Bike Chains: Which to Buy

SRAM Red 22 11 Speed Chain - 114 LinksI’m an enthusiastic amateur cyclist and while I’ve a loooonnnggg way to go before I’m any kind of cycling expert, I’ve learned a few bits and pieces in my short career in the saddle. As things break down, become worn out or go wrong, situations arise where I need to fix or replace things on the bike.

Like it or not, I’ve had to learn a few things. Simply put, if you don’t fix it, you can’t ride it.

The most recent thing to go wrong with my bike was my chain snapping. I was out on a ride when suddenly my chain just vanished from my bike. Annoying and a wee bit tragic when I’d just finished all the hard parts of the ride and was just about to slip into the easy part of the ride home… but I lived to tell the tale so I cannot complain! ūüôā

I brought my bike to a local bike shop and the nice chap there told me that the chain on my bike was not a very good one. He checked the tension in the chain with a special measuring tool and explained that while it’s okay for now, I’d probably need to replace the chain before the summer.

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The bike fella explained to me that I should also replace the cassette on the bike at the same time because the chain and the cassette wear down at the same rate. All of this was new to me so I thought I’d do some research for any other novice cyclists out there and break it down for you all. Here’s what you need (or just might WANT to know – because who doesn’t love some useful trivia?!) :

Bike Chains:

The bike chain is the bit on the bike EVERYONE knows about. When you were a kid, your chain probably “came off” all the time so you probably regularly had to run Dad to ask him to put the chain back on. Or you learned to do it yourself. That was pretty much all I knew about bike mechanics until the last couple of years when I started into triathlon.

The bike chain is part of what’s called the “drivetrain” and is what links the whole thing together to make your bike go. The chain is how the rider transfers power to the wheels.When you pedal, you push the pedal down and cause the crank arm to rotate in a circular movement.

Most bicycle chains are made from alloy steel, but some are chrome plated or stainless steel to prevent rust, or simply for good looks.

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The pedal your foot pushes is attached to the end of a “crank arm” and you push this around in a circle. This arm (at the other end) is fastened to a circular piece called the “chain ring” – this piece has metal teeth all around the outside and the chain sits on top of it. As you pedal, you push the arm around in the circle, this turns the chain ring, which then moves the chain.

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The chain ring

Most bikes have two chain rings – one for higher gears and one for lower gears. When the going is tough, you switch down to the lower gears to make it easier on yourself. When your bombing down a hill, you up the gears to the higher level because it’s easier to pedal and you’re able to push a higher gear.

Derailleur_Bicycle_Drivetrain

Bike Cassettes:

Still with me? Nearly done. Like I said, the chain sits on top of the chain ring which you’re pushing around with your foot – but to be able to rotate, the chain needs something else at the back to rotate around. Otherwise, how would it be able to move full circle? So at the rear of the bike, attached to the rear wheel, you have the “cassette” – a cluster of other metal toothed circles. Also known as “sprockets”. These metal toothed circles are all different sizes. The bigger ones feel easier for your legs to push, while those smaller ones are harder.

So the chain sits into the grooves of the cassette in the same way it sits into the grooves of the chain ring and when you push pedal around, you move the chain ring which moves the chain and the chain is able to spin around the cassette at the back in a circle.

The Rear Derailleur is just a part which the chain is fed through (see the diagram) and sits to the bottom of the cassette. This is the part responsible for changing gears. When you click your little lever to switch gear, the rear derailleur is the part that lifts the chain from one metal toothed circle at the back (or sprocket) to another.

Now you’re an expert! No actually you’re really not. But no one ever explains these things to you and I only recently learned these basics when I started to really look at my bike and how it all works. Most people don’t want to know or couldn’t care less but I’m a bit of nerd that way…

Wear and Tear:

As you ride and change gears, the chain, chainrings, cogs and derailleur wheels pull and rub on each other. You’re advised to apply lubricant to act as a barrier between these parts as they rub off each other but between washing and weather (rain washes it away and sun evaporates it away) metal-on-metal contact will happen (don’t blame yourself ūüôā ) When this happens, tiny shards of metal get stripped away and the parts get worn down and deformed out of their original shape. Grit flung up from the road also adds to wear. Think of the steps of an old building getting more and more worn with the pitter patter of footsteps over and over and over again.

