Easy!

Having lived cycling, talked cycling, blogged cycling, thought about nothing but cycling for the past few months, I have now started dreaming cycling.

If I believed my dreams, I would be cycling ahead of the rest of the team, they would be shouting ‘Slow down! We can’t keep up! When did you get so good on hills?’ But I wouldn’t be able to hear them, I would be so far ahead. The team would consist of the Cyclopaths, friends, Sir Chris Hoy, Mike Tindall and Rowan Atkinson! None of whom were able to keep up with me, except Rowan, who overtook me heading clockwise on the M25. However, for his efforts he was disqualified as clearly cyclists are not allowed to use the fast lane!

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I haven’t slept well for five years. Initially after diagnosis, from the shock and fear, and it was only once I’d got to grips with that, that I realised Parkinson’s itself causes sleep problems. Another symptom that is hidden from the view of others. My nights are spent tossing and turning, writing, emailing, thinking and when all else fails, occasionally I get some sleep. Never more than three solid hours.

So imagine my delight when last night, during those three hours, I cycled 137km, climbed 3,700m of hills faster than the speed of light and the only person to overtake me was Rowan Atkinson!

To cap it all, I was awarded an Olympic Gold Medal made of chocolate for my efforts. With energy to spare, I cycled an ascent of Mont Ventoux to celebrate. This ‘lap of honour’ was easy, my thighs had grown to resemble Sir Chris Hoy’s and my power output was averaging 24,000 watts. I was delighted by my performance but slightly worried I would never fit into my jeans again. The long downhill from the top of Mont Ventoux was easy, like the car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, my bike grew wings and like a bird I flew gracefully down from the top. Anyone who has ever cycled with me knows for certain that I am never at the front and there is nothing graceful about my downhill cycling, so this was a thrilling finale for me!

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I felt a fleeting euphoria on waking, that the challenge was over, I had completed it without any problem, I was faster than Sir Chris Hoy and really, I didn’t know what all the fuss was about.

Imagine my dismay when it dawned on me that Sir Chris Hoy is not cycling the Gloucestershire hills for Raid Local (although Mike Tindall is and I believe Sir Chris is leading a section of the Raid Local challenge on Zwift), I haven’t yet completed the challenge, it will take me significantly longer than three hours and if I can’t fit in my jeans it’s due to the chocolate not the training!

Roll on Sunday 28th – Raid Local.

The Peculiarities of Pedalling with Parkinson’s

When I learned that exercise is the only thing that has been shown to slow the progression of Parkinson’s, I started cycling, overcoming the numerous obstacles that Parkinson’s puts in my way.

Amongst many other symptoms, Parkinson’s affects my balance and coordination, causes dizziness, muscle cramps, dystonia, rigidity, stiffness, pain, slow movement, tremor, fatigue, poor posture and slowed reaction times. It affects my right side more than my left. The presence or absence of each of these symptoms, their severity and their duration are completely unpredictable.

Parkinson’s also affects my concentration, my memory and my ability to multi task. Those who cycle with me know never to rely on me for directions! On our LEJOG adventure, I once cycled eight miles around Tiverton, looking for a way out!

Exactly five years since my diagnosis, I am tackling an enormous physical challenge. To cycle 137km whilst climbing 3,700m of hills in one day. I have trained for this for nine months, in all weather.

This year alone, to prepare, I have cycled an average of 175km each week, spending 222 hours in the saddle and cycling up hills equivalent to five times the height of Everest.

I know from using a Wattbike, that 65% of my power output is generated by my left leg and 35% by my right leg. My posture is asymmetrical and this causes back, shoulder and neck pain. For long days in the saddle, I am making constant adjustments to try to correct these. I am bloody proud of my left leg for getting me up some impressively steep hills!

Parkinson’s causes problems with fine motor skills, so I have difficulty doing things like attaching my lights and Garmin to my bike. By the time I’ve pumped up the tyres (which can take several attempts), zipped up my jacket, fastened my shoes and helmet and put on my gloves, I’ve already overcome a number of challenges. However, as long as I am organised and leave myself enough time, I can be ready to set off with everyone else.

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Recently, my balance has worsened. Pushing off on my bike requires my concentration or I’ll be on the ground before I even get started. I need to concentrate on my balance and I sometimes find it harder when someone is cycling close beside me. If I drop behind my fellow cyclists, or ask them to give me some more space, it’s because I’m concentrating on staying upright, not because I don’t want to talk!

There is an etiquette to cycling in a group and each position in the group carries with it, specific responsibilities. This is important for safety of each group member but it is something that I cannot always be relied upon to comply with.

For example, a ‘turning right’ hand signal poses no problem for me. Try a ‘turning left’ hand signal and as soon I take my left hand off my handlebars, I can no longer control my bike! The cyclist behind me has to remember that a wobble usually indicates an imminent left turn!

