especially running. Providing you go at the same speed, running becomes infinitely more enjoyable. The time passes quickly and it’s great to chew the fat, as well as burn it.

On the racing front it’s all systems go. Several races are planned for the next month, and I’m nervously getting ready. Once the start gun goes on that first race the nerves will immediately vanish.  

A decision on the World Championships in Canada has been delayed to mid-May. With a third wave of Covid in Canada, and so much uncertainty over international travel, things remain in the balance.

Triathlon Focus – Cycling 

As the Blog title suggests, I do like to ride my bike. I always have done, and I think I always will.

As a boy I used to cruise around Cheswick Green on my metallic blue Raleigh Grifter. With my dad’s help I built an Evil Knievel style ramp that was about 30cm high. I’d tear down our cul-de-sac at speed, hit the ramp, become airborne, and successfully land (most of the time). My favourite trick was to line my two younger sisters up, side by side beyond the ramp, and jump over them. They did have their uses in those days.

Racing as a teenager

I then progressed into ‘proper’ cycling as a teenager, racing for Solihull Cycling Club, and avidly watching the Tour de France via the Channel 4 highlights show.  

After a good few years’ break, my love for cycling was re-kindled, firstly mountain biking and then road cycling. I became a fully-fledged MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra), for which I will not apologise. There’s nothing better than cycling on the open road, taking in the scenery. The highlight was completing a stage of the 2016 Tour de France in 37C heat high up in the French Alps. The roads were closed to traffic, the crowds were cheering you on and it felt like you were competing in the race itself.  

It’s not just the cycling that’s enjoyable, it’s the bikes too. Modern bikes are lovely to use, and cyclists like to compare and obsess over the latest technology. One bike is never sufficient. I currently have 4, and each one is essential – honestly 😉

You’ll often hear reference to the ‘N+1’ rule. A group calling themselves ‘The Keepers of the Cog’ created a set of comical rules on cycling. If you’re vaguely interested in cycling, then they are worth checking out. The ‘N+1’ rule has become the most quoted of these, and reads as follows:

Rule 12 – The correct number of bikes to own is n+1. While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner. 

I had to explain the rule to my wife, so if you’re unclear as to what it means it’s simply saying that however many bikes you currently have (the ‘n’), there should always be another in the pipeline (the ‘+1’).

As should be expected, my next bike (+1) is being planned for 2022 J To reduce the risk of being criticised for buying another new bike I’ve developed a strategy that I’d recommend to everyone. Buy a bike that is similar in colour to your last one and the family will never notice. It’s worked so far. Infact, the strategy has been so successful that I’m thinking of applying it to other things in life.

With all this experience and miles in my legs I feel confident on the bike leg of a triathlon.

I’d argue that the bike part of a triathlon is the most important. There are so many variables to be managed, and one poor decision or bit of bad luck can ruin your race. Whilst the start of the swim is intense, the rest of it should be relatively stress free. By the time you get to the run, the hard work should have been done. All you must manage is your effort level through to the finish. But on the bike, anything can happen, and it quite often does.  

I made a quick note of how many things you need to manage whilst on the bike compared to the run. On the run, you’re managing just a handful of things – your effort levels vs remaining energy, the terrain, and hydration. On the bike you can be managing as many as 20 different variables.

A few examples:

  • Your effort level throughout the ride, balancing how much energy has been used in the swim, and trying to stay ‘fresh’ for the run 
  • Hills, wind, rain and other natural hinderances 
  • Navigating the route, especially at speed 
  • Other traffic on the road, junctions, road surfaces (including potholes) and general safety 
  • Other competitors, ensuring you’re not cycling within 10 metres of them (this is referred to as drafting), and avoiding those with less experience
  • Mechanical issues, punctures 
  • Riding position – trying to stay aerodynamic for as long as possible whilst maintaining efficiency 
  • Refuelling with food and drink – the bike is the best place to do this, and if you don’t, you’ll run out of energy. (In endurance sports this is known as ‘bonking’ ?!?) 
  • Crashes  

With it being the longest part of the triathlon (60 to 70 minutes in an Olympic distance event), full focus and concentration is required. It only takes a momentary lapse of concentration for something to go wrong. I’ve witnessed other competitors crash in front of me on wet road surfaces. Usually, the action takes place away from the spectators out on the open roads.

It may sound like I don’t enjoy the bike part, but you’d be mistaken – I love it. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, and it can be very satisfying. 

Links to Projects and Change 

How do you draw comparisons between the bike part of a triathlon to delivery of change? For me it’s easy:

  • Think of the swim as the initial stages – the shaping and initiation. It sets you up for the race.  
  • The run is like UAT and implementation. The hard work has been done, and it’s ‘simply’ a case of running to the finish line, as fast as your remaining energy levels will allow.  
  • The bike is like everything that happens in the middle, and would include all the activities of design, build and test.  

If you think of a typical change, the design, build and test phase is usually the longest, the most challenging and the most complicated phase.

  • The project team is at its largest and where communication across all work-streams is key. 
  • You begin with so many unknowns and conclude with a much clearer idea of how the final changes will look.
  • It’s the phase most prone to problems, often unexpected and usually requiring quick thinking. 
  • You’re at the mercy of the resources available to you, and the smooth handover of deliverables from one team to another. 
  • Issues that remain unresolved turn into bigger problems, that lead to delays or delivery that is below that standard required. 

How best do you manage this phase? By applying constant focus, communicating, evaluating, checking progress, managing the risks and dealing with the issues quickly and effectively. To the wider organisation, the intensity of activity often goes unnoticed as the changes are a way off from being implemented and there are usually more pressing matters to deal with. You need to remind yourself that the effort applied during this phase determines the overall success of the project.  

Ideas for getting active

A common misconception is that becoming healthier, and fitter, requires regular cardiovascular activity. We think that that we must build up a good sweat by running, cycling, or in the gym. It’s the “No pain, no gain” mindset and it can be a blocker to us being more active. Participants in endurance sports fall into the same trap.

There are plenty of studies of professional athletes that show that they spend most of their training time doing ‘easy stuff’. It might not be easy to us, but it is to them. Only a small proportion of their training time is very intense, but they make that count.

Research is highlighting that we don’t have to ‘puff and pant’ to be healthier. Regular brisk walking is as just effective as running. Strength training is as beneficial as aerobic activity. Its considered better for you the older you get. This doesn’t mean spending hours in the gym lifting heavy weights. There are plenty of simple and effective exercises that can be done from just about anywhere using body weight alone.

If you want to get healthier the message is clear – doing something is better than nothing, and that something need not be hard or strenuous. Choose things that you can do easily, comfortably, and that you will want to do again and again.

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