Grace in the workplace (and ponies, seriously)

I start a new job tomorrow. My search began about a year ago after finding within the desire for change, for something different, something bigger, and being a ‘yes’ to that possibility. The obvious challenge was having to hear ‘no’ at first. And when I finally heard that ‘yes’, i knew it was going to be the right move.

I won’t go into specifics of where I’ll be (or where I am coming from) in the world of academic publishing. Some of you may know already, but for now I will retain that ‘feeling’ of being anonymous.

What I have been feeling most drawn to discussing lately is my relationship to gratitude. Gratitude (or grace) in the workplace, to be specific: how it can be shaped (and by what); its practice (by myself and others (and how conscious a choice that may be)); and what it can bring (or not).

I get that not everyone can (or chooses to) express gratitude for the work they do, and this is just a personal reflection.

At times it can be hard to locate something to be grateful for at work, call it the antithesis of grace. But even if your work is not particularly stimulating or exciting, or happens to be completely unrelated to the ‘master plan’, there is still something to be thankful for, right?

Namely you have a job…and are not one of the 2.5 million out-of-work, underemployed or on benefits in the UK.

But that in itself is too easy an argument to make. So let’s dive deeper…

Working hard to do as well as I can, and seeing the rewards and figuring out the expectations of others is a constant do and redo process (or in startup terms, perpetual beta). Trying to meet those expectations isn’t always easy (or entirely clear) but eventually they must show their rewards. But what if there aren’t any, not right away at least, how do I compare the  entitlements I think I’m due to to the achievements and rewards of the work itself?

There were obviously times in my previous role(s) where things could have gone better, or I had wished for a change in the process in order to make things easier for me, but even through those difficulties, I never forget that I was in a job, doing interesting things, helping authors get published (and in someway contributing to the bottom line of the company).

And did those outweigh the challenges? No, not always, but at the end of every day that was just what had happened in that particular day. I’d be starting the process over again in the morning, and every morning thereafter, so I wold do my best to always be open to the possibility that something may change along the way.

And what had me remember that every day? A simple gratitude practice.

By simply keeping in my mind the separateness of space, work space and personal space, I acted upon or concluded my relationship with my work space by simply bowing and thanking it for what it gave me. Good or bad, right or wrong…it did not matter.

And so as I go forward into my new job, reporting at the office door for 9.30am, I won’t forget how I got to be there, or the people who helped me along the way.

I was giving a miniature pony as a token of friendship recently, one of those things that sits on the top of your pencil…maybe as an eraser.

But anyway, it was given to me by someone who helped me get where I am, so that will certainly be going on my desk to remind me I didn’t get to where I am on my own, but had the help of many along the way.

Grace, baby. Grace.

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Bringing the Body Online (Guest Post by Mark Walsh of Integration Training)

I have my first guest post here on Digitize We Must!, coming from Mark Walsh at Integration Training (based in Brighton, UK).

You’ll know Mark from some of my earlier posts here and here. After attending a recent electronic mindfulness workshop, Mark showed just how wired he really is (both online and in real life). I got a lot of out of his idea on noticing the intentions and how my own use of e-mail, social media, etc. can come from simply being aware because so much of our lives are lived digitally and those actions we take online need as much balance and awareness as our physical lives do.

So without further ado…

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My occupation, passion and personal journey is embodiment – helping people get in touch with themselves as bodies for the sake of leadership, stress management and personal growth. Starting in the middle ages the body became bad and started to be denied, repressed and ignored. The late-industrial 20th century took this to new depths and the postmodern information ages brings with it fresh challenges to staying grounded in our “primary operating system”. I have lately become very interested in how to stay embodied in a technological environment – with omnipresent online mobile communication, the e-mail deluge and social media. How do we stay connected to the most fundamental level of ourselves in a digitally connected world? How to we reboot the body in the 21st century? What on earth am I talking about?

