Circuits Royale: For Littles!

This is a REALLY short blog post. More of a continuation than a post…

After unleashing Circuits Royale into the internet, I had literally twos of messages from parents requesting a kid’s version. WELL, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I set to work and transformed it into a fun activity for little people that might help pass some time during this… coronavirus hiatus.

Just like the Original Version, you can make this last as long as you want to suit you and your minis – it all depends on how many times you throw the dice.

How does it work?

  • Firstly, decide whether you want to include all of the columns (Let’s Pretend [pretty active], Animal Moves [also pretty active] and Body Shapes [more chill]).
  • Then, with the columns you’re including, decide which order you’ll do them in.
  • Now it’s time to roll the dice!
  • If you’ve decided to do all 3 columns, in the order they’re shown and you roll 4, 1, 6, 2, 2, 5 your activity will look like this:
  • Sailing a boat, Jump like a frog, Arrow shape, Astronaut on the moon, Walk like a bear, Make a star shape.
  • Alternatively, you can just do one at a time, picking a column and throwing the dice.
  • Basically, you can play however you like!

I’ve included a suggestion for how long to spend doing the different movements, but that’s really up to you too (and their attention spans).

You don’t need any apparatus, just a bit of space, which can be inside or outside!

I hope you find it useful and, most of all, loads of fun.

Hugs,
J x

Naturally Cycling

That’s right! Today’s post I’m talking about periods. Sort of. I’m actually wanting to hone in on the complicated, but prevalent topic of hormonal contraceptives. “WHAT?! WHY?!” I hear you exclaim, “Last week you were talking about turbo training and training apps, and now you want me to sit here and read about PERIODS and THE PILL?”  

Yes, folks, I do.  And if you are a person that doesn’t have periods/take the Pill, then I hope you still carry on reading, because there’s a very high chance that people close to you do/are. I want to shed light on this topic in the context of sport and exercise, because I think we are vastly and hugely under-informed. Through no fault of our own, I might add. The science world has done a number on us over the years. Not including women in studies, essentially because it’s too awkward. Yes. The fact that women have menstrual cycles/hormonal fluctuations makes it more difficult to control study parameters, so the solution tends to be, you know, just don’t include them. FANTASTIC. However, the (sort of) good news is, in 2016 the National Institute of Health (NIH) mandated that ‘…any research money it granted must include female animals.’ Well, that’s a start, I suppose.

This post shouldn’t be too long (she says), because I can’t possibly do the subject matter justice and I don’t want to be having to write a reference list, bibliography and getting a peer review, if you know what I meannn.

The purpose is to introduce you to some of the things that blew my mind, prompted me make a pretty big decision, which I’ll tell you about, and point you towards the pieces of writing I have read (or am currently reading). I hope that you’ll go away from this post inspired to read a little more, dig a little deeper and potentially discover some things you didn’t already know.

Back in November I picked up a copy of Roar by Dr. Stacy Sims, whose mantra is ‘Women are not small men.’ Touching on the idea that you can’t study men and simply extrapolate the findings to women. [Please note, when I say Men and Women in this post, I’m referring to the chromosomal basis of gender: males (XX) and females (XY)]. Roar is the first thing you should put on your reading list, okay? Write that down. It is an extremely interesting book about how women can enhance their training by monitoring their menstrual cycle and working with it. She describes it as an ergogenic aid (broadly defined as ‘a technique or substance used for the purpose of enhancing performance’). For example, knowing that at certain times of the month, we respond better to high intensity training and at other times to endurance. It suggests how best to fuel at certain times of the month and when it’s critical to keep an eye on protein intake.

If you’re not a big reader or don’t have a lot of time, then check out this YouTube video or this Podcast (there are more, just Google her name).  Whilst I was making my way studiously through this fascinating book, I came across a SHOCKING stat.

In a study of women on the Pill vs. women not on the Pill, those that were on the Pill experienced 50% less muscle gain during the same duration and type of training than the women that were not on the Pill. WHAT!? To me that was insane. I’d dedicated a LOT of my youth to competitive running and the idea that I’d potentially scuppered myself for no real reason made me pretty mad.

I had been on and off various types of Pill for years. Since I was about 17 when I got it to help bring some regularity into my life. It wasn’t a form of contraception back then (I was too busy running all the time for boyfriends), just a way for me to not get caught out (I also thought my boobs might grow, but no luck there). Also, everybody was on it, so it seemed like the obvious thing to do.

