Hello! I’m over here!

Does weeding burn calories? It better bloody burn calories. We spent three hours weeding the allotment the other day then went back last night to plant out some onions and it was totally chockers with weeds again. I just threw my hoe to the ground and yelled, "THIS IS FUTILE!".

I need to add another item to my Why gardening is like weight loss analogy listit never ends. You dig and dig and dig but you can't stop digging! For there is always more digging to be done. If you don't dig everything will get wild and weedy. Sigh. But hopefully you'll be rewarded with an onion or two, eventually.

I wanted to say that I'm posting more regularly on my non-fat blog What's New Pussycat. This blog actually pre-dates Dietgirl by eight months. It's weird to be able to read what I was thinking about during the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Clue: the same thing as London 2012 – handsome blokes in Speedos!

Sometimes when I'm only writing Dietgirl posts it feels like the state of my lard is the only important thing about me; that my worthiness/interestingness is dependent on the size of my arse. There's a lot more to life than that, and a lot more to me. So I'm having fun waffling on about random things!

I know some folk may only be interested in the lard-related rambles, that's cool! I'll update on that soon. But if you fancy reading about a wider range of topics, I'm over at What's New Pussycat? too. You can subscribe to the feed or I link to the new posts on the DG Facebook page.

Here are some recent posts:

Smiley Wiggo

Hope you're having an ace week!

L’Étape, Oh Crap! – Race Day, Part II

Continued from Part I. More cowbell!

Disclaimer: I don't have an enormously fat back - it's just all gels!

Disclaimer: I don't have an enormously fat back – it's all gels and energy drink sachets in my back pocket!

Climb 2 – Col de Glandon / Col de la Croix de Fer

Stats
Height: 2,020m
Distance: 15 miles / 24km
Height gained: 1,550m
Time taken: 2hrs 40 mins

The Col de Glandon and the Col de la Croix de Fer are actually two tops joined by a short (ha!) 3km climb up in the high mountains. The majority of the climb is up the Col de Glandon and this was to be the road I'd spend the next 2.5 hours grinding my way up!

There was a small feed station at the foot of the mountain and I stopped to take off the jacket I'd worn on the descent and pick up an extra energy bar.

"The Madeleine was really hard!" I said to the lad at the feed station.

"The next one is just as bad," he replied.

Thanks buddy!

And so it began. The temperature was now in the low 30s now, a bit hot for a lad from Fife. As I started to climb my legs were hurting but I noticed my heart rate was down where I expected it to be, around 145-150 bpm. I actually felt ok despite the heat. Climbing the Glandon was brilliant fun as I'd seen this climb on races on TV and there were cows with cowbells around their necks in the fields making the whole thing feel like a strenuous episode of Heidi.

I was actually overtaking people all the way up this climb as my "comfortable" speed and cadence seemed to be a bit higher. Again there was a village half way up where the road levelled out for a bit. There was an opportunity to fill up our water bottles here so as I was really hot I dumped what I thought was my bottle of water over my head. Except, it wasn't water, it was actually energy drink!

I was now trying to get sticky energy drink off my glasses so I could see where I was going, a clear advantage when descending for 20km! My white cycling top also now had some fetching pink / orange stains down the back and my feet were sticking to the pedals.

As we approached the top of the Col de Glandon we saw lots of the French grey nomads, who drive their motorhomes up into the high mountains to watch the Tour de France come through. They were really generous with their support and we tried to grin and grunt a merci in reply to their Allez! and Bravo!

I looked back down the mountain and there it was again, the broom wagon! Like Pacman it crawled along the road a couple of hundred metres below, gobbling up eliminated riders and bikes. Leave me alone you bastards!

The last ramps of the Glandon were wickedly steep and I must admit I had to hop off and join the walking hordes for a bit. I rode the last steep km and crested the top after around 2hrs 25 minutes.

Glandon
A short roll downhill and then another 2 mile / 3km climb and I was at the feed station at the top of the Col de la Croix de Fer.

