Wednesday, 18 July 2012

On Your Bike

Like many of my friends I’ve been watching the Tour de France, on the TV. I’m not a big cycling fan so I don’t sit around all afternoon watching the live bit, for a non cycling fan I’d find watching them eat their food on the go and taking ‘natural breaks’ a little tedious, but I do like the action, i.e. the sprints and breakaways. Mind you, probably like any endurance athlete, it’s the mountain stages that hold the most fascination for me. It’s great to watch men trying to break each other in order to make any kind of gain they can. The past few years have been riddled with controversy due to riders being caught doping but this year seemed to be a fairly clean tour and then… Frank Schleck. Not the first rider to be caught on this tour but certainly the most high profile.

I’m sure I’m not alone in being impressed with the way that Bradley Wiggins is conducting himself, both on and off the bike. He has character and isn’t afraid to say what he thinks but he’s also a dedicated sportsman, and, as shown in Sunday’s stage, a man of fair play. The way things are looking, Bradley could become the first ever British winner of the Tour, I hope he is, but of course anything could happen this week. Fingers crossed for Bradley.

I can never lay claim to being much of a cyclist, sure I had bikes when I was a kid, I even had a Chipper (which was a junior version of the Chopper), I decided against the Chopper, preferring to go back to conventional bikes after I had an incident on my Chipper which had me going headfirst through the handlebars and scrapping my face off on a gravel road. As a teenager in Cheshire, I used to cycle around the country lanes but that was more through boredom, than desire. My brother joined a cycling club in Congleton but I had no interest in following him there.

So when I left Cheshire for London, I left my bike behind. In the back of my mind I always thought it would make it’s way down to London but a member of a Congleton cycling club started using it for spares and I never rode it again.

Then in the late 90’s I brought a new bike. I’d had a number of injuries over the preceding years and was experimenting with cross training. Living close to Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park I thought it would be a good place to use a mountain bike, so I bought one, only to find there were restrictions on where you could ride it. Still that didn’t deter me and I spent many a summer evenings cycling around the area.

In 2005 I tore my hamstring and my physio advised me to keep fit by finding a hill and going up it a number of times in a high gear. Perfect, I lived by Wimbledon Park and that had a brilliantly steep hill I could climb and then recover on a longer route around back to the start. I would do this training first thing in the morning and then head off to work, so for a while I was getting in an hour later than my normal 8:00 start. That wasn’t a problem with my boss, but it became a problem on 7th July, when I got caught up in the fringes of the London bombings. 10 minutes earlier and my life could have been very different, as it was I was caught in the after effects, turfed off a tube with no explanation and having to walk the rest of the way, about 6 miles, into work.

Naturally I felt a bit sheepish as I turned up very late at work, but my boss seemed please to see I’d made it in. It was only then that I found out what had been going on and my mind went all hazy. It reminded me of 9/11, I was working in the same room, which for some reason had a TV. Somebody switched the TV on and we all watched pictures of one of the Twin Towers on fire, I was actually watching as the TV as the second plane crashed into the other tower. This time it was slightly different, it was my town and I was therefore involved. Nobody knew what was going on or if we were safe or not. My mate Jim Buick was down in London as it was the Corporate Challenge that night, in Battersea Park, I was going to meet up with him and watch it, but now I couldn’t get hold of him, in fact I couldn’t get hold of anyone on a mobile.

Eventually Jim and I made contact, the race was off so we met up and ate in town before catching the restarted train service back home. The next day I rode the tube into work, nervous as anything, I was a little better on the way home. But I’d made a decision that I was going to save time by cycling into work on the odd day. The first day I did this was the day the 2nd round of bombs were planned, but thankfully didn’t go off. Chaos again, so I then decided I was going to cycle in every day.

I did but it wasn’t pleasant, it was only about 11 miles but the roads were busy, many drivers didn’t seem to care if you were in front of them or underneath them and I had one incident with a bunch of teenagers who were desperate to make me fall off my bike. I persevered  but once I was able to start running again I found it affected my training, it was too much, so I went back to the tube. I actually thought I had more chance being killed on my bike than by a bomb.

And then I moved to Edinburgh. It took me 5 months to find my own place and then I brought my bike up. Cycling around Edinburgh was a completely different experience, it was fun. There were still some idiots in cars but not as many. As I was single at the time I had more time to use the bike and I used it as a 2nd training session in the days when I was off work. But then Carole came along and once more my bike was confined to the garage as Carolemania took over my life.

