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Monday, March 31, 2014

Knee Destruction and Cheesecake.

A good Sunday starts with a bike ride, everyone knows that. With the clocks going forward an hour, I feel I did well to get out on the road before 9am. I completed a very hilly 18 mile blast down to Lowsonford, across to Ullenhall and up through Tanworth. Just before the halfway stage, I was cruising along with a respectable average of 15.5mph. By the time things started pointing upwards, my right knee was aching like someone was banging nails into it and my decent time was destroyed. Arriving back at home, the average was down to 14.5mph.

I cleaned the bike, got changed and limped to the car.

Our special lady
For Mother's Day, my brother and I took Mom to Le Truc in the Arcadian Centre, Birmingham. I love this French restaurant [that used to be Chez Jules in the city centre.] As usual, the young trendy staff were very cheerful and welcoming right from the moment we walked through the doors. It was busy, but not crowded. However, Sid did request a table change away from the centre of the room. Disappointingly, there was no draught ale, so I opted for the Aspall that I wished I'd had on Saturday! Sid chose a bottled Ubu and Mom was treated to a free glass of fizz!

The food was some of the best we've had when eating out. I had salmon, Sid went for the pork belly and Mom chose the Chicken Kiev. A side order of onion rings was also demolished. Everything looked and tasted freshly prepared and nothing showed any signs of ever being anywhere near a packet or a freezer.

I was the only one of us who opted for a dessert. I chose the apricot and prune cheesecake with coffee ice cream. The first thing that I noticed was the size of the slice! It was huge! The second thing I noticed was the intensity and richness. In the interests of health and safety I didn't finish it, but I really wished I could have!
Cheesecake and coffee ice cream. I couldn't finish it.

As a fun place to eat, Le Truc is hard to fault. Maybe the drinks are rather expensive? Other than that, it's got to deserve a 9 out of 10.

To return to the subject of the knee - it just got worse as the day went on, the stairs of the Arcadian multi-storey car park almost making me whimper! I've come up with a drastic plan - no cycling or running this week and to take it very easy in the dojo. I hate driving to work, but I think it's time I let the knee rest and hope it has improved by Sunday. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Short and Muddy.

Today's ride was short and muddy. And so was I.
This week, Lucy showed me a flyer that had been shoved through our letterbox: the Wharf Tavern has had a makeover and it was boasting 'a great range of cask, craft ales and world beers.'

We decided that a Saturday afternoon cycle ride to the new Wharf Tavern was in order. I prepped the mountain bikes [with the help of a guy who was removing a shed from next door! We adjusted my rear mech and talked about bikes for about 15 minutes. I never thought to ask his name!] We called in for Uncle Jonnie on the way but he had other non-cycling plans. We dropped down onto the canal at the Blue Bell pub and quickly realised that it was even muddier than we'd expected.
We splodged along in slippery mud and puddles for a while but soon got back on the country lanes and made our way up to the pub. We took the opportunity to cycle side-by-side and chat in the sunshine.
The beer garden has two levels, overlooking the canal

The pub was much as we remember it; the 'new look' isn't much more than a lick of paint. We enjoyed the two-level beer garden and even saw a friend there with her son who was enjoying the climbing frame/slide.

Now onto the important stuff: Lucy opted for Aspall cider while I enjoyed a Doombar. As it turned out, the Doombar didn't match the heat and sunshine, being a quite a dark, fruity brew. I sampled Lucy's Aspall and wished I'd ordered that instead.

A pint of Shagweaver. And my hairy, muddy leg.
For my second pint, I took a chance on a North Cotswold beer called Shagweaver. Although more suited to the conditions than the Doombar, I was disappointed to be able to taste the alcohol in it [4.5%] so strongly.

When it started to become chilly, we clambered carefully onto the bikes and weaved our way home on the cycle path running a short way up the A34 to home.
Overall, not a new Wharf Tavern, but still a good place to spend a couple of lazy hours.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Hardman Ride

Sunday 23rd March was cold, wet and windy.

Jonnie and I set off on the Snitterfield 36 at about 8:30 in the morning. We knew we were in for a very strange day when Jonnie inexplicably cannondaled* into a hedge after just a mile and a half! Before 9am we were soaked through, all clothing water-logged and heavy. It was then, with almost 30 hilly  miles still ahead of us, that we decided that this was the kind of training that could turn us into hardmen! The kind of riders you see in the professional peloton riding solo up Category 1 climbs in the snow whilst wearing shorts.

