Reflection Corner – man & machine

Man and Machine

Well that’s just a turn of phrase.  Woman and machine/ person and machine/ human machine and bike, today we reflect (slightly tongue in cheek) on oneness with your bicycle.

L’homme machine

Julien Offray de la Mettrie was a materialist philosopher who talked about man as a machine.  Certainly you could look at us as fuel in, energy out machines for – doing what exactly?  Get on your bike and suddenly you have purpose.  You are going somewhere.  The bike has all the obvious mechanics but you are the engine.


The goal of this?  To become one with your bike – the ultimate biomechanical machine experiencing a state of “flow“.  

Of course, that perfect mix of high skill and high challenge doesn’t happen very often.  Usually you ride along thinking “ooh, brake now” “oh, why is that pheasant not getting out of my way?” “did he HAVE to pass me so close?” “my butt hurts” “my quads are burning” “I wonder what I should have for tea?”  “I’m missing the Archers……..” as you spin around the 8 levels of flow in a state of flux.

But sometimes, you feel the power to the pedals, they seem to turn effortlessly, the wind is in your face not knocking you off and you stream along – man and machine in perfect harmony.

Reflection Corner – Hill Climbing

Hill Climbing

We’ve talked about gears this week.  Good gearing gets you up hills with less effort, but what do you need psychologically to climb hills?  What is your hill philosophy?  Should you adapt it?



Sisyphus (so the myth has it) was an ancient Greek who so loved life he put death in chains.  This angered the Gods who released death (they wanted to be the only immortals) and condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of pushing a rock up a hill, only to see it roll back down again.  What’s this got to do with cycling?  Albert Camus, an “absurdist” writer, considered Sisyphus and decided that far from bemoaning his fate

one must consider Sisyphus happy

Some cyclists can well imagine his delight: rather than any sense of futility in the task.  They deliberately set out to toil up hills, for the joy of freewheeling down them again.  Psychologically it’s short term pain for a quick gain.


Others find the adrenaline rush of the downhill a bit overwhelming but like the achievement of steaming up a steep hill and getting to the top, passing Sisypheans on the way.  But what do you need to get up the hill?  The right gear and fuel in the tank!  Preparation to be in the right gear before you need it when you see the hill coming is an investment and fuelling all ride, knowing there are hills ahead, is a wise strategy to adopt.  Psychologically this is taking the long view of your journey.

the long and winding path uphill


Of course you could plan a hill-free route.  Just go flat out on the flat.  Ignorance is bliss?  But if you never experience the pain of climbing you never get the joy (or a chance to rest your weary legs) of zooming down.

flat grey road?

Finish strong

Finally, do you gear mash all the way on your tiptoes or sit back and spin?  Or do you see the hill ahead, understand the size of the task start seated and slow and as you rise higher and higher and get nearer and nearer your goal do you change up, stand up and push for the top?  That’s probably what superheroes do.

pretending to be super


Reflection Corner – On Cowardice

On Cowardice

Nerves are a funny thing.  Everyone gets nervous from time to time, butterflies in the tummy and a sense of dread.  But carrying on anyway can bring a rush of adrenaline that addicts some people to extreme sports and speed – the adrenaline junkies.  The hobbit is not an adrenaline junky, the multi-tasker feels the fear and does it anyway.

Bike nerves

When you ride a bike, or think about it, you might be nervous about multiple things: traffic, your ability to get up a hill, falling off, going downhill too fast and going over the handlebars, being able to keep up with a group, punctures, the chain falling off.  You can probably think of more!  How do you manage your nerves and get on your bike?

Knowledge is power

Uncertainty is the root of many fears and stops people embracing change or challenge.  How do you “live with uncertainty” and go forwards anyway?  You can minimise uncertainty with knowledge – you might be less afraid of a puncture of you’ve watched a you tube video and practice changing your inner tube before you set off.  You might feel better prepared if you have watched this video about braking and know to use your back brake first to avoid jolting yourself over the handlebars, you might have read about bike helmets and feel reassured about riding out without one.  You know that if something happens, you have the means to manage it.