As I refuelled I admired the incredible scenery I started to think I could pull this off. I'd managed to get up two big mountains and had two more left. I shut my eyes and swayed on my feet a little but I got myself together, put on my jacket and began the 10 mile / 16 km descent to the foot of the Col du Mollard.

Climb 3 – Col du Mollard

Stats
Height: 1,617m
Distance: 3.7 miles / 6km
Height gained: 400m
Time taken: 40 mins

The Col du Mollard was a similar height and length to one of the longer climbs we have around Fife, the climb up Dunning Glen. I'd been up that plenty times so thought I knew what I was in for. But as soon as I hit the lowest slopes I knew it would be tough. Into bottom gear and grind!

Suffer

SUFFER!

More riders were being swept up and as I stopped for a drink I chatted to a lad who was riding for Cancer Research UK. He'd just had to abandon due to severe hamstring cramps. He said he would have given me a push as I got going again but his legs were in bits!

I started doing some arithmetic. The organisers had set a maximum finishing time of 6pm. I was climbing at around 7km/h. I'd been on the road for coming up for 8 hours and it was now around 4pm. I reckoned I'd crest the Mollard at about 4.30pm.

This only gave me 1.5 hours to get down the other side of the Mollard and complete the 17km Categorie One climb up to La Toussuire. Hmmm, at my climbing speed I'd need two hours to get up the final mountain. Shit. My heart sank.

About two thirds of way up the Mollard we came across a girl clanging away on a huge cowbell and yelling, "Allez, allez!". Merci mademoiselle, you cheered me up when I was feeling bad.

At the top I stopped for another drink. I realised that I was not going to make the finishing time. We'd had this drummed into us at the pre-race briefings – no exceptions, you will be eliminated!

It's funny how the body reacts to your thoughts – I was so tired and wanted to curl up and go to sleep. I told myself, just get to the bottom of the next descent.

This one was a beauty – really steep with loads of hairpins demanding concentration and respect. 10 miles/ 16km later I flopped at the feed station and found a patch of shade.

So… wha' happen?

I weighed up my options. It was hot now and the food was sitting in full sunlight. I picked up a banana that was scorching on the outside, hot and runny on the inside. Mmmmm, sun broiled banana! I ate it anyway.

I have to be honest and say that by this point in the day I was completely and utterly f****d.  My mind had cracked on the Mollard when I realised I didn't have enough time to make the final climb. Swinging my leg back over the bike felt impossible. Time for another phone call home.

"Shauna, it's over. I'm out of time. I can't get up the final climb without getting swept! I'm finished, I'm f****d!"

"What do you mean? Have you been swept?"

"No, but I'm out of time, I won't make it up to La Toussuire"

"Have you been stopped?"

"No, but the bus is here. I'm finished."

"Are you sure?"

And so on.

After 83 miles / 133km, 3,688m of climbing and 4,835 calories burned I abandoned the race.

Map

Top: Route map Bottom: My Garmin race map. Notice something missing?

Dickhead Report, Part Deux!

What I didn't find out until the next morning was that it had taken the fastest elite rider half an hour longer to complete the course than predicted. And partly due to this, the race commissaire had extended the finishing time by one whole hour! That news hadn't make it back down the course.

Would I have carried on if I'd known this, or was I genuinely kaput? I'm not entirely sure of the answer, but maybe I would have clambered back on for a final push.

In truth I feel disappointed that I didn't finish. But I'm cutting myself some slack and putting it down to inexperience and unfamiliarity with the way things work.

A couple of days after the race I had a Skype chat with Julia Jones (coach to the Up and Runners and all-round athlete extraordinaire). She beautifully summed up my learnings from the day:

"You'll take some lessons from this experience, then you'll sign up for another race, and next time you will not get off your bike until they drag you off it".

Race Summary

It was a fantastic experience, I loved it. I'm a cycling fan and riding on those roads was amazing. I've put together a list of some of the positives from the both the training and race below. There weren't really any negatives!