How to Know When to Replace the Chain?

The chain is the most common part of the drivetrain to wear out and need replacing. You can buy a chain checker tool online or in most bike shops.

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If the chain has stretched and is elongated past the recommended point, it is advised that you get a new chain and cassette (and potentially chain rings too) at the same time. If your drivetrain is noisy, hard to pedal, and, on derailleur systems, difficult to change between gears, then replacing these parts will invariably fix your problems.

Which to Buy?

The bike mechanic I spoke to recently recommended Sram chains and told me in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t even consider using any other chains as they’re just not good enough. Sram chains are compatible with Shimano cassettes so don’t fret, you don’t have to replace your entire drivetrain.

What you need to keep in mind when buying a new chain is that chains come in different “speeds” which have to match the cassette, ie an 11 speed cassette will need an 11 speed chain.¬†Why?¬†The distance in between the sprockets varies depending on whether there are 9, 10 or 11 of them. The gap will be wider on a 9 speed cassette than on an 11 speed one. Chains designed to fit a 9 speed bike are therefore wider in width and 11 speed chains are narrower.

Sram Red 22¬†– 45 euro – What Sram say…¬†This chain features more heavily chamfered outer plates for improved shifting and quieter running. It boasts strength, incredible shifting efficiency, and light weight. It uses Sram’s PowerLock connector pin and weights in at 242g.¬†Other features include a nickel silver finish on the inner and outer plates.

Sram Force 22 –¬†43.70 euro – Like, the Red 22 chain, this one also features nickel plated plates on inside as well as the outside. Weighs ever so slightly more at 256g.

Sram PC 1170 – 43 euro –¬†Nickel silver outer and grey metal inner plates. Weighs 256g. Narrower chain.

Sram PC 1130¬†– 23 euro –¬†This¬†chain is recommended for use with Sram’s Rival groupset. It weighs 259g.

What’s the Difference Between them All?¬†

Apart from the price… not a lot. The Red 22 and Force 22 chains¬†have nickel plating on both sides of the plates which will help prevent corrosion and look prettier. The PC 1170 and 1130 chains do not have the inner nickel plating meaning they’re more susceptible to corrosion and likely to¬†ware out quicker. There’s negligible difference in price between the¬†Red 22 and Force 22 Vs. 1170 so I don’t know why you wouldn’t just go for the Red 22 or Force 22.

I researched these chains to death on the internet trying to find detailed information on any of them and what the differences are but I found hardly any information out there. Just people churning out the same blurb that Sram do about the “more heavily chamfered outer plates for improved shiftin….” blah blah blah. Not very helpful folks. What would be great would be if Sram could spell out the features and differences so buyers can understand. Or maybe that’s the idea – there are practically no differences but they don’t want you to know that and you being a twit buy the more expensive one because you assume it must be better. God damn it marketing. I am the worst offender here, for sure.

I think if you live in a wet area, like Ireland, you’re probably better off to go with the Red 22 or Force 22. It’s worth noting that you can usually buy these chains online at a significant discount on sites like wiggle¬†or¬†chain reaction cycles¬†so why not go for them over the cheaper 1130 if you can get a bit longer out of them?

SRAM Spare Connecting Pin
Sram’s powerlock – this pin joins one end of your chain to the other, making a circle – stronger and more reliable than traditional connector or “cotter” pins

I hope you enjoyed that little lesson in bike basics and chains. Next up, I’ll be looking at cassettes – differences between them and which ones to buy.

All prices are intended as a guide and are approximate only -they will vary depending on where you buy them.

 

Bike Mechanics for Newbies: Chains and Cassettes

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I like to cycle to and/or from work these days. Good because it wakes me up in the morning/ winds me down after work and it means I get to avoid traffic, buses and all that grossness. The downside of it is Рwell there is no downside, if you ask me.

That is, except for the incredibly rare occurrences of mechanical issues. And gross winds… but let’s shove those aside for now.

Punctures¬†are a giant pain in the ass. I apologise for the vulgarity but there’s no real way to get around that point. Changing the tube of a bike tyre is challenging for me at the best of times but I have never got a puncture out on the road when it hasn’t been pouring rain or bloody freezing. Adding numb fingers or wet hands to the equation is just ridiculously unfair. But that’s life so you get on with it.