 The Challenge of Digital Disembodiment

Have you ever finished a workday online to notice great discomfort in your body? Have you ever been so engrossed in work, social media or gaming that you forgot your physical needs until were really screaming at you? Have you ever acted in a way on a forum or social media group that lacked the empathy you bring to “real-life” social interactions? If so you have like the vast majority of people who use modern technology experienced (or more actually not experienced) disembodiment. We all spend much time lost in the matrix and unaware of our most fundamental matrix. Aside from a little RSI or stiff shoulders why is this dissociation a problem though? Well, our bodies are the substrate of ourselves – when we lose “our” bodies we lose ourselves. English is revealing here as bodies are not “ours” like a car or other object. Bodies are not “its” but part of the I. We need them to think (see embodied cognition), know what is right and wrong (see Paul Linden’s work) feel and to empathise and socially interact (see Dan Siegel neuroscience work). To be blunt, when we are disembodied (not aware of ourselves but “in our heads”/ machines) we are stupid, psychopathic, emotionally stunted and autistic.

Possible Solutions

So what do we do about this disembodied mess we’re in? There are two basic approaches, one established one new:

Balancing

Many people find value in taking part in the “wisdom tradition” practices of mindfulness, emotional intelligence and embodiment. These often involves doing some of a set of related practices such as yoga, martial arts, dance and meditation, and perhaps more modern Western pursuits such as therapy, personal development workshops and group process work. These often become favourite hobbies for people and allow them to cope with the stresses and strains of a disembodied existence 9-5 (+the online social stuff 8-9, 5-10 etc). The popularity of these activities seems to have risen in direct proportion to the disembodying and therefore alienating nature of technological growth. Yoga is now pretty popular and for good reason, a regular embodied practice can bring some balance to the ultra-cognitive world we live in.

Integrating

A more radical and I believe more useful approach is to integrate embodied and other “wisdom” practices WITH technology use. This turns tech usage into not so much a problem to be managed, but an opportunity for personal growth. E-mail can become a practice as much as yoga. Balancing approaches may be doomed to fail as a) they include no integration into the very different context on online activity so are not transferred across (so calm in yoga, still stressed at work), and b) many people today spend many more hours online than doing their balancing practice so any good work done in the former is easily undone by “practicing” something else online. One solution I have started to explore is to teach basic embodied practices away from online contexts as in the traditional approach and then bring them into this new context. Teaching embodiment while people are online to build their own capacity. This involves a certain amount of slowing down and interrupting the usual online activities to avoid the old conditioning taking over, and establishing a new one. This video shows a group doing this on an “e-retreat”.

 A Simple Embodiment Practice – NIT

Here’s a simple practice you can use today to be more embodied online and break your usual conditioning. It is best to have done a little mindfulness, emotional growth and embodiment practice offline at some point in your life before this integration, but it will be beneficial even if you haven’t:

Set-up – Find a timer to interrupt you -  an app or an egg timer will do – and set it to chime every five minutes. When it chimes immediately stop what you’re doing and:

Notice your body and emotions – a 3 second body-scan will suffice once you’re used to the process, longer may be needed at first

Intention – Ask “what am I doing and why?”

Transform – You may wish to change your posture or performing a centring exercise such as taking a deep belly breath

NIT on Youtube

After an hour of this reduce the chiming frequency to ten minutes. After another hour to 20 minutes and so on. Each time you will NIT quicker and with less effort but you do need to do it consistently for a few hours to break old habits. You can also tie the NIT to frequently performed online actions such as sending or opening an e-mail or pressing “save” on a document.

Feeling Your Tools

Another practice I picked up from fellow trainer Paul Levy is to feel your online devices as tools separate from yourself. Simple as it sounds feel the keys or screen and notice that you are not your device! This helps people stay anchored in their own sensations rather than being “lost” in the internet with the associated dangers to disembodiment and distraction that this brings.

 The Future

I am electrified (horrible pun intended) by the possibilities of an integrated body-mind-tech approach and am enquiring into what this might involve with a few others. The Wisdom 2.0 events and Buddhist Geeks podcast series are good resources for those interested. For me this is a central challenge of our times. Please get in touch if this interests and inspires you.

Mark Walsh – Bio

Mark Walsh leads business training providers Integration Training – based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specialising in working with emotions, the body and spirituality at work they help organisations get more done without going insane (time and stress management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence (leadership training). Clients include Unilever, The Sierra Leonian Army and the University of Sussex. He is the most followed trainer on Twitter and Youtube and has the Google no.2 ranked management training blog. Offline, Mark dances, meditates and practices martial arts. His ambition is to make it OK to be a human being at work.

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If you’re not paying for the product (You’re our product)

Noticing how one idea for a post begins and watching it become something completely different after a new idea or perspective gets introduced is an interesting process.