1. Fitness – At the age of 39 I am now a fitter cyclist than I have ever been. The next project is to ride 100 miles in a day (a century) and to keep the fitness up to allow me to do some more races next year.

2. Riding in the Alps – amazing scenery and amazing roads. I watched the Tour de France doing the same stage on Thursday and thought "I got up that!" Apart from the last one, ahem…

3. My first race / sportive was the Etape du Tour - Maybe a tad ambitious but after getting up the Col du Glandon the hills around here no longer scare me. Bring on the Etape Caledonia or similar!

4. Where I started – I started this having been unwell and I trained hard. I nearly made it to the end of the Etape and I have to remind myself of my starting point when I think of where got to and where I will hopefully end up.

5. I'll be back! – I will ride the race again next year and I will apply what I have learned and I will not get off my stinking bike until I am forced off at gunpoint or I cross the finishing line!

6. The MS Society – Thanks to the generosity of many people we made £1,080 for the MS Society. Huge thanks to you all!

Now it's time to bolt the bike back together and get training for the next one.

Au revoir!

BRAVO DR. G! / BRA DR.

BRAVO DR. G! / BRA DR.

L’Étape, Oh Crap! – Race Day, Part I

Here's the first part of Gareth's Etape du Tour race report! Contains farts, cheese, bunting and fleeing from the cops.

Hello again everybody. I'm back home after a quick trip to France and my wee spin through the mountains. I left home early on the Friday and made my way to Albertville via Geneva for the start of Acte 1 of the Etape du Tour. I enjoyed the two hour bus trip from the airport watching the mountains getting closer (and bigger) the further south we went. For a cycling fan, it was very exciting to arrive in Albertville and see the posters announcing the Tour Depart and the bunting made of of minature tour jerseys.

Bunting

Albertville with Tour de France bunting

The next morning I signed my bike bag out of the store and took it out to the assembly area which happened to be in a church yard…

Assembly
The Big Man must have been looking out for me as my bike went back together no problem and the gears etc worked perfectly. A few people were having problems and after having no joy with divine intervention had to search out one of the bike mechanics who were working at the store. After quickly blowing up my tyres it was time for a spin back to the hotel where we were allowed to keep our bikes in our rooms. 

Bike

Twenty kazillion gels not pictured

Then it was off to registration to get my race numbers and goody bag. My favourite freebie was a re-usable shopping bag which packs up to look like a yellow jersey!

Yellow

Wonder if Wiggo gets these too? 😉

The real Tour de France was on TV so I watched that and hid from the sun (35 degrees you know) as I got all my gels, powders, flapjacks, drinks bottles and clothes ready for the race. I stuffed all my nutrition into my jersey pockets and tried to figure out how I was going to get up the climbs with what felt like half a ton of bricks on my back.

After another meal of pasta and water it was time to try and get some sleep.

Race Day

After a nervous night's sleep the alarm went off at 5am. After breakfast and sorting my gear it was off to the starting pen. We had to be there by 6:45, ready to set off around 8am. I had a bit of a job syncing my heart rate monitor to my Garmin as most of the other 5,500 cyclists were wearing similar kit! When I finally got it sorted it read 100bpm which was a surprise as my resting heart rate is usually around 50bpm. I must have been nervous!

It was raining a little but it was nice and warm, around 20'C. As the elite riders departed we moved up towards the starting line. It was really starting to sink in now… I was going to try to ride a Tour de France stage up some of Europe's most difficult and classic mountain climbs! I must admit I may have gotten something in my eye at this point.

Then we were off!

The first 19km / 12 miles wound through Albertville and snaked round to the bottom of the first climb, the Col de la Madeleine. As we rode through the town and villages people were standing watching and applauding shouting, "Bravo! Allez, allez!". The French love their cycling and it was fantastic experiencing this first hand.

