The Roman Road to Sparta

This is not the article that I planned on using for this particular publish date, nor is it one that I thought I’d write. This is a by product of several different aspects of my life all conspiring together and ending up in a pretty big idea. Like many big ideas that have gone before it, there is the opportunity for adventure and the joy of personal success. There is also the chance of failure, disappointment and battered ego.

There are a number of circumstances that have lead me to need this adventure and the single most influential is the fact that I got 110% sick of the dehydrated disc problem that I’ve had for the last few years.

Whoa…before you roll your eyes and think of pressing the back button, I’m not about to start boring the bits off you with some ‘woe is me’ saga. In actual fact quite the opposite, it’s about making a crap storm into the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (or something). After all I got into mountain biking because I had a bad back. I thought that riding would hopefully strengthen the muscles that supported the injury, and I was right (my Doctor was wrong) Not only did it help my pain issues, it got me a new vice and for that matter career. So what was a potentially awful scenario has been pretty rewarding. Whilst on the subject of making the most out of a crappy scenario, I’ve met some incredible people and learned a huge amount about how to take part in healing yourself. A crucial factor in healing yourself is learning to listen to your body and filter the information that it gives you. For the last few weeks that internal information has been shouting loud and clear that it wants a challenge and doesn’t want anymore back pain.

The thing is, once you start hearing the call it manifests everywhere ! Amazing pictures of true adventure rides, rediscovering old articles on back exercises and even some astounding new information that may well be a game changer for so many. This article that was recently published will mean that 40% of the people who needed disc fusion surgery will be cured with only standard antibiotics.

I’d decided about three weeks ago to go back to basics and revisit every single trick I’d learned on the things that can assist with disc issues, I also went about gathering any new information and posted on Google+ that I was in need of any tips/thoughts people had (huge thanks to Louis George and Davor Maksimovic for their hugely beneficial help and support). The arsenal of old and new was going well and I was gaining confidence that I was going to nail it this time, that confidence was about to receive another boost. A very dear and valued friend has been studying to qualify as a weight loss coach and needed a case study at the 11th hour, after a let down. No I’m not particularly over weight (half a stone), but it was a good opportunity to help her out and as it happened proved to be great at focusing on the whole idea. Ultimately I was going to play it strict for three months, if it didn’t work I’d have the operation to fuse the discs. High stakes and a really good motivator.

The Brecon Beacons
Tentative steps start my #roadtosparta. Diet adjusted to leave out stuff that I like and include all sorts of natural anti inflammatory stuff, hydration etc etc blah. And NO DAMN DRINKING 🙁

Much stricter attention paid to flexibility and stretching means that I get all over body benefits and not just my bad back. Win, win.The severe amount of pain had meant very little bike time recently and the fitness had slipped to all time low. The only way I was going to start getting my fitness back was going to be a trip to the swimming pool. No joint impact, loads of core strengthening, plenty of cardiovascular and it’s a great way to work loads of the muscle groups. My first trip to the pool was a total success, the feeling of being about to get the blood flowing and the heart racing was a real boost, and those happy brain hormones that exercise gives you were pretty cool too. I was still in loads of pain, but happy and stoked that I felt that I was back in the driving seat. That feeling of taking control is essential and very important to the healing mindset.

Reward the Resolve

Guilt free forks !
Resolve now fimly in place I made sure that I kept to the plan and did my daily stretching and kept an eye on all the small details of the things that can help. It also made me keep thinking of coming up with the ‘reward’ that would be mine once I’d succeed in getting rid of the back injury (for good), honing my diet and lifestyle. All of these things would also help me regain my fitness and assist my income stream. After some considerable thought, came up with three pretty fantastic idea’s. I needed the reward system to be big enough to buy into and in stages so that I would keep on the path. The first would be some new 140mm travel adjust forks. (I’ll tell you more about selection etc another time.) I’m a family man and Dad of three wonderful kids, so any purchase always gives feelings of ‘would I be better spending it on the kids ?’ not this time ! Why ?, because the money will come from the saving that is made from quitting smoking. Sure I should have quit a few years back, but I didn’t and so it’s now. I’m sick of the habit and the slavery it brings, sick of worrying that it may influence my kids, sick of the smell, the cost. Not to mention that it’s definitely taking it’s toll on the climbs ! Ultimately not smoking has always been a no brainer, but until you actually get to hate it, you can’t quit.
The next part of the reward is for November of this year, to celebrate (???) my 40th birthday. I’m not precious about turning 40, but it’s a good excuse for a bike adventure. I’m planning a bike trip that will take me into the Wilds of Wales and a long way off of the beaten track. This goal is really important because it will give me a purpose to keeping the plan at the forefront of my mind. As I look at maps, think of the scenery and plan details it galvanizes my motivation. Importantly it also gives you something to look forward to, which when you are in constant pain is often lacking.
The Brecon Beacons

The BIG Reward, Treat Time!