This post was going to be along the lines of what the author-publisher dynamic meant to me. Being an Editor in a small publishing house means these relationships are absolutely crucial for the success of our business; this may also have been the start of a presentation I was due to deliver in Corfu at an international information law conference at the end of this month. But that’s all changed now.

Instead, I’m taking a different tack; I’m betting it’s something that is familiar to us all: the way social media has been woven into our lives. I use social tools everyday (at home, work and on my phone) and I wouldn’t be coining a new phrase by saying “how did [I/we] ever live without [insert preferred social tool here],” or that we really are “living in interesting times,” what with all the sharing and accessibility these tools promote.

But how exactly did we ever live without electricity and running water? And isn’t every time interesting for those people conscious enough to know that they are the ones living through it? I would hope so.

What I think is most important about these “interesting times” are the new levels of accessibility and openness we have, and just how easily most of us (not all) have this burning desire to divulge our most intimate details onto the social web. Again, nothing new, but occasionally it’s good to be reminded of this concept because it lands a little bit differently for me depending on whose in the hot seat.
This time it was “Silicon Valley Controversial-ist” Andrew Keen in the hot seat with his anti-social manifesto on the BBC’s Digital Planet. I’m becoming more interested in his ideas and I think he is someone who stands on the other side of the fence when it comes to online sharing. I don’t think it has to do with the over connectedness, but the actions we take with our personal information, posting it freely and finding out how unprotected our privacy really is – what these companies do with our data. Nothing is ever done freely online.

Keen said that the age we now live in is perhaps the biggest socio-economic shift our society has ever experienced – similar to the shift from the agrarian society to the industrial age. This is the core of his argument warning. What appears free, isn’t really free at all. Keen calls for new business models tailored to social networks.

Think about it: if you could pay a small monthly fee to access Facebook, would you? I hear you scream “NO!”…. but knowing that by paying for the service you use, provided by this newly minted public company, you each make an agreement in the understanding of how your data is stored, shared, and used (by whom)? If you’re tired of the ever-changing move-counter move/automatic opt-in terms of use, where you’re constantly having to adjust your privacy settings each time. Then a small payment might be the way forward.

Which is why I plan to read his new book, Digital Vertigo and figure out what side of the divide I fall on and the impact the commercial success of these companies is having on our experience.

So what, if anything, do we gain from living life online and in such a public fashion?

It’s a balancing act, but we really have no way of controlling how our data is used, or where it goes (unless you make the conscious choice of not having any kind of online profile anywhere). I could try to maintain my anonymity through this blog, or my Twitter feed, but would have a harder time of it on Facebook. So I’ve learned to embrace my online life, I’m taming my online self as it were, but it doesn’t work like that, because every bit (literally) shared is data. And data is the new oil.

I’m learning that I can’t treat my online life the same way I wish my physical life would go, as my ‘thirtysomething’ year old self’s experience of the world begins to influence the adolescent side of me online. I’m beginning to become more selective of what I post, or think before I share something (and where I share it), but at the same time I want you to know that I’m accessible, open and able to have my ideas challenged, which is why I don’t hide behind some randomly created avatar, and typically use the same handle across a lot of my online profiles.

And while I don’t always want to confess my darkest secrets in an online forum, I’ll keep using my social tools in the way that allows me to speak and share what I really want to share.

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The Weight of a Nation (Ryder Hesjedal wins the 2012 Giro)

Jonathan Davis:

Couldn’t have said it better myself! Ryder Hesjedal’s win comes off the back of his individual performance in today’s final time trial as much as it was his team’s combined commitment in yesterday’s penultimate mountain stage. Garmin-Barracuda are one of the best put together teams on paper; now they’ve just proven it on the road.

Originally posted on lomaxbike:

So its official Ryder Hesjedal has won the Giro d’Italia and created cycling history by becoming the first Canadian to win.

Hesjedal, claimed the pink jersey from Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez after the 28.2km final-day time trial. Rodriguez, who led by 31 seconds overnight, finished 16 seconds behind in second with Thomas De Gendt third. Briton Mark Cavendish came second in the points competition after Rodriguez overtook him on the penultimate stage.

Hesjedal said “It was just an unreal experience from day one, with what we’ve been able to do, with the support of the team”.

“I couldn’t have done it without them. I knew I was good when I came here. I just stayed focused and took advantage of the situation. I kept feeding off that support.”
This is also the first time his Garmin team have made the podium in their five-year history.