Signalling to those behind me to warn them of potholes, obstacles or other dangers in the road is an important element of safe group cycling. However, my reaction time is slower than most. Those who cycle with me regularly know that by the time I’ve seen a pothole, taken action to avoid it, taken my hand off the handlebars, signalled and shouted to cyclists behind me, then it’s too late….I’m in the pothole! They know not to rely on me for such signals.

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The timing and doses of my medication have become really important. I take more medication when I’m planning a long, hilly cycle. However, what I eat, when I eat, how I’ve slept and a number of other factors all influence how well my medication works. It is an art and not a science and it doesn’t always work as I have planned!

If my medication wears off, my speed, dexterity and even my thinking, reaction time, posture and balance can all be affected. Everything becomes harder, it’s like I’m cycling against the wind or wading through treacle. The tiniest incline feels like a mountain as my legs lose power and my mind becomes slow. I can’t remember which gear lever moves my gears up or down. I have to focus extremely hard to stay upright and brake effectively as my hands shake and dystonia causes my right hand to twist and move involuntarily. A rest, medication and jelly babies usually work after a short time but obviously I aim not to ever get in this state.

So, with my new bike, electronic gear shifters, meticulous timing of my medication regime and lots of practice, I cycle well. In fact I’m fitter and faster than I’ve ever been.

I am joined by a team of fabulous people, all of whom have trained hard and who will find this challenge one of the toughest they have undertaken. We will all push ourselves to the limit of our physical capabilities and the challenge will no doubt test our psychology too as we dig deep to continue to climb those hills long after each and every fibre in our our bodies has yelled ‘stop’.

Is it worth the effort, I have been asked? Absolutely! Cycling is good for my body and my mind. It helps me stay strong mentally and physically. I love being outdoors, the weather has been fantastic and our countryside beautiful. I love a challenge and I’m blessed with lots of friends who will cycle with me despite my poor group skills! I’m also blessed by the support of family and friends who don’t cycle but put up with my endless tales. Apologies to them, I have no intention of stopping cycling any time soon!

Fourth ‘First’

My fourth ‘first’ for this week was to cycle Sudeley Hill today without stopping. As part of a hilly ride today, after Harp and Ham hills, I finally did it!

At 2.5km long, with an average gradient of 8.4%, a maximum gradient of 18% and a total climb of 215m, it was a tough one.

Despite trying a lighter, more aerodynamic bike, an additional ‘granny gear’, electronic Di2 gear shifters, a lighter me, all the cycling gear, months of practice, until today, I just couldn’t quite do it. What was different today? The promise of bacon baps at The Old Post Office in Guiting Power was perhaps was gave me that final push I needed to get up that hill!

A very welcome rest and refuelling stop!

Three times more and I’ll have completed The Raid Local……

Three ‘Firsts’

Some of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust (CPT) team, Will Cook (CEO) and Mike Tindall (Patron) are used to being in front of the camera but for me, as one of CPT’s ambassadors, my first ‘first’ of the day was being filmed by the BBC. The three of us were talking about the exciting Raid Local, a socially distanced cycle challenge taking place on 28th June, for a news item to be aired on BBC Points West on Thursday 18th June at 6.30pm.

Not as easy as it looked, filming also included a few laps up and down Horsely Hill. Oh, alright then, a section of it, not the whole hill. I wondered briefly if this might count as my ‘hill rep’ training for the day but that thought was soon quashed!

Lured by the blue skies before the forecast thunderstorms, my enthusiastic fellow cyclists, and the prospect of a fun, sociable (socially distanced) ride, what else could I do? My second and third ‘firsts’ were conquering the ‘W’ and Bear Hill, two of the most fearsome hills the Stroud Valleys has to offer. They hadn’t been in my plans for today and perhaps that was the key: no time to dread them……

Not sure if my legs, lungs or gears would be up to it, I was delighted to find that all three coped admirably. Thanks to months of hill training, they weren’t nearly as hard as I had imagined they might be. Helped by good company, a good helping of Mrs R’s flapjack before we set off and a positive outlook, I really enjoyed them. I need to learn never to underestimate the power of my slightly wonky brain. It’s not just my legs, lungs and gears that need to be up for a hill challenge, my brain needs to be up for it as well. Believing I can do it is a huge part of the battle.

In addition to my 100 mile cycle on Monday, it’s proving to be a busy week. My hope as I write this, exactly five years on from my diagnosis of Parkinson’s, is that someone in those difficult newly diagnosed days takes some comfort, hope and inspiration from seeing what can still be possible. If I knew then what I know now, those first few months would have been so much easier to deal with. As I write this, I should perhaps feel tired but I don’t, I feel exhilarated by achieving these ‘firsts’.

Mission Accomplished

100 Mile Monday

We’ve often said “If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen’ but despite only recording half my ride, my aching limbs are testament to the fact that I did indeed complete a 100 mile ride yesterday.

