The View from my Bike


A Field of Flowering Rapeseed

There is something in the freedom of the road: it brings out the dreamer in me.

Freshly cut grass, sunshine and birdsong have prompted the first annual outing of my bike from the rickety garden shed. Tyres pumped, WD40 sprayed, helmet dusted off and I am ready to go.

There is no better way to travel the countryside than a bicycle in low gear. There is the little matter of pedalling every now and again, but, in effect, you are an armchair traveller whizzing through a multisensory three dimensional film.

All around me an intensity of greens fly past, broken only by little delights: a red-doored cottage, a lichen-covered stone wall, or-my favourite- a ditch clustered with creamy primroses.

As always, I wonder about the stories the landscape holds. A mound in a field may well be Neolithic and its stones may hold tales from thousands of years. The land farmed then, is land farmed now, the cattle and sheep possible descendants from the  livestock  then. And the river, wending its way through the pasture as it has wended for all eternity varying its route only on the whim of Nature or the hand of man.

Along the roadside, the stone cottages tell of a time when the landlord ruled and the tenant farmer paid his rent with the toil of his entire family.

And the plain two storey farm dwelling set in among the fields tells of a family who may have farmed there for generations.

Some houses lie in ruins, bramble and ivy springing from their stones, and perhaps, a lilac or a currant bush telling of a time when the woman of the house tended the garden and kept the fire in the hearth ablaze.

Five miles done and already I am imagining a week like this. Just me, the bike, two panniers. I did it before. A week in Clare. I still recall the delight of whizzing along the coast, mountains or rock to my right and the never-ending swathe of wild Atlantic to my right.

There is the little matter of that being thirty years ago. But still…

Overhead the sandmartins swoop and dive. They are the first members of the swallow family to make it to our shores and a very sure sign that summer is on its way.

Two pied wagtails bicker on a bungalow gutter and a cat pounces into a hedge prompting a swift alarm call from a startled blackbird.

If I were running this route I would see all of this though the labour intensity of the run might colour the joy a little. But the running means I can cycle for longer too. Its a perfect partnership.

I wonder how much I could cycle every day. Forty miles? Fifty maybe? I’d like enough time to stop for a while and explore stone and plant and river. Enough time to picnic on a warm rock overlooking the sea, or amble into a café for some local fare.

I have no recollection of any of these details from thirty years ago. Only the Clare scenery remains embedded in my memory.

Thirty years on and, of course, I would blog about it. And take photographs. Already one pannier is filling with ipad and wire and cameras and lenses…

And the road rambles on. Occasionally, a two tonne ball of metal hurtles past leaving me shuddering in its wake. I have been that motorist speeding past the unsuspecting cyclist. I ruefully reflect on how biking can complement driving too: it takes doing one to understand the other.

The sun is sinking lower on the horizon now, and the sky teases with faintest peaches and buttery yellows. I am heading into dusk and miles from home.

In all my pre ride prep, I had failed to attach a light to the front of my bike. I pedal faster.

What else would I need to think of for a longer road trip? Punctures. Could I fix one? Nope. Chain breaks? Snookered there too.

By now the faster pedalling and the fear of becoming roadkill were beginning to take their toll. The gears-never a strong point on my horse of a bike-juddered uncertainly and threatened to dislodge the chain as I hit an uphill swoop. Even the passing acres of glorious rapeseed yellows were losing their appeal.

I wondered about the Teens in my supposed week long absence. Sure, their independent living skills are coming along. But what if-and I had heard other parents’ tales of horror-what if their skills extended to opening beer cans and having what Teen Son tells me is called a ‘Gaff Party’? And what if the house were thrashed? Or someone died?

I am exhausted by it all and I already have fears that two panniers will not accommodate my worldly needs for one week. Maybe I should just be happy with what I have enjoyed this day.

Sixteen miles done. Cross training sorted. And I am home.

Pleased with myself I wrestle off my helmet and Teen Boy looks out from behind his laptop.

“Mum,I’m hungry”, he says with a smile.

Yes, I am home.

Evening Run Skerries Harbour

Evening Sky over Skerries Harbour

Evening Sky over Skerries Harbour

I am sticking to a plan. Hal`s plan. This may see me to the Dublin city marathon in October. It may not. All hinges on injury recovery. And my predisposition to laziness.