This is where my first issue lies. The GP I saw way back when, was quite happy to prescribe me the Pill, she told me how to take it and that I would need to come back in a few weeks to check that my blood pressure was okay. Other than that, I wasn’t given any other information. She didn’t ask me about my lifestyle or whether I was sporty etc. etc. This is NOT meant to be a slur against my GP or any GPs anywhere, I know they are under immense pressure and simply do not have the time to spend hours talking about this kind of thing. But I think the Pill has become something that women are expected to be on and, actually, we should be educated far more about it and given a lot more guidance around what might be best on an individual basis. Whether that’s in school or at a special clinic, I don’t know. But it’s a far bigger commitment than the 10-minute (if you’re lucky) appointment at the docs.

“[the contraceptive Pill is] a vast uncontrolled experiment, unparalleled in the history of medicine.”

Barbara Seaman, 1969
How I feel about vast uncontrolled experiments.

I had no idea that taking this tiny Pill would have such an effect on my entire body. I had no idea it would affect my sports performance (I genuinely wouldn’t have gone on it) and I certainly had no notion that if I felt like crap on it, that was normal, in fact, very probable, and I could come back and try another one. And another one. And another one… if need be, to find one that suited me better. It was just assumed (hoped) that I’d be fine and not come back.

Do you know there are 42 different types of hormonal contraceptive? No. I didn’t either. I learned that the other day in this book: This Is Your Brain on Birth Control, by Sarah Hill. This is the second book for your reading list. This one is less sports based and focuses on the numerous ways in which hormonal contraceptives addle our brains; how they influence our decision making, ability to react to stress, our capacity to retain information, who we are attracted to (and vice versa) and how we feel about our appearance, whilst also physically changing our appearance (weight, chest size, skin). Some of these things you might have experienced, and quite happily and consciously put it down to Pill taking, but some of these side-effects might be affecting you without you really knowing it…

* Jess you said you would keep this short *

Okay, yes, yes. SO. For a while I’d been feeling not quite myself. George and I had been going through a lot; moving house, changing jobs, deciding to do ridiculous cycle challenges, and I kept describing to him that I didn’t feel right. I felt fuzzy. Cloudy.

Flat.

Actual image of my brainium.

I thought I was just not coping very well with all the change, and was just waiting for it to pass once we’d settled into our life properly. I was also enduring a ‘period’ (actually a withdrawal bleed. Hormonal contraceptives suppress your genuine period) every two weeks pretty much, preceded by a week feeling physically in pain in various parts of my bod. NOT JOYOUS. Again, I just kept telling myself it would eventually pass.

But after reading that fact in Roar (the one about the 50% less muscle gain) I started to wonder whether I was feeling so odd because something tiny and shoved inside my right inner arm 18 months previously was having more power over me than I could ever have imagined. With this big TdF challenge looming ahead, I didn’t want to encumber myself in any way, especially when I was seemingly experiencing so many other downsides.

Possibly the worst selfie ever taken? Possibly. I think I sent this to George, like, “LOOK AT MY MASSIVE WOUND.” But it was quite deep and has left a scar.

THUSLY (great word), I decided in December to have the tiny monstrosity extracted from my arm. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but the Doctor was literally digging around in there for what felt like hours until she triumphantly raised the match-sized BRAIN-FOGGER into the air.

“Got it!”

She asked why I wanted it out and I explained that I’d done some reading and had decided I wasn’t too happy about what I thought the hormones were doing to me. That I believed I wasn’t myself whilst it was in there and, also, I wanted to get hench.

Just kidding! I will literally never be hench.

50% more muscle please.

She was pretty keen for me to go back on some other type of hormonal contraceptive, but I said, ‘No thanks.’ And skedaddled. I know too much now and I’m not going to put myself through it again. Plus, there are other ways and means for, you know, stuff…and things… *awkward snuffle*.

Also, I’m intrigued to see whether I notice any differences in my performance now I’m synthetic-hormone free and having normal periods. [Check out this article about the England football team training around their menstrual cycles (nice one, Neville)].

It’s been a couple of months now and I can honestly say I feel so much better. The brain fog has lifted, I feel more alert, generally happier and my periods come just once a month (hurrah!).

I wanted to write this not to scaremonger (scaremong? Scaremongerize?) or sensationalise. I’m not saying everyone should immediately whip out/halt their hormonal contraceptive (I cannot take responsibility for lots of new born babies, although I WOULD happily cuddle each and every one of them), but I am saying make sure you’re really and truly aware of its influence on you. If you’ve been on one for years and years, it can be hard to know what normal is. If you feel like you’ve been on them all, there are probably others that are better! Keep trying.

So, if this has sparked your interest, definitely read the books and articles I’ve included in this post. Google around, there are more books and more articles, and make sure your brain and body are living their best life.