But actually, annoying as it may be at the time, a puncture is not the worst thing that can happen to you when you’re out on a long ride.

Your chain snapping on your way home from work¬†is definitely worse. Particularly when you’re a solid 20km from home. In the countryside. With 10% phone battery.

Aw, crap.

The good news is that at least it wasn’t raining when it happened and it was also on the way home from work rather than on the way TO work. Now that would have been more crazy than my little head could take.

Diagnosis

I’m not sure why the chain broke open in that moment. I’d just crested a long climb and was just starting into the descent, clicking up the gears when it went pop! It seems that the cotter pin (the pin that joins one end of the chain to the other to make it one complete loop) broke off. I initially thought the chain had just come off and thought no problem, I’ll just whizz down to the bottom of the hill and pop it back on. So I indeed whizzed all the way to the bottom of the hill and realised oh right, there’s actually no chain on my bike.

Aw, crap.

Dope that I am, I then walked all the way back up the hill to search for my lovely bike chain. Long story short, the bike dudes in the bike shop said that my bike chain actually isn’t very good and had a poor locking mechanism (pin) in place keeping it together. They put a new Sram Powerlock link onto my existing chain so it’s working fine again now. However, they said I’d probably need to get a new chain and cassette before the summer and recommended a Sram chain. Apparently, the chain and cassette wear down at the same rate. Who knew?

The bike shop dude was quite adamant that Sram were the only chains they sell/ install on bikes, although he said Shimano were okay too. Otherwise he said he didn’t rate any other bike chains.

I’m fairly new to all this cycling tech so I thought I’d see about doing some research and putting up here for discussion or to help anyone else out there wondering about the same wonderings.

Bicycle Chains – What You Need to Know and What Are the Differences?

I’m going to cover this as a standalone topic in in the next couple of weeks so check back shortly for a run down on everything you need to know on chains.

Bicycle Components РWhat You Need to Know and What Are the Differences?

You can spend a LOT of money on bike components but is there much difference between them?

The Basics –¬†Sram and Shimano (and all other manufactuers!) have a tiered system when it comes to the different ranges of components available.¬†I made you a chart just cuz I like you ūüėČ

ShimanoEssentially, as you move up the tiers, the quality increases, as does the price. Significantly.

At the bottom you have Shimano Tiagra which is an entry level groupset and retails for about 550 euro. Next up, you have Shimano 105 – more expensive than Tiagra at 660 euro (ish) but quite a difference in performance if you’re looking to improve on the Tiagra but are operating within a tight budget.

The next jump up is quite a jump in terms of price. Ultegra ¬†–This level is usually bought by cyclists who’ve gone past the stage of being a beginner and are looking for something significantly better but yet aren’t fully ready (or don’t have the funds) to go bananas and commit to buying the Dura Ace set. Ultegra brings a lighter weight and noticeably more refined system than the lower levels.¬†This 11-speed group has the same design features as the range topping Dura-Ace and offers all the performance most riders will ever need, but is 258g heavier than Dura-Ace.

Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2 11 Speed Groupset

The Ultegra groupset retails at 1180 euro. The Ultegra Di2 groupset retails for 2361 euro.

At the tippy top of Shimano’s choices is the Dura Ace range. You have the Dura Act Di2, which incorporates electronic gear shifting or just Dura Ace, minus the Di2 electronic shifting. Many professional bike teams use Shimano’s Dura Ace Di2 system. But it comes at a very high price so you really need to be someone who can appreciate the subtleties of gear change and the finer points of bike mechanics to justify the splurge. Features superb design and lightweight materials such as high-grade alloys, carbon fibre, and titanium.

Shimano’s Dura Ace Groupset retails for 2200 euro (ish) and the Di2 Groupset retails at about 3658 euro.

Sram’s Entry level¬†groupset is Apex, on a similar level to Shimano’s Tiagra. Next up and comparable to Shimano’s 105 range is Sram’s¬†Rival 22¬†range. The Rival groupset will costs 303 euro (approx)

Going up in price to Ultegra-level, SRAM’s¬†Force¬†group uses lightweight materials such as high-grade alloys and carbon fibre to be a very competitive gear setup. The Force groupset retails for 1109 euro (approx)

Moving up again, SRAM’s¬†Red¬†range is on a level with Shimano’s¬†Dura Ace¬†and is also used by many pro bike teams. “E-tap” is as you might have guessed, electronic gear shifting ¬†– same idea as Shimano’s Di2.