When we moved to Cheshire the bikes stayed in Edinburgh until we found the place we wanted to live. Unfortunately this took a lot longer than we had hoped and it was two years before we managed to get the bikes down. At last we got the bikes down and had them serviced and it was out and about in Northwich and beyond.

Now I’ll run in all conditions, but cycling is for leisure, that means I only cycle when it’s dry conditions. So you can imagine we haven’t done much cycling this summer. Last Sunday was such a day and we decided to head off to Delamere Forest. It’s a nice route along the Northwich cycleway, then through the villages of Sandiway, Cuddington and Norley and finally to the nice and slightly challenging hills in the forest. It was a nice little cycle and by the time we got home I was pretty tired, I reckoned on the Alsop mileage scale that was about 20.5 miles in 1 hour 30 minutes, I don’t tend to stop to admire views as I’m enjoying the cycling, though I did tend to slow down for my Domestic job of getting Carole up the hills.  

Last week I was settling myself back into the training, finishing the week off with a punishing 10 x 6 minutes hard with 1 minute recovery. At the end of the run I was wasted. I knew it was temporary and because I’d pushed my body harder, for longer, than I had for some years. It was a good session and it was great to keep pushing when my head was telling me I should think about stopping and going for a beer instead. Unfortunately the temporary was a little less temporary than I had hoped for and I felt wiped out all day Friday. Saturday morning I was still feeling a little fazed but had recovered enough to go to the Princes Parkrun with Carole, Ray and Sharon. It was being held in Sefton Park this weekend, which presented another new course for me.

I wasn’t really in the mood for it but I’d made the decision to run so I wasn’t going to back down. This time there was a man with a bike to follow so I wasn’t going to have to ask for directions. It was a sharp start but by the first turn, about 200m in, I was on my own with a man on a bike for company. The course kept switching back on itself which meant, for a change, me, Carole, Ray, Sharon and Ray and Sharon’s friends, Mike and Nicky could see each other’s progress throughout the race. It also meant I could see where my closest opponent was. On this occasion it was quite a distance, so I did what I rarely do, I eased off a little. I don’t normally do that because I’m conscious of the ranking system and how that might affect my potential selection for the England squad, but I wasn’t feeling 100% so it made sense. I still won by a considerable margin, in 17:08, but I wouldn’t class it as a spectacular run.
Mike, Nicky, Carole, Smug Guy, Sharon and Ray

Thanks to the cycling on Sunday my legs were still a bit tired on Monday, but I managed to fit in three running sessions, with clients, getting drenched on each one. I did my ‘treadmill’ session outdoors on Tuesday, in Tatton Park, got drenched again. Today, I didn’t get drenched, a run with Katy and it was great weather for running. My legs now feel back to normal too.

Incidentally Katy ran a personal best over the hilly Trentham 10 at the weekend, knocking 1 minute 30 seconds off her previous best. She’s going well, as I found out this morning….

I’ve now secured a copy of Gabby’s book about British marathon running legends of the 80’s. The book was ready as I went to Spain, an ideal opportunity for me to read it but I was waiting for a kindle version. As it was I didn’t feel there was a particular hurry as I’d just started reading Shackleton’s book, which I’m finding fascinating and very similar to the film. But then I started reading facebook comments from friends who have now read Gabby’s book and I was keen to get a copy. So, sadly, Shackleton’s on hold, because I couldn’t wait any longer and I’ve now started reading the book.

Well I got my copy yesterday and the first thing I did was look at the index. Some interesting running names, people I know of more than know, big names to look up to if you were a runner at the time. I noticed there was a chapter on Jim Dingwall, a man I never met but having run the Jim Dingwall 10k a few times, at Falkirk, the legend that is the man sticks with you. I know bits about the late Jim Dingwall so am keen to read that chapter, I’m sure some of my marathon running Scottish friends will be equally keen. But I didn’t want to jump ahead, I’ve started at the beginning and last night started the chapter on John Boyes, of Bournemouth. I didn’t get very far before I had to put the book down, bedtime and a full day ahead of me, but what I read was interesting. As my pal Tony Austin said, it’s a book that you just want to keep on reading. I remember John, he was still running when I started and his name featured often, at the front of races. What’s interesting, and again this was stated by Tony Austin, is that these are just ordinary guys like the rest of us, who started running and then found they were talented at it. The book tells you about why and how they decided upon marathon running. Haven’t got any further than that but I can’t wait until my next reading slot. Thanks Gabby for making your interviews public. There’ll be more on the book in next week’s blog, when hopefully I’ve read a lot more, but if you want to find out more yourself, visit

Written by Roger Alsop


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