“By altering our natural hormone levels, the Pill induces in us a different biochemical and psychological stage of life we’re in and may affect our unfoldment thereafter…While it may be difficult to prove the effect that taking the Pill has on our psychological development we can see that through its profound hormonal impact the Pill may also be interfering with the fundamental chemistry of who we are and what we can become”.

Maeve McKeivor, from here

Thanks so much for reading!

J x

My Racing Year in Review

Scroll back through this blog and you’ll trace my short journey as a cyclist…starting with commuting, getting deep into distance riding and Audax, dipping my toes into competitive riding by doing some club TTs, then somehow finding myself on the start line of actual races.

You’ll see that I’ve always been reluctant to race. Without going on and on about it (because I think I already have), I’m extremely risk averse, never been one for adrenaline (adrenaline = fear, not joy) and I generally try to avoid all scenarios that could feasibly result in injury.

HOWEVER, all these feelings have gradually been worn down by my innate competitiveness and, I suppose, the relatively easy access I’ve had to racing:

  • Friends who race (encouragement and motivation)
  • A boyfriend who races (the above plus travel and logistics)
  • Working in the cycling industry (equipment to use)
  • A long history of competitive endurance sport (a decent fitness base to allow me to feel I could maybe do alright)

Add to that the feeling that I wanted to be part of trying to improve women’s participation in competitive cycling, and I think that sums it all up.

Here I am, summing something up. Blooh blah blah BIKES.

Since March 9th of this year, I’ve done 7 road races (including a stage race), 3 crit races and 11 time trials and, honestly, I am now TIRED.

Highlights

  • Being part of a team and enjoying the camaraderie of the Jam Cycling RT Ladies.
  • The absolute jubilation of completing my first road race without dying/crashing/puncturing/crying.
  • Coming 4th at the Team MK Central League road race. (No, I don’t know how that happened either).
  • Experiencing a stage race competing at the Tour of Sussex.
  • Finishing the Cold Dark North Masters National Champs. SO. HARD.
  • Completing my first 10-mile TT on my ‘proper’ TT bike.
  • Getting a PB on TT number 9 on the hottest evening EVER.
On my way to 4th place at MK RR. Won £20 i.e. Maccers on the way home. Yas.

Low points

  • Fear of being in the bunch. It never really got any easier.
  • Getting spat almost immediately in the first few road races.
  • Still struggling to corner, no matter how hard I tried.
  • Imposter syndrome (because points 1 and 3).
  • Cancelled events. It’s just disappointing.

So, what have I learnt?

A lot. There are so many feelings.

  • I am not cut out to be a bike racer. No. No. It’s not something I can ‘learn’. Bike racers are a different breed of person and I will be forever in awe. Yes, I could become a better bike handler, I could do drills, ride cyclocross, attend training sessions with cones on the floor for me to ride around. But unfortunately, my innate sense of danger is something that can’t be overridden and, at my age and stage in life, I’m not willing to take the risks associated with riding bikes quickly in groups of people.
  • HOWEVER, if I wanted to carry on racing simply for the pure fun of it, I now know I can. I might not be hugely skilled, but I know how to ride to keep myself and those around me safe. It doesn’t translate to placing very high up though…
  • A full bike season of racing (plus two house moves) has resulted in almost zero adventure/endurance riding. I feel like I’ve done nothing but ride my bike, whilst also having ridden nowhere in particular. And that isn’t why I started riding bikes. Bring back the 200-km and 300-km weekend adventures! I’ve missed them so much.
  • The organisation/structure/foundation of competitive bike racing is so infuriatingly messed up, I have run out of energy trying to engage with it. I don’t know how I can help, how it can improve or what it’ll take to see systemic change. It’s been exhausting engaging with it to the extent I have, and I’m sure compared with some people, that’s not even that much.
  • Although it all seemed very scary at the outset, the camaraderie amongst the women I have raced with has been lovely. Despite a lot of races being disappointing for various reasons, I almost always came away having met someone lovely during/after a race. There’s definitely something special about women’s racing and those that participate, and it’s one of the main things I’ll miss if I don’t race again.
  • Time trials are ADDICTIVE. I’ve tried hard to stay away from the must-buy-stuff-to-go-faster mind-set and I’ve done pretty well (I still haven’t even got a special helmet). I’ll definitely continue doing time trials and look forward to seeing my times improve: A, from better, more focused training then B, …BUYING STUFF.
  • Finally… CLICHÉ ALERT … but I have really experienced the whole, if you put your mind to it, you can do it…thing. I’d never in a million years have thought I’d be OK about riding on time trial bars (i.e. nowhere near my brakes) at speeds of up to 65km/h (that’s downhill, btw). I didn’t think I could ever be assertive at the start of the race and sit in the front of the group, but I did. And I often didn’t think I’d make it around some of the road race courses unscathed, but I always did. So that’s definitely been confidence boosting.