The riders were travelling along a a fair rate of knots, around 25 mph / 40 km/h, and I got myself in a mini peloton and tried to keep up. It hadn't yet dawned on me why everyone was flying along at this stage of the race. I was intending using the relatively flat initial stages to warm up the legs and get ready for the climb!

Climb 1 – Col de la Madeleine, Hors catégorie climb

Stats:
Height above sea level:
1,950m
Distance: 16 miles / 26 km
Height gained: 1,530m
Time taken: 2hrs 20 mins

The longest climb I'd done in Scotland was about 3.5 miles taking around 20 minutes so I was now entering unknown territory. As we climbed up through the trees the gradient wasn't too bad, around 10%, and as we rode around hairpin bends and up ramps I was feeling ok. I was still struggling to get my heart rate down to where I wanted it but put this down to nerves and adrenaline as I didn't think I was climbing particularly quickly.

We broke out of the tree cover and started getting views back down the valley and it was stunning! At a height of around 1,000m the road levels off for a mile or so so you can get your breath back and get ready for the second part of the climb. I was still feeling quite happy at this point. Then the sun came out!

We still had 950m to climb over a distance of 8 miles / 13km. It was getting warmer and the climbing felt harder. I really started to feel like I'd been going uphill forever and I remembered people who had ridden these roads telling me that unless you have climbed for 2 hours or more without a break then nothing really prepares you for it psychologically. As it got hotter and we got further up the mountain I noticed that I was starting to see double and that my hearing was drifting in and out. Kinda weird!

Now (rather unfairly I think) it turns out that the race organisers start the broom wagon at the same time as the last riders. Wikipedia says a broom wagon is, "the affectionate name for the vehicle that follows a Cycle Road Race picking up stragglers (or sweeping them up) who are unable to make it to the finish of the race within the time permitted." In this case the broom wagon consisted of huge red trucks to scoop up the bikes and Buses of Shame to collect the riders, with policeman and race officials on motorbikes in front, breathing down our necks the whole way. 

Broom wagon trucks poised to sweep, the day before the race

Broom wagon trucks poised to sweep, the day before the race

I hadn't ridden a race before and don't mind admitting I was a little bit green as to what goes on. About two thirds of the way up the mountain a motorbike came up beside my group and the race official shouted "Monsieurs! Out of time! Stop! You are out of the race!".

What?! I hadn't even made the first summit! So that's why all the riders were flying along at the start – to try and get away from these guys! Adrenaline kicked in and I put my head down and pedalled furiously! My first broom wagon escape of the day.

The hairpin bends kept on coming, the temperature went up and up, my vision and hearing got worse. Then I discovered another hazard of high carb consumption and unrelenting mountain climbing. As I made my way up a slope the lad in front of me started farting! Big rippers too! So, not only was my heart rate and breathing around my maximum, I was breathing in farts!

At last I made it to the top and stopped at the water station to refill my bottles. My confidence had taken a bit of a knock after my unexpected run-in with the broom wagon and I felt a bit low for finding the climb so difficult.

After a good drink it was time for the first big descent, around 20km to the town of La Chambre on the valley floor. Lots of technical hairpin bends made the descent really good fun and I reached the bottom with my ears popping from the altitude change.

Madeleine

Check out the picture quality of a vintage 2001 Nokia phone 😉

I stopped at the feeding station and took the opportunity to give Shauna a quick call.

"Shauna! This is really hard and I got caught by the sweep on the Madeleine and I don't think I'm going to get up the next climb and I'm going to get chucked out of the race!"

She told me to chill and get back on the bike.

At this point the bloody broom wagon loomed into view again. I jumped back on the bike, rode around the sweep's accompanying Gendarmes and motorbikes and fled across the flatlands to the bottom of the next climb…

Stay tuned for the conclusion tomorrow!

Tuning back in

Let's call this a belated June monthly checkin, even thought it's nearly half July.

I keep forgetting that I want to lose weight. You may roll your eyes and say that is the stupidest thing ever written, but let me explain how this can happen.