When the rain did eventually stop, the cold wind made sure our wet clothes drained the heat out of us and we quickly lost any feeling in our hands and feet. By the time we'd left the Snitterfield war memorial, the halfway point, I was shivering and I knew Jonnie was suffering too.

Luckily, I had a change of gloves in my back pocket. Jonnie, without such luxury, opted to ride bare-handed rather than endure his soaking-wet gloves any longer. His hands were so cold that he was making involuntary noises because of the pain! Realising the extent of his discomfort, I offered to call up my other half and order a broomwagon. He simply laughed in my face and kept pedalling...

We eventually got back in a painful 13.5mph. I stopped off briefly at Jonnie's for the best cup of tea ever and then cycled home ready to go and help with my Dad's allotment. I slept well that night!

*cannondale [verb] to slide into a nearby object or floor, usually while riding a bicycle. [First witnessed at Waseley Hills café during a NWAlps ride. A young rider with all the gear tripped over fresh air whilst setting off on his Cannondale road bike.]

Sunday, March 23, 2014

ComicCon 22nd March 2014

ComicCon at the NEC on the 22nd March was full of thousands of people who have, to one extent or another, embraced a subculture or two. Be it Japanese animation, American comics, 80s Cartoon shows, vintage Doctor Who episodes or good old Star wars, there was somebody there dressed in an appropriate costume or wearing a thoroughly worn out fan T shirt.

For those who may not know, ComicCon brings together fans, actors, writers, artists, sellers, buyers and enthusiasts from far and wide and throws them together for a two-day extravaganza. You might call us geeks, you might call us nerds. Some may even call us sad. However, I can't think of any other situation where thousands of people, of all ages [literally tots to pensioners], can be in the same place, without any trouble, to celebrate their fascination for the same things: comic books, science fiction, toys, costumes, trading cards, alternative clothing, make up etc etc etc.

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Martha, Mouse, Evie, Rose and little Dee. Three of them were fantastically made up as characters called Hunters - from the console game Left for Dead. They looked like three very scary zombies! Evie was dressed as a character from an online RPG called Ib. Dee came as her own take on DC character Flash.

The queue for ComicCon is entertainment in itself. We stood in line for almost an hour but were never bored. The amount of Cosplayers there made the time fly by. We saw: Bane, Batman, Naruto, characters from the Vertigo series The Sandman, Wonderwoman, Master Chief [Halo], Stormtroopers, Steve and a Creeper [from Minecraft] and loads of other characters from Japanese anime and American comic books.

In the queue, I met a friendly chap called Lee. It was his birthday and he treated himself to a trip out to ComicCon in order to increase his Star Trek memorabilia collection. We went around the hall together for an hour and he did indeed start buying up Star Trek toys and magazines, as well as some original Battle Star Galactica stuff.

R2 units

This guy was really into character - including the creatures exaggerated movements.

I was disappointed to see a 'glamour model' section at ComicCon. I struggle to see the connection between science fiction/comic books and these buxom babes. About six of these lovely ladies were present and signing autographs for people. They had a section to themselves in the middle of the hall. Unfortunately, this section was fully visible to anyone walking past, and the posters of the ladies that adorned the walls featured full-colour nudity. It must have been quite awkward for the many young families who were present today.

We saw lots of people in almost cinema-quality costumes - characters from the Predator and Alien films, Star Wars and Star Trek [including the Borg!] They were always happy to pose for photographs and the general atmosphere around these people was one of fun and friendliness.

The highlight of the day for me happened at lunchtime. We were sitting on the floor munching our sandwiches and then Star Wars happened: video here

This was a fantastic day out for both me and the kids. We'd attended the November ComicCon last year and the highlight of that day was the Cosplay Masquerade at the end - lots of dedicated young people wearing their home-made costumes. Unfortunately, this year we had to leave early so missed the Masquerade. Hopefully that won't be the case next time!
Yes, I wish I'd had a lot more spending money, and yes, the glamour models brought a unwanted sexual element to this family show, but it was still great to be a part of a celebration of all things different!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kenilworth Castle Knee Explosion

Another Sunday ripe with possibilities.
Jonnie and I made a difficult decision and opted for a road ride rather than joining Gary, Deadly and Craig at the Wyre forest for some off-road fun. The main reason was Jonnie's new Shimano shoes and pedals which he was eager to try out. This would be the first time that either of us had been 'clipped-in'.