If I`m not recovered on time, well then, there`s other races, other days. Meanwhile, I`m going to keep moving and have fun while I`m doing it. Fun actually improves my work ethic. At least that`s my excuse.

Martello Tower Loughshinney

Martello Tower Loughshinney

So, in that spirit, I made a bit of a photorun out of yesterday`s jog. Dropped into Loughshinny, North of Dublin first. Definitely a place worth returning to as it has a really nifty little beach and harbour. Unfortunately, it was exceptionally dull when I got there-lots of grey cloud and grey sand and grey sea so my pic haul there was poor. But it`s definitely worth a return trip.

Lucky Dog

Spot the Dog

By the time I`d made it to Skerries, however, the sun was peeking through. Sadly, our heatwave is gone. Yesterday evening was actually chilly. So chilly I was cursing myself for not bringing my fleece running jacket. Yes, that`s how cold it was. Damn.

Beached Boats

Beached Boats

But the sun was being brave and there were actually a lot of runners and walkers doing their thing along the harbour. Skerries has the advantage of having a very long promenade all along it`s coastline. It has a delightful harbour, terrific harbour and wonderful views of Shennick, Colt and St.Patrick`s island off coast.

Further out is Rockabill Island, with it lighthouse and, I`m told, the largest roseate tern population in Europe. There are boat trips out to Rockabill and to nearby Lambay island. Might be worth a look see some day when I get a lot better at using my new camera.

Skerries Harbour

Skerries Harbour

Pics taken, views enjoyed, I contented myself with a three mile mediocre trot along the coast. My quads were still wincing from a sixteen mile cycle I`d undertaken on Tuesday. Happy days, as it gave me the perfect excuse for a very slow lazy run. No, Hal won`t be happy but I have every intention of making up for that again.

And you know what they say about the road to hell…

On Your Bike

I`ve been cycling almost since I started walking. There were no stablizers in those days. And no child sized bikes either. No siree, we were expected to start on Mother`s high nellie

BikeThe fact that our legs were too short to allow us sit on the saddle and reach the pedals, was irrelevant. The need to run an errand for Mother meant we would learn to swiftest way possible to complete it. Calling into Aunty or Gran on a message, meant cycling would have to be mastered or else we would be condemned to shank`s mare as a mean of transport.

And so, being the clumsiest of my siblings, I gathered a myriad of injuries in my determination to ride the high nellie. One such, left my chin bruised for days. I have no memory of the fall. Nor of mother`s reaction. Though I can clearly recall the pain of my bruised jaw. My mother wasn`t the fretting sort and I was none the worse for that. I was still let off down the road on that bike again until, eventually, I mastered the delicate art of balancing a bag of groceries on one handle bar, while pedalling furiously off-saddle.

I actually got to enjoy cycling. Which is just as well, as it was our chief mode of transport to school. No ownership was declared over the motley selection of bikes at our house. In any case, they were all either second hand or borrowed for long term use from some cousin or aunt who no longer needed them. There was an understanding that they bikes might be passed on to another member of the extended tribe or revert to their original owners so they were called Aunt`s bike, or Cousin Tom`s bike but never our bikes.

So, when I first started working, I was thrilled to actually purchase a bike of my own. What a joy it was to travel the roads once again. And this time on a proper bike. With gears-gears! And brakes that actually worked.Cycling became an even greater delight when I took the chance to explore further and further afield, sometimes taking off for a few days to travel more distant parts of this island.

Cycling kept me fit before running ever came along. And the thing is,the fitness element was secondary to the sheer joy of whizzing along on two wheels.

This has been my bike for the past six years.

Ready for Action

Ready for Action

I have to admit to having an on-again, off-again affair with it. I`d go through weeks of cycling every day. Then, just as suddenly, inclement weather or sheer busyness would force me off road again and back to my lazy ways.

The bike`s perfect. In a functional road bike sort of way. I won`t be taking it to a triathlon any time soon. And I do regret not pushing the bike shop to find me a lighter racer type bike with down turned handles.

But, for the purposes of cross training, the bike`s exactly what I need. And for the singular joy I get of discovering hidden roads and boreens in our lush countryside, it fits the bill. Hey, I might actually really enjoy all this cross-training mallarkey.

I summoned Teen Two to spruce the bike up today. And, for a wad of cash, he did the needful. Lovingly washed and polished, wheels pumped and WD-40 applied, it`s now roadworthy once more. The addition of a lock and basket will even make it work worthy, should I ever be tempted to bike there.