Image result for sram red groupset

Sram’s Red 22 groupset retails for 1300 euro (approx). The¬†Red E-tap Groupset retails for 2500 euro (approx)

Summary

As you can see there’s quite a lot of difference in terms of price between the various different groupsets available. I have tried not to bamboozle you with too much detail in this post and just to keep it simple. I know myself that research and reading on this topic tends to lead to brain saturation and utter confusion.

It also carries the danger of the more your read, the greater the higher end gear sounds and the more convinced you become that you really do need Shimano’s Di2 set on your bike. But the truth is that I don’t and you probably don’t either.

Decide how much you want to spend or can afford to spend and then look at the options within that range. This gear is very, very expensive and unless you can really feel the differnce between a subtle gear change or are racing at the pinnacle of the peloton, then I really don’t think riding with Shimano’s Di2 range or Sram’s E-tap system is going to make any bit of difference to your ride. And given the jaw-dropping difference in price, my opinion is it’s that it’s far too much to spend and absolutely not worth it.

Now if I won the lotto tomorrow, the first thing I would to is install Sram’s Red E-tap system on my brand new bike. No doubt. But that’s all it is – a luxury when you have lots of extra money lying around looking for something to spend it on. Any in reality, who has that?

Be smart.

I’m going off to research and find out everything I need to know about Bike chains and cassettes and I’ll be posting on both components in the next couple of weeks.

 

Running Injuries: Light at the End of the Tunnel

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I know you all must be just dying to know how my foot injuries are progressing – it is¬†such¬†an exciting topic, I fully understand. No, it’s really not. I’m bored talking about it, telling people about it, explaining why I can’t run, what happened (or didn’t happen- because like most running injuries, there isn’t just one big kablam moment where the injury occurs…) etc, etc. However, given that this is a running blog (kinda ūüėČ ) and that I’ve talked about the injuries quite a bit on here, I feel for the continuity sake, I should pop an update up.

Having seen two physios, my GP, two orthopaedic surgeons and ran multiple blood tests, MRI and xrays, my most recent visit was to a rheumatologist. It had been suggested to me that a possible cause of my ongoing foot pain (along the base of both feet and around the lateral parts and under the toe areas) could perhaps be a rheumatological issue. In particular, it was speculated that I could have rheumatoid arthritis.

The Good News!

Rheumatologist said I most likely do NOT have rheumatoid arthritis. Yay! Of course being a doctor, he wouldn’t say that I definitely did not have it, but he ruled it out for the moment, which I’ll take and run to the hills with as fast as I can.

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His view was that the likely cause of my foot pain was due to the mechanics of my feet -which is what the last orthopaedic surgeon thought AND also what my new physio has said too.

The Boring Details

Essentially, I have a bad bunion on my left foot which has caused my big toe to lean so far inwards that it has rendered the big toe essentially ineffective in terms of the running motion. When the foot hits the ground, the normal movement is for the foot to roll from heel through the foot and then push off from the big toe. My big toe is turned so far inward that the foot basically is not rolling off the toe, but rather off the bunion. The other toes on that foot are also doing more work than they should be and taking more of the impact than they should be as a result of the redundant big toe. This too has caused the lateral arch running beneath the toes to collapse somewhat (explaining the pain in that area). The joints have also become more angled as a result of the constant impact of running.

Blah blah blah… to sum up? Bad foot biomechanics.

dog-feet
These are not my feet- but no one wants to look at those. Dog feet every time.

The Bad News

All those aforementioned experts voiced the opinion that running marathons is probably too much for my feet given the fundamental limitations of their structure. They can’t take the constant pounding that feet with good structure and mechanics can – it’s simply too much. The physio that I’m seeing now has worked with athletes for many years and her opinion is that i should stick to triathlons and runs up to the distance of a half-marathon.

I’m not going to lie to you, while I know what she is saying makes complete sense, I have not completely accepted this. At least, not yet. There are so many marathon races around the world that I would love, love, LOVE to do (Boston, NYC, London, Berlin…how are ya?) that I’m not quite ready to let all that go. I’ve dreamed about these for years and you only live once. (Or at least, I can only remember living one lifetime!) In my head, I know they’re right but in my heart, this is too far a leap just at the moment. This is something that will take a while for me to come around to.