As it turned out, Jonnie rode as if he'd been clipped in all his life! I never saw him hesitate at any junction during the whole ride - impressive stuff. He said the Shimano gear was comfortable and easy to use. For a fraction over £100, that's got to be good. [Shotokancyclist is not sponsored by Shimano, BTW].
Jonnie took us out to Kenilworth Castle. On a beautiful sunny morning it was a delightful ride, if a little busy on some of the roads.
The only downside was the fact that my bad knee has started to play up at about the 10 mile mark. By 22 miles, the pain was ruining my ride and I was scared of really injuring myself. I owned up and told Jonnie that I had to head home. Unfortunately, it meant cutting our ride short and we only completed 36 miles. However, the average time of 14.1mph was still Jonnie's personal best and, without my aching knee slowing us down, he could have easily approached the magic 15mph mark.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Majors Series - 5k in the mud

We were lucky with the weather. The cold grey start gave way to a brighter, less chilly morning without much wind. Sally [wife of Uncle Jonnie] was kind enough to drive four of us out there. The other competitors from South and City College Birmingham were at the 10K distance and had already set off. We had entered ourselves for the much saner 5K event.

The warm-up consisted of being shouted at by a soldier who looked a bit like Jessie from Obese: A Year to Save My Life. The ladies and Steve were suitably impressed. Private Jessie had us spinning round arm in arm, lying on our backs in the mud and jumping up and down doing high-fives before I could say 'WTF is this sh!t?'

The actual start was a hesitant few steps into wet grass and mud before realizing that the whole course was ankle deep in grey filth. Then I just started running in it and hoping that the ankles held up to the punishment...

The plan had been to run with Steve but he was being much more sensible and taking it easy on the slippery stuff. Then came the first real obstacle - imagine coming across a watery bog surrounded by broken, barren trees. Obviously, you'd turn back or try to find a way round. But apparently not when you're running one of these assault courses, that would be considered bad form. So it was that I found myself in a long line of other horrified Karrimor-clad people, nipples deep in freezing brown water and ankles deep in thick, sucking mud. After wading, dragging and stumbling out of the bog, I was then expected to run up a hill or two and then wade across a lake. Yes, a lake. Up to my chest in freezing cold lake. Then to wade across another bit of the lake. And then another bit. After that, a spot of mud running/stumbling, then a hill... you get the picture.

Actually the pictures are here. You just need to type in my number: 0396.

The big disappointment for me came after about 3K, just before the hill slide: a queue. Not a queue of about 10 or 12 people, but a queue of about 50, maybe more, A queue that lasted minutes. A queue where people behind me could push past to catch up with their friends at the front of the queue. And that was okay, apparently. It really did beg the question: why was I wearing a timing chip? Would it time how long I spent queuing? Would it count how many red-faced chubby girls elbowed me out of the way so that they could stand next to the rest of the girls from the local ASDA? The hill slide itself was great fun, especially the bit where I did a 180 half way down and found myself hurtling head first instead of feet first.

Disappointingly, there was another huge queue for the barbed wire obstacle, a queue which I obediently stood in to the point where I started shivering. 15 minutes ago I had been sweating. The obstacle itself was crap - a crawl through the mud under barbed wire. Unfortunately, the mud was laced with rocks. Lucy and I had a lovely collection of cuts and bruises on our knee-caps to compare later on.

The ending of the event was great. I made a mad sprint for the line although who I was competing against at the time I have no idea. Perhaps I considered myself a young, muddy Seb Coe being chased down by the horribly working class and equally muddy Steve Ovett? Whatever I was thinking, head back and panting, I crossed the line a happy, filthy 39 year old in a muddy field near Tamworth.

I managed to raise about £120 for MacMillan nurses over my 2 event challenge [I did the Mad March Hare cycle ride 6 days earlier] as well as testing my ability to complete a messy, demanding event like this. The big surprise [besides queuing] was the fact that I ran the whole thing. I suppose I'm actually fitter than I thought I was. A few more weekend beers and slices of bread pudding should sort that out, though.