Firstly, I'm a happy lady. I'm lucky to know a lot of nice people, I've found fulfilling work and my salad leaves are growing despite all the rain. I don't hate myself or my body anymore. I'm rolling with the ups and downs of life.

Secondly, I'm easily distracted. For example, I've been getting lost in work, perving at Euro 2012 footballers, bellowing at Andy Murray on the telly and belatedly discovering Charlotte Brontë. Ooh look over there, new Tweets. I haven't refreshed Instagram in 27 seconds. Ooh look a random story about Katie Holmes. I'll be back in a minute…

Thirdly, I lull myself into a false sense of progress coz the extremes are gone. The binging has stopped and I'm so mindful with the big events these days. Example, another Cake Ladies meetup the other day: I chose a couple of favourites, stopped when the body said whoa there and did not feel bereft at the cake left behind.

So I kinda float along through my days feeling quite content… until, POW!

… I browse a sales rack at a favourite clothing shop and realise nothing will fit

… my dodgy knee decides to reassert itself

… I spy an old dress in my wardrobe and realise I still can't get into it

… I eat a handful of "Gareth's" choc-chip cookies with a cup of tea and it's not until I notice the crumbs on my t-shirt that I say…

OH CRAP, HANG ON… remember you wanted to bust some lard here?

I'm still rubbish at keeping my mind and body connected. I'm always drifting away into la la land, losing sight of what I want and where I want to go.

I may not have binged for ages now, but the day-to-day eating is still rather sloppy and random. The proof is on the scales – I've been the same weight for six weeks now. It's not a weight that I want to maintain.

But how to light a fire under my butt, in a kind and caring way? I don't feel the same urgency as I did at 350lb, when I hated myself so much I wanted to hack off my excess flesh with a chainsaw. And I'm not consumed by the fear of disappointing strangers like I was with the book thing. It's nice to not be full of fear, shame and loathing anymore but, dang, they were some powerful motivators.

I reckon the best tactic is to keep reminding myself of all the positive reasons WHY. It's worked well to  get my exercise back on track. So I've distilled my reasons into a handy song to mutter to myself when making choices. You know that kids' tune "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes"? My version is "Head Shoulders Knees and Clothes".

  • head – good food = mental clarity; keeps Black Dawg in kennel
  • shoulders – I want to feel strong and foxy, both now and in old age
  • knees – they hurt and they need me to lighten the load, seriously
  • and clothes – I just want more options, dammit!

It's cheese, but it's concise cheese.

In addition to keeping my brain in the here and now, here's what else I'm working on:

Automating brekkie and lunch
I'm getting back in the habit of tasty yogurt/fruit/seeds for brekkie and mega salads for lunch, prepared in advance so no matter how busy I get, I can make two delicious and mindless-in-a good-way choices per day.

Put my food on a plate and sit down to eat it
I've been sloppy on this one. No spear fishing in front of the fridge! And remember that I am not training for an endurance event, I don't need as much on my plate as Gareth, for crying out loud.

Tune in
My favourite principle from the Beyond Chocolate book. Today I've started an experiment with the DietSnaps app that dear Jen posted about. I want to get back in the habit of pausing and tuning into hunger signals/feelings before I eat. Taking a photo of my meal (just a quick snap; no choreography or fancy napkins) could be a nice way to get me to slow down, think about what's on the plate, sing that little song and remember what I want and why.

Ahh… it's an adventure that never ends. I'll report back next week!

Check out these mega mountains!

Just a quickie before I get back to my own far less glamourous adventures… any Tour de France nerds out there? Stage 11 today Albertville > La Toussuire – Les Sybelles is the one that Dr G tackled this past Sunday! If you want to oggle some awesome Alps and you're in the UK, it's live on ITV4 (on telly and online) from 12pm with the highlights show at 7pm.

This video (thanks Gillian!) gives you a great stickybeak at the stunning scenery, too:

The weary bloke has got one more day to recover, by the way, then I'll be cracking the blog-writing whip 😉