The Best News

Despite what I just said, the best news IN THE WORLD is that with more rest, careful rehabilitation and oodles of patience, there is no reason why I will not be able to run again. I also don’t (touching all the wood) have rheumatoid arthritis or any other lifelong horrible limiting condition that I have to live with, which I am so grateful for. These two things are without doubt, the greatest news and the relief and hope I feel right now is pure awesome.

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I got some new orthotics custom made by the new physio (thank you Eileen) and am currently breaking these in, as well as doing the exercises and stretches she has prescribed.

I am also one with my bike at the moment, despite the crappy weather and multiple named storms that have swept our not-so-green island the last few weeks. Biking to work some days, biking at the weekend and oh how wet all that gear can get…

Alas, a good excuse to buy more gear because hey, I need a second string of clothes while the others are drying ūüėÄ

Reading, Writing & All Things Books: What Questions Would You Ask Your Favourite Authors?

the-panel

One of my favourite hypothetical scenarios is the fantasy dinner party. You know, the one where you get to invite any six people from any time (as in, since the dinosaurs…) to a dinner party of your choosing, deciding who would sit next to whom and what conversations would you instigate. From John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Nelson Mandela to Jesse Owens, Margaret Thatcher, Hitler or Babe Ruth.

I think about this scenario quite a lot – more than is probably psychologically acceptable for a properly balanced person of society. But it’s fun and I am fully cognisant of the fact that it will never actually happen – and so long as I¬†know¬†that, then I haven’t quite slipped away fully into the world of La La Land.

My six guests change all the time (and I usually keep a few on a cancellation list ūüėČ )but if you were to ask me right now, I’d have to say Michael Collins, Martin Luther King, Mary Robinson, Melissa McCarthy and Roger Federer. Utterly random, utterly ludicrous but hilarious. I’d put Mick next to Melissa and I’d seat Roger beside King, and I’d sit between Melissa and Roger. Done.

Not at all the point of today’s post.¬†As you might know, I’m a huge bookwork and have posted a bit previously on here about my love of reading, but more so on my book blog over¬†yonder. Recently, I was approached by Eventbrite¬†to write about my dream panel of authors and being the fantasist that I am (please see above) I had to have a go at this.

Thus without further ado, I give you…

the-panel

 

The Panel: Emily Bronte, David Nicholls, Philip Pullman, Margaret Atwood, Roald Dahl and Lisbeth Salander. Limiting myself to just six here.

The Moderator: Graham Norton, of course.

Although I have never met any of these people, I think would happily sit and listen to any of these people talk all day long. A short list of people who brought immense joy and fascination to my life as a child and as an adult, there are so many questions and conversations I’d like to raise with each of these wonderful people.

Emily Bronte –¬†who would not want to sit and talk all things Cathy and Heathcliff with this truly great storyteller? I would want to know everything – where did she conceive of this story and who are the characters really based on? Why is so desperately, desperately sad and was there ever an alternative ending that she realistically considered? Did it have to end up so miserable and heartbreaking for everyone?

David Nicholls –¬†Still in my top 3 books of all time, I completely fell in love with this book and its protagonists Dex and Em. I was with them every step of the way and it utterly broke my heart at the end. I don’t do romance novels, I’m a cynic and I really don’t ever cry over books (at all) but as I read the last section of this book, the tears just freefalled off my dopey face. David, I have to know, did you ever plan to finish the book differently? Did you always see it ending this way?

Philip Pullman –¬†See, I started with all the sad and now I’m going to bring the joy. Pullman wrote some of the most enjoyable, most engrossing novels I have ever read. Lyra and Pantalaimon brought more joy and imagination to my early secondary school days than most any other thing. At a time of change, new school, tough life lessons and growing up,¬†His Dark Materials¬†made for a perfectly timed arrival in my life and these characters will forever hold a dear place in my heart. I’d just want to Pullman that. And sit and have a good long chat over pots and pots of tea.