Big love and thanks to: Lucy, Sally, Naomi, Steve, Natasha, Raye, Clare, Craig the Bear, Laurie, Jo and all of my sponsors.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Frustrated at the Dojo

After Sunday's huge effort at the Mad March Hare, I discovered that I have a very tender right knee. When I woke up on Monday morning it was so stiff and painful that I was limping. To make matters worse, I had to abandon my usual ride into work and turn back to use the car!
The biggest concern, however, is the fact that I'm due to run in a charity assault course on Saturday morning:

The Major Series

This means that I have to look after the knee and give it time to heal. This in turn means that I couldn't risk aggravating it by doing karate tonight. I had to be a spectator - one of those dour-faced parents, sitting on the benches at the side of the hall flicking through a phone for an hour or disrespecting the dojo by talking to a friend for the entire lesson.

Martha was very brave and went ahead with the lesson even though I couldn't take part. I made sure my phone was switched off, politely ignored the woman siting next to me who tried to talk to me, and focused my attention on the karate. Martha's karate is STRONG! She was by far the best orange belt there tonight and her confidence is growing every lesson. I was very proud of her. Every time she came over to our kit-bag for a drink or to put on her training mitts, we exchanged a few words - mainly encouragement and discussions on improvement.

I felt sorry for the other young people whose parents were present but who were staring glassy-eyed at mobile phones, newspapers, books or chatting away to each other and popping out to smoke cancersticks. They should try to take a little more interest in their child's fantastic new interest - Shotokan Karate - and they would probably find that the hour would fly by, just as it did for me.

I was desperate to join in tonight and even considered volunteering when Sensi was demonstrating a technique - even though I was wearing jeans! I can't wait for the knee to heal so I can strap a gi on and get stuck in once more.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Mad March Hare 2014

The Mad March Hare, organised out of Cult Racing Cycles in Earlswood, is an annual sportive that travels down to the edge of the Cotswolds and back, taking in some breathtaking views and some literally breathtaking climbs.
Uncle Jonnie, Fast Ant, Dangerous Dave and I decided to sign up for the event a few months back, and I for one had been looking forward to the ride all winter. Jonnie and I used it as our inspiration to do some rather challenging training rides, in weather when we wouldn't normally venture outdoors. Jonnie started his training on one of my other bikes - a steel-framed 1979 Holdsworth Mistral in cracking condition. However, the weight of the machine and the limited gears were holding him back and he eventually upgraded to a fine Trek Madone 3.1. Carbontastic!
On the day of the sportive, we arrived at the starting line to find Dave on his new racing bike and Fast Ant on his 26 inch wheeled touring bike complete with a pannier! The ride started off very pleasantly, with the weather initially being kind to us. Jonnie and I lost touch with Dave and Ant at around about the 15 mile mark. We continued to battle our way down through Snitterfield and past Stratford, sometimes tucked in behind a group of seven female riders who had a strange habit of suddenly stopping en mass at various points along the route! The weather took a turn for the worse about now and both Jonnie and I (due to a natural break I had to take at the 20 mile mark) found ourselves exposed and battling against a ferocious headwind. After that, we were reunited but desperate for the feedstation.
Instead, there came Ilmington and a 14% category 3 climb with a photographer lying in wait at the top. I rode side by side with Jonnie and I was extremely pleased to see him, a man who had recently given up smoking to take up cycling, ride the whole climb. He rode past people half his age who were pushing their bikes up this hill. I smiled and gave the cameraman a thumbs up. Jonnie, so much more professional than I, kept his gaze firmly locked on his stem - a la Froome.
As chance would have it, we caught up with Dave and Ant at the feed station. Our happy reunion was cut short however, by the sudden and disappointing realisation that, after queuing for around 10 minutes, the feedstation was without food! Daydreams of bread-pudding, toast or pasties vanished in a soggy puff of weak tea and bottled water. It should have been named a drink station...
Back on the road, Ant sped off into the distance, legs pumping stoically in some monstrous gear. Dave, who had been fighting cramp, tucked in with Jonnie and me and we turned our handlebars Northward for the final push.
Fuelled by magic formula (Hi 5 summer fruits energy drink) we tackled the worst that Ullenhall could throw at us, including the climb from the farm that Jonnie, as a beginner, used to walk up - but not today.
After 5 hours and 33 minutes, Dave, Jonnie and I rode over the finish line together, found Fast Ant, and indulged in coffee, bacon butties and photographs.
On the ride home, legs turning to jelly beneath us, Jonnie punctured and we changed the tubes in the rain, exhausted but determined to get back home under our own steam. Two hours later, our families together at his house, Jonnie fed us homemade beef stew and I poured some fine ales.
Cycling may not be the best hobby/sport/way of life ever, but, right at that moment,  it was hard to think of something that can compare...