Minimising or calculating risk

The other cause of a cowardly return to the couch is your approach to risk.  There is risk inherent in sitting on the couch, by the way – worse than smoking!  So one thing to do is reflect on the real size of the risk you take getting on your bike (or anything challenging) versus your perception of the risk.  You can minimise your risk with planning and preparation as above but you can also take calculated risks.  If you know your bike is in good repair and you are fit enough, zooming down a straight hill without using the brakes in good weather is minimal risk.  If you add a corner and rain, your risk increases and your speed should inversely decrease.  So far, so many eggs sucked.  The other thing that might help is on the spot ability to know your real risk versus your perceived risk.  As you fly down a hill on a bike you might feel as if you are going faster than you are due to the wind rushing past your face.  A bike computer can tell you in fact you’re only doing 21.4 mph – less than the speed limit!

Push your limits

How do you become less fearful?  Practice.  The more you ride, the more you know how you and your bike respond and what will happen in any situations.  Each time you go down the same hill you can go a bit faster, incrementally, until you are whooshing along in the drops, smiling all the way.  Each time you take the same corner you can lean a bit more.

A lesson for life?

Reflection Corner – on frailty

On frailty

Here we are trying to train the human machine and what happens?  Viruses.  The David to our Goliath, we’ve been felled by the nanoscopic little blighters.  We are frail – as in fallible, weak and vulnerable.

It’s distressing: lying about like a Victorian lady with a fit of the vapours.

The sick role

We’re supposed to be superheroes.  We are not supposed to be frail.  We’ve got a schedule to stick to!  It has not been at all easy accepting the sick role identity and we have railed against it.  The multitasker kept running through her cold with conjunctivitis and ended up with chest pain, I refused to accept muscle aches and feverishness with no other symptoms were at all significant and am still having fevers 2 weeks later.  We had to be told to stop.

Why stop? How to stop?

When you’re pursuing exercise for beneficial health reasons, you have a big psychological barrier to stopping.  We know that in old age frailty is reduced by exercise with multi-nutrients.  If 86 year olds can benefit from training, surely we can do it when we’ve “just” got a virus?

Well, “just” a virus is potentially quite significant.  We should have taken our own advice on the “below the neck” no-training rule: if you’ve just got the “snot-monster” then carry on, anything below the neck – gut rot, fever causing muscle aches and pains, cough with phlegm then STOP.  This is to avoid prolonging the illness and potentially damaging your heart.

But it’s so psychologically difficult to stop – you’ve built up a routine, you’ve got into a habit, you’re on a schedule, you are really quite addicted to those endorphins.  

Plus, you know you’ll have to go back and start again building back up that habit, getting back into routine, behind on the schedule and having the discipline not to jump back in where you should be, but reverse a bit and build back up – knowing you’ve lost the training trajectory that would have seen you match fit by race day.

How to start again?

Firstly, know a bit about immunity and training.  Whilst we saw that swimming in the winter protects swimmers from colds their partners have, and that regular exercise for 20 minutes 3 times a week reduces the frequency and intensity of colds, hard training has a short term opposite effect.

After hard training there is a variable length “open window” of suppressed immunity when it’s virus open season, if you get exposed.  You can read advice on prevention here, but I think this highlights where I was going wrong.  I was doing my long runs on a Sunday and I work a 12 hour (or more day) interacting with viruses on a Monday (in the open window).  I hadn’t been taking my vitamin D over the winter (procrastination!) and I had spent quality time cramming in the stretching and foam rolling and post-run nutritioning in the 30 minutes post-run carb. window, but in my nasty wet sports kit.  I had also experimented with low carb training to keto-adapt – but I have given that up as a very bad idea not suited to Hobbits.  (the multitasker is doing very well with it, so don’t knock it if it suits you!)

So what next?  When I am finally a full 24 hours fever free I can then do a swim or a cycle or a sloooooow 5km run and see how I feel.  I’ve cancelled 2 sportives already and a duathlon.  I am supposed to be running a 1/2 marathon in 4 weeks, so I have to be disciplined enough to demote myself to the 10km on the day if I haven’t caught back up.  I have to accept my frailty and work with it.

And no more Sunday runs!

Reflection Corner – On Failure

On failure

Why are we scared to fail?  Why do we build up all sorts of mechanisms for defence against it, including never trying to start in the first place?  What if we embrace failure?


Failing to start is starting to fail

Imagine if you’d never tried to walk as a one year old because you were worried you would fall over.  Every time you did try to walk and you fell, your neuro-muscular system learned something new and adapted for next time.  Suddenly you were toddling.  