Roald Dahl –¬†Oh yes, pull up an armchair, light a fire and let’s get to some storytelling from the master himself. Any time I’ve tried to pick one of his wonderful stories as my favourite, I instantly find myself correcting my selection – Fantastic Mr. Fox, no, The Magic Finger – No! – The BFG – No, no, wait… George’s Marvellous Medicine. Oh but then there’s Matilda. Where did he get these ideas? Did he think this stuff could actually happen? Roald Dahl’s stories were never THAT far from reality – just a slight stretch away from adult reality and very much within the realm of possibility from a child’s perspective – you remember¬†The Witches¬†right? Bravo.

Margaret Atwood –¬†brilliant ideas and fascinating (if unnerving) predictions of the future, I’d love to ask her about any number of her books, her vision for the future and the state she thinks humanity will be in in 20 years time. She’d certainly bring a unique and fascinating contribution to the panel.

And as for Lisbeth… no explanation required. She wouldn’t appreciate the publicity or the fanfare so I’ll say no more. If only to say, I miss her very much.

Who are your favourite authors and characters? If you could pick just six, who would they be and what questions would you ask them?

 

 

 

Runners and Injuries: Not Letting Panic Triumph Over Hope

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This is a subject extremely close to my heart. In fact, it’s so close to the surface that I’d swear if you stood close enough to me, you might just be able to hear my heart beating out “Help me, I’m a runner”…

I’m going through this right now. I may not be an elite athlete, but I am 100% a runner at heart. It’s what makes me smile, lifts me up, allows me to escape everything for a few hours everyday and honestly makes me feel like some kind of superhero. On the outside, I might look like a hot, sweaty, flailing mess… but on the inside I feel like Mo Farah. I feel like me.

One missed session in my weekly training plan makes me uncomfortable and I’m very bad at just “letting it go” but sometimes weather or unforeseen events just happen and you have to suck it up.

One¬†week¬†without running – usually only happens when I’ve just ran a big race like a marathon or half-ironman¬†– I struggle with not being able to get out for a run for this long because regardless of how physically tired my body might be, I miss the fresh air and time outside, the peace and quiet. But I persevere for the sake of rest and meaningful recovery.

Suck it up.

More than one week… Huh???!! It has been years since I’ve gone more than 10-14 days with no running. Sometimes you do need a good rest as a runner and head-wrecking and all as it may be, you tolerate it because you KNOW that in a few weeks time, you’ll be back out there slowly building yourself back up again.

You KNOW. So… suck it up.

Now, try telling a runner that they can’t run today, or tomorrow or even this week. In fact, it could be as long as a year… Actually, I can’t tell you when you’ll next be able to go for a run or even if you’ll ever be able to run again.

To a runner, this is devastating news. For me, I just couldn’t accept it right away – it was too much to deal with all at once and it took months for me to even come around to the idea and I still haven’t fully accepted it. When you’re used to being able to lace up and get out in the fresh air – just you and your radio – and plod along to your own rhythm, it becomes a massive part of who you are and when it suddenly gets ripped away, you feel lost – like a big part of you has suddenly been whipped away and crazy as it sounds – it takes a while for you to come around to this new version of yourself that doesn’t run every day.

You suddenly feel ¬†– as if you’re not you¬†anymore.

Trauma. Grief. Loss.

Heartbreak.

I don’t say these things to be flippant. I have massively missed running and the goodness it brings to my life. Life without running has left a great hole that I simply cannot fill with cycling or swimming. I have been cranky, intolerant, impatient, angry, sad, an utter basket-case at times (on multiple occasions) and I’ve cried big fat tears of frustration and loss for my life as a runner on several occasions. I’m pretty sure my Dad (poor man has witnesses a number of my ridiculous meltdowns) thinks I’m a complete nut-job but then of course that’s how it must appear to sane people on the outside.

The Phases of Running Grief – not kidding,¬†there are actual phases¬†…

1. Blanket denial – the physio doesn’t know what she’s talking about… she’s talking out her arse – sure I know more about running than she does and I definitely know my own body better than anyone else. I’ll be grand in a few weeks. Your biggest worry at this stage is loss of fitness – worrying about losing the good place you’re at that you’ve worked so hard to get to. Your nervous that your sub 3.45 marathon goal may have to wait till next season.

2. Bargaining –¬†Loss of control and helplessness make the control freak runner in you start to try and rationalise it all in a vain attempt to regain some control – what if I do this next time? What if I did that better?