Half-marathon looms in July. I am in week three of Hal Higdon`s Half Marathon plan. Bless that guy, but he tells me exactly what I need to do, how far and in what way I need to run. And he also includes cross training.

Tomorrow is Sunday. Hal says a long slow run day and seven miles of a run is called for. I am looking forward to that.

And I will also give my bike it`s first airing of the year. We are having the slowest ever crawl towards a summer that may never even happen. Yet, May never fails to delight. Teethering on two wheels, and whizzing past lush hedges, I will be well placed to appreciate it all. Blossoms, birds and brooding skies will abound so perhaps I should take my camera along too.

Now, wouldn`t that be a bit of fun?


Bending Over Backwards

Bending Over Backwards

I have always known that I am a bendy, stretchy person. Why, one of least useful skills is the fact, that on a good day-and preferably when no one is watching -I can bend over backwards and type at the same time.

Don`t believe me? Well, see above pic. No, it`s not me. but its what I`d look like if I were performing the crab over my laptop. Except my laptop is black, not white. And I rarely wear pencil skirts.

I can touch my thumb to my forearm and touch the ground without bending my knees. Oh, and bend my little finger up into a right angle.

I never knew this bendy stretchy stuff had a name. Nor that it was, actually, a problem. At least for my running.

Twelve miles into  last October`s marathon, my feet felt like they were coming apart. If you`ve run a marathon, you`ll know how hard it is not to run it. When you`re out there, after having trained for months, you not going to let anything stop you on the day. And so, squished my feet through fourteen miles of agony after that. Yes, it was worth it.

Two weeks post marathon, I was still hobbling. I hobbled all the way to the podiatrist`s clinic. And it was there that I first heard the word: Hypermobility.

She told me that my joints can move around too freely because the ligaments are loose. And the ligaments and tendons are loose because they have too much collagen.

Great for swimming-I`ve been told my feet move really gracefully in the water.

Not so good for running.

Great for super smooth skin. (Oh,you can tell, I hate to brag.)

Not so great for ballet. At least, not from the perspective of injury.

Ah, yes, my last entry where I had dreams of being Dark Swan before Nicole Portman was ever born? Well, all that bendy stretchy stuff really is useful for dance. And gymnastics.

Mind you, the closest I got to it in reality is years and years of doing yoga.

My daughter`s ballet teacher took me aside last week. Her first lesson en pointe went well but, the ballet teacher explained, my daughter is hypermobile. From a ballet perspective, her foot looks beautiful, arches wonderfully when she is up on her toes, but, and she looked at my girl gravely as she said:

“You should never, ever try a double pirouette”

Apparently, her foot en pointe is too unstable to support her if she decides to spin about the place. Hypermobility makes her feet more prone to injury.

My girl doesn`t mind in the slightest. She likes dance but is unlikely to be treading the boards for the Bolshoi any time soon. Double pirouettes aren`t her priority.

But never mind her; this blog is all about me.Right?

I want to keep running. But without wrecking my feet. Armed with all the nightmare prognosis that internet research guarantees. I have, nevertheless, managed to find a few useful tips for my training plan.

Back come the orthotics. Seems my feet need some stability. They`ll do it for my workday.

Off come the shoes. I like to prance about the house in socks anyway. So it`s foot stretching  and strengthening time when I`m sofa bound.

Out comes the yoga mat. Back to more strengthening poses than the stretchy bendy showy offy stuff I like to do.

I`ve always love biking, and can swim reasonably well. So they`re back in as part of my running fitness.

Dammit, but I really really want another go at a marathon. Dublin, specifically. I hope I can do it.

See, there is something really special about getting into the marathon club. For me, it just always will be up there as a Lifetime Achievement thing. Up there in lights, along with the Births of My Three Children.

That is why I felt a sucker punch when son texted me about the sad happenings at the Boston Marathon. The loss of innocent lives anywhere should matter to all of us. But marathon endline is, to me, as sacred a space as any for it is full of the the very best of the human spirit.

It is the point which marks triumph over adversity.

It`s also why I`ll be glued to my TV on Sunday, watching the London Marathon. I am really excited for my fellow bloggers as they head into this. Go, all of you! You will rock. You will test yourself to the last. You will succeed. You will be SO proud of you!

The crowd will be great and I`ll be roaring too.

“Go You!”