As one year olds, there are no layers of social conditioning yet stopping us from trying something new, something we couldn’t do but see others doing.  Nothing has changed.  Your neuromuscular system can still adapt.  In fact even into very late old age your neuromuscular system can decondition very quickly – and therefore be conditioned, too.  Look at all the amazing octogenarian (& older) racers:

86-year old iron nun!

If you’ve been inspired to start a health journey or some serious training but are worried you might not succeed, welcome.  You might fail, but that’s OK, you can have fun and even learn something by trying.  “We learn from our mistakes” is not a hackneyed cliche for nothing – it’s true!


The other reason you need some socking great failure in your life is building resilience.  If you’ve never failed, you’ve never had to “pick yourself up, dust yourself off & start all over again”

If you’ve learned how to get back on the horse after a bruising blow, you can translate that experience across your life.  I always remember my childhood best friend was extremely clumsy – but every time she fell over or bumped her head, which was frequently, she found it hilarious in a banana skin slip way, which was profoundly infectious and helpful.  If you can laugh at life’s banana skins you’ve got resilience in spades.


So when you’re training, or dieting or just working on getting your 10,000 steps a day if you fail to hit a target, literally fall over, have an accidental boozy night out and a crisp binge or leave the pedometer behind, don’t cry into your soup.  It’s happened, laugh at yourself, laugh at what you did when you cocked up massively – encourage others to laugh with you and then get out there ready to fail again.

Reflection Corner – On Reward

Reward Culture

How were you rewarded when you were a child?  How did your family celebrate?  We have been totally socially conditioned to reward ourselves and to celebrate with unhealthy things – which used to be fine, because celebrations and rewards were few and far between: rarely affordable or earned. 

Nowadays, it’s “wine o’clock” every day, it’s choc-o-clock to reward yourself for doing the shopping, it’s cake in the staff room “because it’s Friday & we got through the week”.  Not only that, but portions have gone “supersized” and alcohol content has risen (I’m sure there only used to be 6 units in a bottle; now there’s 9, or more).

And who is to resist?  Who wants to be the party pooper or the “goody two shoes”?  You want to be the one who wears purple and tears through life ending up at the finish line having had a wild ride.

Purple Lemmy

Risk and Consequences

Maybe the risk is worth the consequence.  A lot of evidence gives you cold hard statistics and sometimes it can backfire – 50% of smokers die of smoking related diseases.  If you are a glass half empty smoker you will stop smoking right now, if you’re a glass half full smoker you might think – well that’s the flip of a coin, I’ve got a 50% chance of NOT dying of a smoking related disease.

But it’s not all about death, it’s about quality of life – only you can decide what gives you that.

Back to rewards

Humans do need rewards, we don’t have to be stoical joyless automatons.  Some UK scientists have just won an award for their research about reward (neat huh!) and how it is an evolutionary necessity.  So how do we get away from “rewards” that actually just punish our poor blighted bodies further (caterpillar cake anyone!?!)

Reframe your treats

the joy of ironing

Your family background story might be self soothing with chocolate, celebrating with champagne, being socially acceptable by sharing a packet of fags but it’s unlikely to be “I know children, you’ve done really well in your school report let’s all do a nice bit of ironing…….”

But, you probably do reward yourself with some healthy things, you just have to consciously start to label them as such.  If you have done the pesky ironing, you might treat yourself to a nice relaxing swim (double whammy if exercise IS your reward!), if you’ve finished that project finally you might buy yourself some flowers or music or a spa day.  You know what makes you smile, maybe it’s fifteen minutes sitting in the sunshine in the garden getting your vitamin D – call it a treat and you don’t need wine (although G&T in the garden comes well recommended by a local physician acquaintance…)

Falling off the wagon

And you probably need to reframe “falling off the wagon”, too.  Because that suggests you’re on some sort of high pedestal and a come down is inevitable.  If you’ve managed to find some positive new treats and 80% of the time you’re mindful of your “hexagon of health”, then 20% “champagne lifestyle” is the pinch of snuff you’re allowed.

Reflection Corner – On Action

Action stations

You’ve reached the end of the planning stage and now it’s time for action.  

You know what you’ve got to do.  You even want to do it.  You think about doing it.  You put it in your schedule.  But actually going into action?  Maybe not right now.  Maybe you ought to pair your socks.  That’s probably quite important. Cleaning out the back of the kitchen cupboard probably ought to be the next thing.  There was sorting out your email inbox, that was a thing that needed doing.  Oh look, it’s lunchtime.

