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Learning to ride a road bike (long distances)

EJ learning to ride her bike.

I’m a beginner. It’s fun to be a beginner. You can screw up and nobody cares. You can ask a million ‘stupid’ questions and it’s fine, because you aren’t supposed to know the answer yet.

I’m a beginner at road cycling. Last weekend I joined a cycling club for one of their weekly club rides. I learnt a few interesting things quite quickly:

  • My saddle was too high.
  • My handlebars need to be adjusted to prevent my arms from being locked out.
  • Energy gels are okay but I need some real food to power me through a 50-mile ride.
  • The water in my bottle should have some energy-carbohydrate-powder added to it.
  • An Ordnance Survey map is essential.
  • I should charge my Tesco VX1 Party Phone the day before the ride.
  • Spare tubes are no good without a pump (I didn’t puncture BTW)

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Giving up caffeine: the bastard caffeine withdrawal

For some reason that I can’t remember I decided to give up caffeine. I’d been gently reducing my caffeine intake for a while, thinking that regular cups of coffee and tea might be causing my nocturnal fidgets. But then I stopped completely, and experienced nine days of constant headache. A buzzing, rumbling cancer of a headache.


Withdrawing from caffeine made me think (again) about society’s mixed-up thinking on drugs. Our society thinks it quite okay for nearly every adult human to be completely addicted to a powerful stimulant. A powerful stimulant that gives you a nine-day headache when you stop taking it. And when all of those wired adults want to wind down, our society advises a powerful depressant drug, drunk in great glassfuls. Have a few beers, a bottle of wine or some gin and let your brain melt into your knickers.

We can medicate our moods with stimulants and depressants of one kind, but not another. Addicts of one kind are called you and me, but addicts of another kind are called junkies and criminals. It’s just bloody odd.

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Exercise motivation: finding the motivation to go to the gym

Here are my tips* for getting yourself to go to the gym (or whatever form of exercise you prefer).

I’ve spent years struggling to do things – such as exercising or eating well or not smoking, so it was a revelation to discover that I could (occasionally) control myself!

Anyway, here’s what worked for me:

Power your will

1. Focus on the goal, not the process.

Some people drag themselves through gym classes, thinking about the act of exercising, but exercise is one of those things that demands one foot in the future. Don’t be here now; be tomorrow then. Think of tomorrow. Think how fine your body will feel after exercise. You’re tuning the machine. You’re letting your body’s engine roar, and tomorrow you’ll feel better. Today’s trip to the gym is much more than just a trip to the gym, it’s part of a  lifetime of well-being.

2. Stop telling yourself that you hate exercise.

Why do you hate exercise? Your body is designed to move. To restrict your body is the unnatural thing. Running like a human animal, engaged in a chase, the hunt, fleeing danger; that’s what we’re made for.

3. Just do

People who want to do something often make weak promises, saying things like:

“I’m planning on not drinking this week.”

“I’m aiming for two gym sessions this week.”

“I’m probably going to run today.”

Right. We can all see the intrinsic flaws in these statements. There’s no commitment. There’s a big escape route left in every promise.

So if you’re going to exercise, just say you’re going to exercise. And just do it. Decide to do something, and do exactly that thing. Don’t make vague deals with yourself; decide what you’re going to do and do exactly that.

Sticking to personal promises is addictive. Once you start doing it you’ll find it hard to stop. And once the momentum kicks in you’ll find it impossible to stop.

4. Savour the feelings afterwards.

Okay, so you’ve just done it: you’ve exercised. Good work. How do you feel? You probably feel tired, elated, relaxed, spent, exhausted. That’s good. You’ve wiped away your stress, given yourself a better chance of sleeping well and started something big. Think about tomorrow. Tomorrow you’ll feel better for having exercised today.

When you feel changes in your body, make sure you consciously connect them to your increased exercise. You know what you owe for these good feelings. Your mood is more balanced, your heart beat more tranquil, your complexion more sunny – you owe this to exercise. When you recognise and value the changes that exercise brings you, it becomes impossible to stop exercising because you know that if you stop, so too will the good feelings.

5. Correct your false beliefs.

People have some funny ideas about exercise. Make sure you don’t fall for any crazy ideas…

Exercise makes you tired. No; being unfit makes you tired; exercise gives you energy. If you’re tired, don’t have a nap, go for a run.  So when you’re feeling lethargic, run around the block.

Exercise is a punishment. No it isn’t. Being unable to play football with your teenage children is a punishment.

Exercise is the last thing you need after a hard day. Actually it’s the first thing you need. The last thing you need after a stressful day is a big glass of wine. If you want to reset your stress clock and set yourself up for a good night’s sleep and a happy outlook tomorrow, go to the gym.

6. Say nice things about yourself.

Never say things like:

“I’m not the sort of person who exercises.”

“I’m shit at sports.”

“I should be in the pub.”

You may feel a natural inclination to deprecate your achievements, but don’t. Don’t reduce the power of your improvements with false modesty.

7. Bottle your self-loathing.

By self-loathing I mean all the bad thoughts you have about yourself. The loathing, the resentment, the doubts, the fears. Every time you sigh at your reflection, every time you eat the cake you were supposed to avoid, every time you dream about being fitter and healthier, every time you notice a new wrinkle or roll, put that bad energy in a special place.

And when you’re struggling to persuade yourself to go to the gym, go to that special place, lift up the lid, poke in your nose and inhale deeply. That is why you’re doing it. This is why you are going to the gym right now.

In times of weakness, remind yourself of why this matters to you.

8. Write down and share your commitment

Write down exactly what you’re going to do: when, where and how you’re going to exercise. Now give this promise to a person that you admire. The best person to share it with is someone you want to impress, or someone who you would hate to disappoint. Explain your intentions and ask the recipient to ask you for regular progress reports.

This is a kind of self-entrapment, but if you really want to do something, what are you afraid of?

Related blog post: Writing things down to get things done


*I must point out that I am far from perfect. I eat too much cake, drink lots of beer, enjoy pop music and can be deeply sarcastic. This post is, in many ways, a reminder to myself to be used in times of weakness!

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My oh my oh myoclonic jerks

Mother Tongue: The English Language by Bill Bryson is full of wonderful facts. I recommend it. And I must thank Bill for doing me a huge favour: he’s given me the words to describe an affliction that I’ve struggled with for years: this wicked, involuntary jerking in bed at night- hang on, that doesn’t sound quite right… when falling asleep I often have a kind of giant bodily spasm- no, no, not like that. It’s like a big flinch. Like waking up by falling out of bed. You know what I mean.

Anyway, this phenomenon is known as a myoclonic jerk. I get myoclonic jerks. Do you?

(Cute puppy picture courtesy of Yukari*)

Learning to ride a road bike (long distances)

I’m a beginner. It’s fun to be a beginner. You...
article post

Giving up caffeine: the bastard caffeine withdrawal

For some reason that I can’t remember I decided to give...
article post

Exercise motivation: finding the motivation to go to the gym

Here are my tips* for getting yourself to go to the gym (or...
article post

My oh my oh myoclonic jerks

Mother Tongue: The English Language by Bill Bryson is full...
article post