3. Anger –¬†After a few weeks, nothing is better, the injury is still there and you start to panic when the realisation that it might be quite a while before you’re able to run again starts to feel real.

I followed my plan… why am I injured and X, Y and Z are not? It’s not fair… I did everything I was supposed to do? Why is it different to any other training cycle? I should have taken a longer rest after the last marathon… I should have done more strength work… ¬†I should have eaten better… I should have said 3 hail mary’s before every run… I’m so stupid, stupid, stupid……….and why does nobody understand me?! Get away from me…. No, I don’t want chicken soup to make me feel better!!! Aagggghhhhhhh…

4. The Sad Bit –¬†crying in a pathetic curled ball on the floor as your running gear starts to gather dust,¬†as the races you signed up to months ago all come and go.

Mourning the loss of running as a friend and of that huge part of you that is tied up in running. It’s not just a hobby- it’s who you are first thing in the morning, the feeling you carry with you all day having completed a great run that morning, Parkrun with you friends on a Saturday morning and coffee afterwards, the long run on a Sunday morning listening to the Marian Finuacan radio show and the heavenly after-feeling of that effort as you chill on the sofa drinking coffee, watching Downton Abbey.

Acceptance?¬†Nah. See number 1. I’m an optimist and I love running far too much to ever give up on the idea that I could be out there running some day soon.

I choose hope, rehabilitation and optimism. So maybe I’ll have to keep spinning the wheels of this cycle for a little while longer- going through the phases of denial, anger, sadness – but I won’t stop hoping and I won’t give up.

I saw a new physiotherapist this week and for the first time since I got injured I heard the words “I see no reason why you shouldn’t recover and get back to running”. Like the saddo I am, I nearly cried when she said this. It’s the first positive thing I’ve heard from the rounds of Doctors, physios, orthopaedic surgeons and other specialists in a year. She gave me hope – she didn’t promise anything and she did stress that the first goal would be to get back to a place where I have no pain in my feet just as is. Then, we can look to bringing walking back. Only after that can we even consider bringing running back in.

This could take quite a while to get to that stage but right now, I feel hope – I can see a finish line. Not sure of the distance yet but I can see one drifting about in the wind somewhere out there – I just have to be patient, follow the right path and not be stupid.

Then maybe, just maybe… I’ll be a runner again.

Good Pains in Strange Places

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I’ve started going to the gym and for the first time in a long time, I’m bringing back strength and conditioning sessions in a big way. But boy, it does hurt so good.

Strength and conditioning is an area I confess to having neglected in all my years running. Lifting dumbbells, doing squats and squeezing out a few press-ups are all the types of exercise I would typically hate. I always felt they were boring exercises- like sport without any of the joy. Coming up to marathon training time, I’d resolve to make sure I did at least one proper session per week and then also including a few exercises in my everyday post-run routine, such as heel lifts, wall-sits and planks.

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But in all honesty, I probably have not been doing as much as I should have been doing and now that I’m out of (temporarily!) the running game and sitting on the sidelines, injured for the foreseeable, I can’t help but wonder if I had been more diligent about my strength and conditioning training, I might not be injured right now. I might still be running about blissfully ignorant and injury-free.

I’m not a shoulda, coulda, woulda person though, so I bring this up as topic not to dwell on the past but to learn, plan and build for the future. I want to be stronger, I want to be faster and I always want to be better. (I don’t need to be higher ūüėČ )

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…and I always want to eat scones.

What’s the Plan?

Joined a gym, had a personal consultation and have a training plan. 2-3 days a week, I’ll be doing an hour of strength work, mixed with a short interval of cardio. In addition to that, I’ll be out on the bike at weekends and as the days start to get longer, I hope to get out a few mornings or evenings before or after work. I hope to get in one or two swims during the week too.

My program consists of:

  • Chest presses
  • Leg presses
  • Step-ups
  • Planks
  • Russian Twists
  • Face Pulls
  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep Dips
  • 15-20 minutes cardio (I’m having a go at rowing to try something different…)

Nothing revolutionary here – and if you’re a runner, you’ll probably be very familiar with most of these exercises. What I like particularly about this program is that it aims to build a basic level of strength and it also incorporate specific exercises that will be good for running, when I start back.