With a ride time of 7.5 hours and an average speed of 21.5km, it was a good effort but I wasn’t alone in my efforts. Our original 100 Mile Monday team grew into four distinct teams:

Team 1 – The First Timer Team

This was always going to be a tough one for Alison, Paula, Julia, Christine and Kate. With only two 100 mile days between us, this was a first for most of the team. Particularly so for Kate, who doesn’t cycle and so had to borrow a bike! Despite our lack of 100 mile credentials, we never doubted that we would do it. Not only that, we did it our way: as flat as possible (I know, Julia, except for the hilly bits!!) in great spirits, with great humour, a great many stops and some might say (some may not), with great style! What a fantastic achievement.

Team 2 – The Hilly Hundred Team

With a steely determination to conquer a few significant hills within their 100 miles, Caroline and Paul were spotted briefly at the foot of Cleeve Hill at 8am when those of us who were daunted enough by 100 miles without hills opted for the flatter route and went around the hill rather than over it. This was a tactic we planned to adopt throughout the day. Regular updates from Caroline and Paul by WhatsApp kept us informed of their progress, punctures and punishing hill climbs.

Team 3 – The Pro Team

John, John, John, Dave and Malcolm, the fastest of the 100 Mile teams set off later in the morning, only to overtake the First Timer Team by our first stop of the day and arrive back some significant time ahead of us.

Team 4 – The Socially Distanced Team

Taking social distancing to the extreme, Ewan did his first 100 miles ‘with us’ from 450 miles away! Definitely with us in spirit, and with regular updates, very much one of our team.

It was an extremely hot day for all of us except Ewan (East Coast Scotland!), and as is my experience with these wonderful people, we all completed our respective 100 miles with much humour, a few saddle sores and great team spirit.

Well done team!

100 Mile Monday

A 100 mile cycle with friends.

What a way to start the week.

What a way to ‘celebrate’ five years since my diagnosis of Parkinson’s.

What a way to support the relaxing of lockdown requirements.

What a way to train for the Raid Local.

What a way to enjoy the great outdoors.

What a way to keep fit and feel good.

What a way to go!

Testing, testing……

My mission this week was to cycle a total elevation of 3,700km from the vast range of Cotswold hills that surround us. On the 28th June for The Raid Local, I shall have to do this in one day.

I cycled six days out of seven. My training was to test a few things that will influence how successful I am on the day. Like all good test runs, there was some learning from this one….

Learning

  • We have hundreds of hills in the Cotswolds
  • Hills are hard
  • The more hills I climb, the harder they get
  • The harder they get, the slower I am
  • The slower I am, the longer it takes
  • The longer it takes, the more tired I get
  • The more tired I get, the more breaks I need

And herein lies the problem!

This week, I climbed 3,758km of elevation and it took me 16 hours (moving time). There is no allowance for stops at junctions, traffic lights, stops at the top of the hill, water stops, food stops, loo stops, rest stops or photo stops. Granted, I cycled 291km and we need ‘only’ do 137km for The Raid Local. So, if I remove 154km @ 25km/hr, that’s approximately 6 hours. If I add in 35% stop time to cover all of the above, that’s approximately 6 hours. Without allowing any time for the fact that as the day goes on, I’m likely to get slower, then I need approximately 16 hours to do the challenge.

Thankfully, a week after the longest day, the sunrises at 4.46am on 28th June and sets at 9.11pm. That gives me 16 hours and 25 minutes of daylight hours. Just enough…..if it all goes to plan!

An early start for me then……..

A Day with a Difference

Today’s ride was always going to be a little different. I had arranged to meet with Will Cook, the CEO of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, and Mike Tindall, a Patron of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust to do some hilly cycle training in preparation of the Raid Local which we are all taking part in.

It’s not every day, that I have the pleasure or pressure of cycling with the boss (best behaviour required), a sporting hero (best cycling required), having so many photos taken (best cycling gear required) and all during our socially distanced times (2m apart at all times required).

The rain and cold at the beginning of our ride ensured we were cold and wet before we even got on the road but the rain eased off soon after we set off to tackle those Cotswold hills. The pace was comfortable, the company was great. One advantage of being out with the boss and a patron of the charity was the invite from Charlie Ralph, the Chair of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust to visit his garden for homemade elderflower cordial and warm flapjacks. Given that there was a considerable hill to climb to get there, (you can’t get anywhere in the area without climbing a huge hill) this was a wonderful and very welcome first stop.

Great cycling some different hills. I had believed I had cycled every hill in Gloucestershire but apparently not! Great to help raise some publicity for the charity, great to clock up another 800m of climbing towards this week’s goal of 3,700m oh, and great to bump into Jamie Dornan in the car park as we finished our ride. Could he possibly be persuaded to join us for the Raid Local? If he doesn’t, it won’t be for the lack of us trying!

More training with these guys next week…….