When I look back at the season I’ve done, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and how I’ve coped with so often being out of my comfort zone (more mentally than physically. I live for being physically out of my CZ, but avoid mental turmoil wherever possible). I don’t regret any of it and wouldn’t change it. I also would still recommend racing to anyone that shows an interest; I can completely see how and why other people love it. But now I firmly know that I don’t need to race bikes to feel like I’ve achieved something. From now on, for 90%* of my bike riding, I want to go back to the motto that got my cycling off the ground; that of 10000kmcc:

It’s not about winning and it’s not about the stats. It’s not about being the best. 
It’s about putting in the distance, consistently. It’s about the roads, the journey and the rest stops. 
It’s not about going fast. It’s about going far. 

J x

*The other 10% will be riding as hard and fast as possible for short amounts of time, by myself, on a silly bike!

Mind Over Muscle

…perhaps this will encourage you to get out there and let the body and mind wander about a bit.

This week I was reminded of a video that I initially saw about a year ago called The Runners. Although I’d seen it many times before, I clicked the link again and watched the 11 minute film.

Then watched it again.

I just love it.

I know this blog is about my attempt at cycling, but I wanted to post this here because I think as many people as possible should see it. And also because what I have to say about it applies to cycling and basically any form of activity*.

WATCH NOW PLEASE.

What do you think? Does it resonate with you? Do you get it? Or not at all?

What’s incredible is that these people are out on their run, minding their own business and suddenly are confronted by a complete stranger (with camera), who then proceeds to fire questions at them; pretty deep questions. Although they were met with some resistance, a whole host of people replied. In fact ‘reply’ doesn’t cut it, these people laid themselves bare.

AND IT’S BLOODY BRILLIANT.

Not because I enjoy delving into people’s lives, but because it perfectly demonstrates the major benefit of exercising that has nothing to do with abs or biceps, fast times or weight loss. Exercising is so incredibly important for our mental wellbeing and I wish this was peddled more as a benefit. It’s more accessible. Some people aren’t competitive. Not everyone wants to ‘get lean’. Most people don’t give two hoots about smashing a Strava segment.

But everyone needs an outlet and I think exercising is a phenomenal one.

It’s ace because when you go alone, it gives you time to think. The rhythm of what you’re doing (whether it be walking, pedalling, running, swimming…) makes you focus, but only to some extent. I think of it like my mind is a balloon; where the repetitive motion is the string, which keeps me from swooping off uncontrollably, but my thoughts are free to dip and float and bob around until I come to some sort of conclusion.

img_4059

When you exercise with someone else, the same kind of focus is there, but rather than thoughts bouncing around inside your head, you’re able to let them come tumbling out of your mouth. And because you’re most likely side-by-side with your exercising buddy, it doesn’t feel quite so intense as when your face-to-face. In this way, it’s almost a socially acceptable way of talking to yourself. If you’re as lucky as I am, you may have friends who not only listen beautifully to the verbal onslaught, but who then offer up advice, encouragement, reinforcement, empathy and motivation. Not so long ago I was crying for the first mile of a run and laughing by the eighth (FYI both laughing and crying wreak havoc on the whole controlled breathing thing).

Processed with Snapseed.
Pic: Rich Frazier

I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to get caught up in chasing goals and hitting targets; I am really guilty of this. Every outing becomes ‘a session’ and if it doesn’t go to plan in some way then it was a waste of time; but this isn’t how it should be.

We exercise because we love it; we meet people, it’s good for our physical health, maybe it keeps us looking a certain way. Yet we mustn’t forget that we exercise because it is wonderful for our minds. So if you’re already a regular sweater, perhaps this will serve as a reminder to leave the watch/bike tech./headphones at home sometimes, and allow yourself to wallow, mull, ponder, contemplate, speculate, dwell, exCOGitate… If you don’t do much in the way of exercise at the moment, perhaps this will encourage you to get out there, and let the body and mind wander about a bit.

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It does you the world of good.

J x

*And ACTUALLY if you MUST know, a bike was critical in the making of this film: One dude** on bike, one dude** in trailer with camera. Ipso facto this post is apropro.

**Being: Ivo Gormley and Matan Rochlitz 

INCIDENTALLY, if you like to run and do good things too, check out Ivo’s project, GoodGym.