I also love Ryder’s name –…

View original 128 more words

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Turning 31 (And staying true)

I turned 31 yesterday, which has me well-and-truly  “living in my 30s”. For the next decade, I’m going to be a “thirty something” (remember that show!), living out the ride as best I can. I’m encouraged by that thought, because it pleases me to no end (grinning in a goofy kind-of-way)…for a couple of reasons:

For one thing the fact that I’ve made it this far. I was most likely still in single digits when “thirty something” first aired, watching it alongside my parents now and again – totally oblivious to the story line taking place. To me, it meant I got to stay up that little bit later; there was no way I could compute the idea of being “that old”, and now, here I am.

Secondly, I’m going to continue to be relentless in the ways and means I have discovered that have helped me find whatever it is that makes me feel peace, anchored, happy, accomplished, loved, etc. etc. All the things that I’m pretty sure we are seeking, in our own ways.

I was reminded by a close friend today that I do that even now and have no qualms about throwing myself into the fire, regardless of what’s happening for me at the time. All I have to say is that my friend truly gets it (and gets me at the same time). I’ve come to count on his support a lot these last couple years (when the questions of purpose first began surfacing inside me). He’s helped me find my compass and it points in one direction. Mine.

Everything that’s happened before now helps me to go even further, I think. In my twenties, I didn’t really know what I wanted, but now the time feels right to just keep exploring, gaining the ground I felt I lost earlier. That is what feels most satisfying – finding out what works.

I recorded this video below, last night. Apologies for any poor sound, maybe it will make sense for some of you. And if it doesn’t, I encourage you to find whatever it is that does.

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To thine own self be true (The Free Trait Theory)

I’ve been adding to my collection of meaningful quotations as of late — you know the kind, the ones that stir something within you, make you smile, or simply make you nod your head in silent appreciation and share them online. The first one has been at the bottom of my e-mail for the last few months, and the other has recently come from, yep, you guessed it…Susan Cain’s Quiet. I’d like to share them now:

Quote 1: “…all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Quote 2: “To thine own self be true.” ~ William Shakespeare

Now how do I imagine these two offerings of advice relate to me? Well, after having reading the section about Free Trait Theory (covered in chapter 10), I feel these two quotes describe what it is I am trying to be (quote 1), in life, work, love and all other relationships, and quote 2 is what I am actually being. Being unreasonable is the process helps me stay true to myself and my beliefs; I’m constantly learning the difference between “being unreasonable” and cowtow-ing to popular opinion. I even went through a phase of pushing against so much of what my friends and family thought I should be that my actions didn’t have the greatest return of happiness – in fact I felt a lot of pain through that opposition, but at the same time it showed me the opportunity for growth. It still means something for me to stand up for what I believe in; it’s that extra ounce of courage that’s required to say “yes” or “no” and trusting myself that things will be okay after whatever passes. I’m being even more unreasonable through my requests of what I need from those around me. The support I seek, the understanding I wish to have, and through that, an increased feeling of depth, love and trust.

So what is Free Trait Theory? According to Cain, it is a new field of psychology, developed by psychology Professor Brian Little. An introvert himself, Little is also known (via the book) as an engaging and dynamic speaker, not only in his lectures at Harvard University, but also during his public speaking engagements, which he gives to large businesses (and in the book the US military). I love wondering how this is even possible, and Cain clearly does too. Even though Little describes himself as strongly introverted, he’s able to make these “performances” stick by taking the necessary time away from these engagements either before-or-after they have taken place. Think of it as recharging the batteries. How many of us have slipped away quietly, sensing a low ebb during a social engagement, or found a quiet conversation more restorative then buzzing around “networking” with people you may only ever meet once in your life? Or alternatively, if you’re an extrovert, finding a surge in spirit by surrounding yourself with more people? I know I prefer the first two options nowadays and so does Professor Little!

At the same time we can perform in opposition to our true natures just long enough before we need to excuse ourselves, and this is down to the fixed traits and free traits that co-exist within us. This is the principle of Little’s theory, insomuch as I understand it: we all are “born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits … but we can and do act out of character in the service of ‘core personal projects’.” (Cain, 2012) At last! An explanation as to why I feel charged up in certain situations and not others, and feel the opposite way, at a similar event (that may normally drain me) after I’ve had ample time to recharge! It makes total sense. If I have enough “down time” I can be ready and willing during the “up times” – those events I selectively chose to attend.