Maybe we could reschedule that run for tomorrow?

Expect Reality

Then the doorbell rings.  The phone.  A crisis or a drama.  Reality gets in the way of the best laid plans for going into action.

Why do we delay acting on our intentions?  Especially the healthy ones?  Once we get going, leave the start line and head out into the fresh air, endorphins and achievement kick in and we wonder why we ever thought painting the radiator was a better idea.

Action primers

So have a think about what your “action primers” are.  The things that actually get you out the door.  They are probably things we’ve already talked about:

The accountability buddy – set a date to do something healthy together OR tell them you’re going to do it and ask them to check

Your schedule – you’ve planned to walk the dog every day at 6.00, set the alarm, get up and go before you’ve given yourself a chance to think about it

Your goal – You’ve agreed to run that 10k race in 12 weeks, you’d better get your 6k run in today

and one thing we haven’t:

Your trigger – it’s 6 weeks in and you always clean your teeth and then do your kettlebell workout


But sometimes your primers are not strong enough to get over what’s inhibiting you.  If there is no instant reward nor negative consequence the devil on your shoulder says “why should you do the right thing when nobody’s looking?”  

Some inhibitors and how to conquer them:

It’s overwhelming – con yourself

e.g. you’ve never run continuously for more than 5 minutes before and your walk-run schedule has got you up to 6 minutes of running.  Just lace up your shoes get out of the door and tell yourself you can do 5 minutes running.   If you have to walk you have to walk.  But at minute 5 if you’re still running it’s a bonus.

You’ve got competing priorities – surprise yourself

e.g. you really ought to change the bed/ring your mother/cut your nails – don’t think about it just change tack get your running gear on and go, without making it a big thing.

You can’t find a reason – plan a reward

e.g. you’re hungry, it’s lunchtime – you can have lunch when you’ve done your 20 minute power yoga routine

Act now

Getting on with your regime is not a “curtain raiser”  you don’t have to make a performance of getting into costume, rehearsing and making every fitness outing an oscar winner.  Just get it done, go into action, before your brain stops you.

Reflection Corner – On freedom


This week we’ve been talking about options.  Asking “what are your options for living a healthy lifestyle?”  Are you really free to choose the lifestyle you want? There are many different ways of being free.  

Freedom “from”

A lot of things get in the way of your healthy self.  Freedom from want, doubt and fear are freedoms that need to be present before you can be “free to” choose your healthy options.  

Firstly, want.  I’ve been wanting to mention the extraordinary Jack Monroe and here’s my excuse.  Proof that there need be no financial barrier to eating good food.  Secondly doubt.  We all doubt ourselves.  Currently, I seriously doubt my ability to complete the quadrathlon before all the marshals go home for tea.  I had so much doubt last year about finishing the first triathlon I nearly pulled out.  So you probably won’t be free from doubt.  You have to learn to live with it.  That’s where your accountability buddy comes in.  It’s their job to tell you 

you can and you will

“You can and you will”
Or, beat you into submission.  Either is effective.  The thought of letting the Superbad-multitasker down was more powerful than my self-doubt.

Finally fear.  There are all sorts of things you might be afraid of when change is happening.  But often it’s just the fear of change itself.  Stop looking too far ahead, be mindful and focus on what’s happening right now and freely live the moment.  Especially if that moment is full of endorphins or raspberries and sunshine.

Freedom to

And once you are free from the shackles holding you back are you free to get on with it?  Not necessarily.  Not as free as you think you are.  Time and “the obesogenic society” are constraining your freedom to be a healthy agent.  Your time is not your own, just look at your diary.  Society, and capitalism in particular, does not want you to freely renounce biscuits.  So what can you do?

red orange and yellow pepper
a healthy “nudge” instead

With time, you are free to prioritise your health.  Yes, you have to go to work, pick the kids up, visit your folks, but find the other times when you do things that are actually less important than your health.  And don’t forget you’re free to just do 4 minutes of H.I.I.T. to see health benefits.  It’s OK to start small.