This idea is a little odd, strange, out of place in fact. It’s not even vaguely like the kind of thing that normally rings my bell. I see hills as nothing more than a means of getting to the descent, the fun bit. I certainly don’t get excited by them like some riders do, in fact, I’d love to live a life of uplift. So riding 270 miles from one end of Wales to the other with continuous climbs that play a part in every section would not normally be high on my list of things to do. The ride centers around the Sarn Helen road which was built by the Romans.The landscapes that I see every single day in Wales are begging to be ridden, people travel here to do exactly that. Since I got a mountain bike, I’ve thought it a thousand times and now it’s time to go and see the view from the top. My need to feel genuinely fit and the love of this incredible land scape fit nicely together.

As I said earlier once you decide to do something big, you start seeing hints and clues everywhere and while I was trying to figure out what my ‘reward ride’ should be I read a fantastic blog my Matt Page. Matt is a ferociously good XC/enduro rider. He has the kind of resolve that scares and inspires in equal measure, he also has enough trophies on the shelf to prove it. Rather than spoil the blog for you I will merely say that he committed to the ride after some tragic circumstances and for a great cause. The link to both are at the bottom of the page and I can’t recommend them enough. He took a 210 mile variation of the route and defied previous records by completing it in a little over 18 hours ! The man has ISSUES ! Whilst I may not have any desire to ride the route non stop, I did get a buzz from the idea of the journey. So as I batted the idea of an epic ‘Journey ride’ around in my head, MBR magazine featured the Sarn Helen ride. The pages and pictures were like some editorial invitation. Eyes on the prize!
Blaenau Ffestiniog

Motivation by Failure

Local single speed nut job (and friend) Chris has recently started a MTB off shoot of the local running club and organized a local ride in some woods that are near my closest town. I knew that my back was crappy and my fitness matched, but really wanted to go along and support. The day before I’d felt really odd, a kind of ill that you can’t place. I woke up on the morning of the ride feeling lack lustre and certainly not in the mood. With a start like that the ride was only going one way… I was bloody terrible and I was also rather embarrassingly under prepared with spares. The start of the first climb and my legs were just dead and being a seated climb made my back howl. As the bunch kept a reasonable pace to the top I slipped further back and resigned myself to trying to stay as comfortable as I could. I told myself that after the climb it was mostly descents and fun. The top finally appeared and I was stoked to see the first tight and natural descent, it was short, but enough to give me a smile again. Right up until the point that I got a puncture just before a funky bit of single track. I’d decided not to pack a spare tube that morning and that my patches were fine. I knew the woods and punctures were unlikely, so patches were adequate. WRONG. My co2 shot had obviously leaked at some point and the patches were not loving the rain. I took the long walk home ! As I pushed my bike down through the woods I did some hefty swearing and then I laughed a lot. It may not have been a great ride, but it certainly was a great reminder as to why I was trying to sort both my back and my fitness.
A moment of fun on an awful ride.

Eureka moments

The next day was a busy blur and by the time I got home it didn’t feel like training time, more like sofa time. I talked myself into doing half an hours flexibility. It was a tonic and sent the energy levels just high enough to make me get changed and get on the Cross bike. The evening was cool enough to make you pedal for warmth and bright enough to smile. As my legs woke up and the brain settled I pushed harder and ‘wanted’ the ride. It ceased being about pain in my back, it was now open for me to enjoy. I willed my way up the hills and got home elated. As I reached up to put the bike back onto it’s hook in the shed I realized that the familiar ‘twang’ of pain wasn’t there ! Respite was the reward ! I had about three hours of a lot less pain than normal and it was followed with a deep sleep, bliss. There may well be a long way to go yet, but what more encouragement could I ask.

I discussed my goal with Rachel, the lady that did the nutrition plan and case study with me. It was productive to make my goal ‘public’ and discuss it with someone who is honest enough to tell it like it is. She pointed out that a trip like that had a wealth of variables and there the chance of failure. She asked the direct question “how would you deal with that possibility” I’ll have to take something from it and get the hell back on the bike. Isn’t it great when people don’t just tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.


It’s all about timing

There are a number of things that will lend themselves well to making the present time a good time for this adventure. A crucial one being that the atmosphere at home is one of vitality and health. My good lady is training for a half, followed by a full marathon. Booked and being trained for with huge dedication. The kids are all busy with lots of vibrant/healthy activities also. We also have lots going on and projects like a house extension that are making me more conscious of detail and the need for solid planning. My trip will need vast amounts of time, training and resource planning. This will be a great skill to incorporate into the life and hopefully be a welcome break from my self imposed chaos. The other skill that I’ll have to re-visit is that I’ve been at peak fitness before in my life and enjoyed it tremendously. It was a few (several) years ago though ! When I was in the Royal Navy and in my mid twenties, I trained to compete in the Field gun competition.If you are not aware of this old and brutal event, it’s an assault course that requires two teams to race with a cannon and gun carriage. Fingers are lost and injuries are frequent, it’s intensely rewarding and rich in history. It was a challenge that ended in an internal bleed and no chance of making final selection, although it was a massive disappointment at the time, it was an amazing lesson in pushing my boundaries and how to train for endurance. To this day I’ve massive respect for the guys that made the cut.

Field Gun crew.

Next time I write about the Sarn Helen I will be discussing the planning required. Detail on training and some of the wealth of wonderful sights that I’m hoping to experience along the way. Who’s up for a ride on the Roman Road !

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