Take my current career path: Publishing – it’s all about the “networking”. Particularly when you’re looking for information. And it usually comes down to who you know, not what (or a combination of both). The publishing community in Oxford  offers up a lot opportunities to find out what everyone is up to through these seminars like these, the annual trade fairs and book launches. I can’t say I attend many book launches, but I do go to most seminars and recently attended one on book discoverability. Before the talk started however, there was the “wine and nibbles” phase of the event. And during that 30-40 minutes of “small chat” I increasingly noticed how much more of my energy it takes to stand there and chat with people I hardly even know, but when the talk starts I’m usually keen and interested to learn again. When it’s all over, however, I need to get straight home and re-charge, and sometimes that’s not always up to me as I’m dependent on other people for that important lift home (even making small talk in the car feels tiring!) So I have to choose carefully and have my exit strategy planned ahead of time.

Finally,  my social media presence seems to be in a state of oppositional flux when compared to the “networking” I do in person. If you happen to follow me on Twitter, you might think I’m a pretty active tweeter. I post, re-tweet and reply to as many conversations I can on all matters related to publishing (making my focus on digital topics like e-books, e-readers, XML, etc.). I’ll even live tweet from those seminars I attend too! So I suppose I could appear more extroverted online than I am in person. Does anyone else feel like this?

I imagine that’s a pretty natural conclusion, but it is down to the fact that my activity on social media is my personal project and I enjoy the online engagement and choose how active I want to be. Choosing those personal projects is a discovery process in of itself…I hope you enjoy finding yours!

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A bit of A and B (and you get some C)

I’d like to redirect my attention on here and take this post in a different direction. The last few posts have had a definite feel for the wheels and pedals as of late (which I love), but instead and for the next several posts I’m taking it back, back to the beginning.

The reasons I found myself coming back onto WordPress and setting up this blog were three-fold (because I like things that come in threes). And those were my cycling, my career and what I experience as my path. When I think about it, three makes total sense: two feels like too few, and four (or more) lacks that punch that items in triplicate can deliver.

It’s a classical rhetorical device as well, in both speech and writing, called the power of threes; I should know (and so does the rest of Google apparently) as I studied Rhetoric & the Communications at the University of Winnipeg in the earlier half of our first decade in the 21st century. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about right now.

Over the last two years, something has been quietly rumbling inside me, new possibilities (untapped, unexplored and quite frankly under-developed). Like a snoozing giant, I’m now slowly waking-up. It hasn’t come without its struggles, or its pain and there most definitely has been some sadness and a letting go of a lot of old ways of thinking. But what counts the most is the support I’ve found through the new friendships I’ve made on my path. I’m learning a lot about myself, picking up developing new tools and integrating them into my existing kit of inter-relatedness. And I’m noticing more and more that what I receive in honest truth, clear communication and feeling safe in sharing my vulnerabilities, the more I grow and become the man I imagine myself to be. And the more I trust those that are willing (or are already there) with me.

Take my friend Mark for instance. He’s a cool dude, he has (and still does) live a life that some of us could only dream of. He’s got a growing business, providing a new take on leadership training, that uses embodiment techniques in the workplace. I’ve met him a handful of times, and those times I’ve had, we have a lot of fun in the space. Just to be clear, I’ve not been on any of Mark’s courses so this isn’t a sales pitch of any kind.

It just so happened that this past weekend, Mark and I met up in Oxford (his first visit even inspired this post), however this time, we found ourselves diving into each others worlds  a bit more. And it felt really good, his level of insight and experience really served me. And what I noticed most was that I wasn’t really after anything in particular but his openness, candor and curiosity created a vibe of trust shared between the two of us. And over the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to figure out how my life could reflect one of two different extremes, but that was until the option of a third way came into view: Option C.

What would “option C” look like? Good question. If “option A” was my old way of playing small, never saying “No” to anyone for the sake of just bumping along, and placing the needs of others over my own, this all feels a bit like a life I don’t want to be living. So the opposite (the extreme opposite) of that is “option B”, insomuch that I say no all the time (whatever the reason), get my needs met and carry around inside me a sense of “f*** you all” mentality. That too is definitely not a way I want to be. So is there a way I can amalgamate these two feelings together? Sure there is a balance, another way to have my needs met, at the same time as meeting others needs and being able to say no some of the time. Option C lies somewhere in there. And Mark helped me open this up further.