Leg presses will help develop the quad muscles as well as the glutes – also excellent for cycling (and my butt!)

Step-ups are a simple but excellent strengthening exercise that every runner should be including in their daily routine Р as well as the exercise helping to work the glutes, quads and your core, this move also helps to develop good balance and running form. I quite like doing these too.

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Planks and Russian Twists Рwork your core/ abs mostly but planks are an overall excellent strength exercise.

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I did the full program for the first time during the week and while I enjoyed doing that night… oh my sweet Lord, did it hurt the next day. I know since not being able to run for 10 months, my arms, abs (and general upper body) have just gone to flop. You just don’t use your arms that much on the bike and your entire upper body is more or less stationary for the entire ride – you don’t use it at all the way you do when running. So right now, I have NO upper body strength. It’s pathetic.

I could not lift my arms above waist height on Thursday after my weights session on Wednesday night. And there were aches and tendernesses in back muscles and shoulder places I have never felt before. Have you ever seen a person trying to massage their own back muscles? Not an attractive look. I cared not!

So onward and strong-ward! If you are also someone who has been avoiding strength work because you too find it boring and tedious, please PLEASE heed my advice and just do it anyway. Find a way to get it into your week – if you’re not someone who enjoys lifting dumbbells or churning out squats, then go to a class like bodypump or bootcamp. Ignore this element of your training and it could end up costing you dearly – both literally or figuratively.

Let me put to you this way – would you rather spend your hard earned wages on physiotherapy, MRI scans, doctor’s appointments, blood tests and consultant visits (still with no diagnosis or end in sight…)¬†OR¬†on the entry fee to the Boston Marathon?

Easy, right?

 

January On The Bike – The End is Nigh

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When I first started this cycling in the winter malarky last November-ish, I was a little shell-shocked, I have no problem admitting. Before then, I’d only ever taken the bike out of the shed between the months of June-October on days in between running days to get in some light cross-training. Come the end of October, I’d typically have packed in the bike after running the Dublin Marathon until starting running training properly again in Spring.

Alas, times have changed. Having not been able to run since last April, I’ve been on the bike 3-4 times a week and have pedalled on through the winter months. It’s been cold, it’s been wet and yes, it’s been emotional.

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Some great views from the Wicklow mountains, even in gloomy weather.

Depending on how you just read that, it could sound bleak. It’s not. Heading out early on a winter Sunday morning into a winter fog, trees frozen white and the fields hugging a low white fog… it’s nothing short of religious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to over-romanticise it either – those mornings also involve freezing fingers despite wearing two pairs of gloves and numb feet (particularly the left one for some reason…) And on particularly cold days, it has also meant a very cold head.

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Rainy day winter gear – all the layers!

Cycling in the winter months undoubtedly makes you tougher and more resilient as a cyclist. You don’t look out the winter and think “Nah, it’s too wet/ cold/ windy”. You don’t decide to turn back home just because the wind is kicking your ass after the first hour and you still have 2 more hours to go. If you can be soaked to the skin (wearing 2 jackets…), the wind blowing you backwards and take ANOTHER wrong turn and STILL keep going forward, that’s progress.

It might not feel like it at the time – in fact, it really doesn’t feel like it at the time – but that’s how you grow as a cyclist. It’s a lot like running that way – it’s all in your head. Your mentality is everything both in running and in cycling. Mental toughness is at least half of what makes up the essential ingredients for success.

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One layer, two layer, three potato…four!

Cycling this winter has been a revelation for me and also a kind consolation for not being able to run. It’s given me something to do when I couldn’t pop on my running shoes like I normally would every day. It’s given me the head space and time out I need on a daily basis. And it’s given me something fun to play around with while I wait for my feet to heal.

Having said that… I’m looking forward to the days getting longer and warmer, when I can head up into the Wicklow mountains without any fear of wet roads and, dear God, for those days when I don’t have to wear 3 layers of clothes on the bike! I can’t believe I used to just wear a short-sleeve cycling jersey, shorts and one pair of light socks… shocking.

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The professional cycling season is about to get underway in earnest in next few months with the roll out of the Spring classics and I’m genuinely excited to see how it’s going to unfold. I may not be as tough as those guys, but cycling through these recent winter months, I could at least pretend to be for a few hours ūüėČ

Happy January, roll on February!!