Capitalism.  Advertising and marketing and the amount of complex psychological research that’s put into it.  The behavioural economics theory used against you.  We don’t even become conscious of half the ways our freedom to make healthy choices is eroded.  For instance, nudge says we will buy things that are placed at eye level.  We’ll pick things up if we are waiting with products in front of us. What’s at children’s eye level at the checkout? Sweets.  And adults eye level – often “women’s” magazines with a photo-shopped picture of an impossible “girl” on the front.  Or, the supermarket’s in-house magazine with a mouthwatering cake on the front.  The way round this is to firstly be more conscious of the pervasiveness of the efforts product manufacturers go to. But the second way is to be prepared.  Never shop when you are hungry.  Never shop without a list.  Maybe shop online, then you can’t be enticed by the smell of the bakery the supermarket pumps to the front door.  

Social situations are harder.  If someone cooks you dinner, it’s polite to eat it.  It’s polite to drink the wine.  If you go out for dinner you aren’t free to say “salmon quinoa and avocado” please, there’s a menu.  There’s temptation.  Maybe cocktails:  

with apologies

But you are free to exercise that day, fast the next day, smile and enjoy it – making it your planned 20% “cheat day”.  

We may not be 100% free, but we are as free to be healthy as we prioritise ourselves to be.

Reflection Corner – On Reality

Reality Checks

This week we’ve “got real” with reality checking and myth-busting.  Possibly, it’s been a bit uncomfortable holding up the mirror to see what’s really happening. Hopefully it’s been less painful with us holding your hand ❤️

They say “reality bites” and so we tend to shy away from it.  We’re fed “fake news” because the truth is either too mundane for the information avid, or too inconvenient for the purposes of those promoting the sound bite.  As we are at the end of the week, before we look at options next week, can you be sure you have ripped off the blindfold and really looked at what you’re doing, or not doing, that might be holding you back from achieving your goals?

Reality bites

Often, we simply aren’t ready for the vicious bite of the reality Rottweiler.  Our real friends might tell us, but we won’t thank them, maybe until later.  We might be sub-consciously aware ourselves, but suppress reality using the Boggart of Denial.  How do we get from reality in the closet, to looking at it square on, acknowledging it and changing either it, or our response?

Approaching reality

Sometimes fate intervenes.  You have a heart attack, you get diabetes, the wake-up call galvanises you into rapid and effective action.  But is it sustainable?  Will you drift in your intentions when the crisis is over?  Sometimes you hand over the reins – go off to a bootcamp or similar and put responsibility for addressing reality into someone else’s hands.  But what happens when you come home?

For sustainable action you have to own it.  You have to want it for yourself.  So pay real attention to the force-field analysis you did on Monday.  Have another look and make sure it’s real.  Really reflecting YOUR reality.  Yes, you need an accountability buddy, or a competitor, or incremental goals, or a stickk (sic) – like money being involved – to help you on your way.  But the foundation has to be your way.  

Your reality.

Reflection Corner – goal orientation


You’ve never seen people so excited and happy as when they score a goal.  There is running about, jubilation, jumping into the arms of a team mate and general back slapping.  Why are goals so good?  Why is goal-orientation such a useful piece of health advice?


One reason might be allowing ourselves to overcome our existential nihilism (the idea that life might be meaningless – hobbits do not have an opinion on this, they just aim for second breakfast each day).  Nietzsche is the poster boy for nihilism,

very grumpy nihilist

but Shakespeare got there first:

“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more; it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

If it’s all pointless, and values are meaningless why not just eat the doughnuts?


Well, even if you do just eat the doughnuts, you’ve got a lot of eating time.  There is more to life than doughnuts.  You have to decide how to live it – meaning or no meaning.  You’re around for a lot of years during which it’s quite nice if your body is capable of doing what you want it to do and during which you might prefer to feel comfortable, free and not attached to a synthetic chemical regime (peddled by big pharma) to keep you alive.

Suspend your disbelief

Goals allow you to focus on something small and human, rather than the large and infinite.  Goals allow you to look forward to something.  Goals allow you to achieve and feel a warm glow of satisfaction.  The path towards a goal takes up some of that aching expanse of time.  Goals allow you to reward yourself and goals can give you a sense of upwards motion, of improvement.

Incremental goal setting

“Health” is a big infinite topic, but setting yourself incremental, actionable goals on the way can reduce it to a manageable size.  And don’t forget the “aggregation of marginal gains”  a lot of small goals achieved will add up to one big outcome.