I want to recalibrate my inner-guidance system. Become more aware of the self-imposed rules that are guiding me, which I then mentally beat myself up over when I don’t stick to them (like cutting out the junk food, or saying no to the booze, etc., etc.)

Mixed with humor, good food and quite a bit of walking around Oxford, I got to know more about Mark as much as I learned about myself, and it was beyond the social networks (where we tango online) and I’m really grateful for that.

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White Horse Challenge (Ride Report)

So this time I did finish!

And with the legs having been shaved in trepidation, and the groupset installed and collected from the LBS in the nick of time. The combination of these factors must mean only one thing: the start of my cycling season!

If there’s a better way to christen the new SRAM Rival groupset than by taking on the White Horse Challenge, a 90-mile sportive, do let me know. Otherwise, the Wiltshire and Oxfordshire countryside were challenging enough! I can’t remember the exact moment in time when I decided to sign up for this sufferfest, nor would I have anticipated the climbs, headwinds and solo-riding efforts  that came with getting dropped, so I am taking away a few lessons from the ride:

i) more hill training required. I am not a “climber” and not yet a “sprinter”, even if my thighs project the idea of power (it’s a work in progress);
ii) the lack of training in the winter wouldn’t have prepared me for the climbs I faced – there is no shame in having to get off and walk; and
iii) spending 60 percent of the ride with nothing but my own thoughts and the push of the pedals can present their own internal battles.

That’s not to say I didn’t have fun. I certainly did – you can see for yourself at Garmin Connect.

With only one short 20-mile ride before the sportive to get to grips with my new Rival set-up and the “double-tap” shifting that comes with it, I knew there would be challenges on the ride. But when the morning of the race came, I rolled through the gazebo and onto the road with my fellow Zappi CC club members at just before 8:30am in Shrivenham. We started off at a strong pace, similar to our weekly medium-fast paced club rides, zipping past several groups, larger than our own. I have to say we looked impressive in our matching club kit and our 13-strong pack of riders managed to pick up a few hangers-on, droppoing them almost as quickly, and that was until the first hill.

Historically, the sportive maps an area that is home to nearly 24 naturally carved white horses, so it only make sense that such a ride would take place in an area used heavily by actual horses. It was a close call (and something I’ve not seen happen before), but a large stud and his rider were properly spooked by the whizzing of wheels gears that it reared up on the opposite side of the road. You can’t anticipate what a horse might do when spooked, so a prompt squeeze of the brakes was made, which resulted in my fish-tailing across a slick patch on the road. I managed to keep control of the bike and carry on but it certainly got the heart pumping! Further ahead (around laps 10 and 11), the pace dropped by about 5mph -the first hill approached -  and the gradient shot up to 10% then 15% (and possibly higher that I stopped looking at the readout).

The Rival was responsive as I dropped it into the small ring and pushed the rear cassette up as high as it could go on its 11 x 28 set up and settled into a steady rhythm. I didn’t fancy getting up out of the saddle yet, because I knew I had two more big climbs ahead. I would find out by the end of the ride that decision was going to cost me. I watched my fellow riders push themselves up the hill and re-form, but that wasn’t meant to be for me. Being dropped is never fun and the impulse to work double-hard to chase was there, but no such luck. Fortunately I wasn’t alone for too long, managing to catch four other club members before we approached Hackpen Hill, a bit of a best with several upward bends to the summit.

Having now reached the second-feed station of the sportive, the end was in sight! I only wish I could say the same about the supplies at the station (as I was craving a bacon sandwich!), but settled for gels, Fig Newtons and crisps.

Next up: the final climb and “the King of the Hill” that was the Uffington White Horse, the largest (and oldest) chalk horse design in England – dating back nearly 3,000 years. I wondered whether or not its original designers ever thought of the struggle that is pedalling up the hillside. Probably not, but in just under 8min I made the climb up the hill (not the swiftest, but at that point every moment out of the saddle, my thighs were screaming!) These events and key points of the ride are always well covered by photographers, so it gave me the desire to finish the climb with a flourish – tongue-sticking out in Tommy Voeckler style! Have a search for rider 478, if you like :)

At the end of it all, I finished in 5 hours and 50 minutes (nearly an hour later than the quickest club member), but never once did I think “am I done yet?!” or “are we there yet?!”. These are the rides to enjoy and that’s all down to the organisation of the route, coming together with other club members (and other clubs), and in this instance passing some pretty awesome looking carvings.

I have yet to decide whether or not I’ll do it again!

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A realistic end (#30DaysofBiking)

Well, it’s come to this. The end. The finish made before the finish line seen. A goal set, but not met.

The DNF. The Did Not Finish.

It’s with mixed-feelings that I write about not being able to see the full 30DaysofBiking challenge until the end, unfortunately I wasn’t able to maintain the challenge I set for myself of riding my bike for 30 days in a row, when in “normal circumstances” I would have been very much able to do so.

So here is the difference: I’m getting a new groupset installed!!! That kind of news, while disappointing is ultimately rewarding because not only will I have my bike back in full (better) working order than it was before, but I’ll have upgraded my existing Shimano Tiagra set-up to the new SRAM Rival.

This has been a long time coming, over 8 weeks coming, to be precise.

The Background

England is normally a pretty temperate island, it doesn’t often see snow, maybe the odd bit of sleet in the large amount of rain that falls during the dark months of January, February and March, but snow and ice throws up a bit of a mixed bag in places like Oxfordshire. This is an interesting timeline from the 21st century (and even further back in time). That hasn’t been the case for at least the last two years. No doubt you will have seen footage of “impassable roads” and airports shutting down in response to a “light dusting” by this Canadian’s measuring stick.

Be that as it may, on one particularly icy morning in mid-January, I hit the deck less than 50 meters from my home on a slick corner of black ice and bent the rear hanger of my Tiagra groupset. I knew it wasn’t completely impossible to by-pass the mech’s cogs and convert my 9-speed compact to a single gear, but a fix attempted isn’t always a fix made. What did end up happening was a trip to the LBS (local bike shop) – photo by Kate Pugh – where Matt, the mechanic, was able to give me 4 usable gears in the big ring, and about 7 in the small ring. Going any higher up the rear cassette, because the chain had to be shortened, would have brought the mech to a halt. Which I found out the hard way a couple of times.

So after about 8 weeks of “conscious shifting” and a lot of patience I’ve now been able to gather the necessary funds, weighed up my options and gone for the SRAM Rival.

The Road Ahead

I’m looking forward to the unique set-up of SRAM’s groupset. The bloc-shifting and double-tap shifter set-up may take some getting used to, but the timing couldn’t be better as I’ve got my first Sportive scheduled: The White Horse Challenge. A solid 90 miles of varying gradients (some a lot bigger than others!)

Graph of elevation and distance of cycle sportive

So the new groupset is going to have quite a baptism, as will I because I haven’t trained as I normally would!

But in the spirit of 30DaysofBiking, I’m just going to get on and ride! And I wonder if this effort gets me off the hook…?

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Monday muck fest (The miles that matter)

Such is the rarest of chances that I get to ride during the week with my fellow club members. Having to save the big miles and loops around Oxfordshire to the weekend, the Bank Holiday Monday yesterday gave me the opportunity to buck that trend and hit the road for a late-afternoon push with five others from the club.

The day was threatening rain all day long, the wind was making itself know all too well, and we had started off rather well – picking up other riders along the way. Staying dry was the aim, but that was never going to be the outcome. But even the chance to just get out was all the reason I needed to do just that. I get rather envious of the how it would seem a number of my fellow club rides are able create these windows of time for them to hit the road together. Tapping out a steady 50-60 mile session – be it hill training, a chain gang or a steady session. I notice how much I want that in my own week-in-week-out, 9-to-5 existence, but I honestly can’t see a way for that to work…unless of course I was my own boss!

Yours truly after 55-miles in the wind and rain

Regardless of whether or not I ever make that employment choice, I still got a ride in and it did (as most rides do) made my day, bringing with it a very satisfying conclusion to the Easter Holiday. Not to mention the high winds and nearly horizontal rain along with it! Managing to keep up at a steady 18+ miles-per-hour (into a head wind), my riding partner at the time shouted towards me something that stuck with me for the entire ride:

These are the miles that matter, and make all those summer rides much easier…

He was right too because I haven’t made the time to do any set level of training for a while, but when I’m flying down the road, thinking to myself how easy this all feels, I will think back and wonder how exactly I got to this point sometime in the future. And it will click:

These muck fest rides, where you’re chewing the wheel ahead of yours’ grit, you will know that these are the miles that count.

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