My First Proper Col!

Yay, I did it! Not just my first proper col (with obligatory pic at top) but also the first time I’ve ridden a road that first caught my eye on our first our holiday over here, six years ago almost to the day. It was awesome.

My Trek bike on the Col de Festes sign (Alt: 677m)

At the top! It looks like someone who came before me may have lost their keys. Oops.

I’ve been getting out and about for a ride one morning every weekend. It’s great to get that time again. The first morning I rode for just 12 miles and was out for an hour. The following weekend, since everyone had a nice time without me the week before, I ventured a little further clocking 19 miles in just over 1.5 hours. Today I decided to go for it – up and over the Col de Festes, meeting the peeps in Quillan park afterwards, which made the time away and distance manageable but still the longest and furthest so far. I clocked 23 miles in the just under 2 hours and made it to my rendezvous with the family in time to get the shopping. Just.

My stats are shocking. I Strava’d the whole thing of course and the only way is up from here. But I wasn’t riding for that. I was riding for the hell of it, because I can, because I can now leave the house for a couple of hours and just pedal. It’s been well over two years since I made it out of the house every weekend to ride. I love it.

And the route. Wow! This is a really great place to ride. Before I hit the main road I must have seen no more than three cars. Actually I was more worried about wild pigs and drunken hunters than cars. There were also a lot of trees and I was nervous on some of the wooded descents as the roads were littered in acorns, so I didn’t do those quite as quickly as I might have on a clear road. Hazards aside (and I’ll take acorns and wild pigs over BMW drivers and white van man, thank you) it was beautiful, quiet, and really fucking hilly  – for my unfit legs anyway.

Gradient Profile from the Col de Festes Ride

Two hills and one ever-so-slightly uphill ending

There was absolutely nothing sociable about it, either. I left the house, pointed my bike up the hill, and pedaled. Because I was worried about how long it would take (I hadn’t really been clear with James about my route because I just wanted to get on with it and not be persuaded that it might take too long) and wanted to make sure I made it to our meeting point in no less than 2 hours. It was tough, actually. I stopped at the top of the col for a photo and then again at the shop in Campagne-sur-Aude. By that point my legs were wrecked and I still had about 6km to go. It was a miracle that the shop was open. They were sold out of pain au chocolats but, nevermind, because they had Snickers. Snickers!! I paid the 80 cents (rip off) and quickly inhaled it before leaving the quiet back roads and joining the main road.

Although I used to love the out of the house all day rides, clocking up the miles, hanging out with my mates, bolting a nice cafe stop onto the day – sometimes a couple of cafe stops! – I also like these nose to the grindstone solo rides where I only stop if I absolutely have too. There’s something quite therapeutic about not stopping. Most of all, it’s wonderful to be able to get out again and in such beautiful surroundings. I’ll be fitter and faster before long, I’m sure!


Motherhood is hard (sometimes) so exercise can wait.

One of the things I’ve discovered since becoming a mother for the second time is that it’s more healthy for me, mentally and physically, to do nothing on days that I’m just too tired. That’s something I would never have been able to say after DD was born when getting my fitness back was incredibly important to me.

It wasn’t only losing the baby weight that bothered me then. That was important, but also I was keen to regain my strength and fitness so I could get out there and keep up with my friends. I’d spent 9 months watching them all go from strength-to-strength and could hardly wait to get back out there again! I felt left out with bells on! This was made worse because the year before I got pregnant with DD I was the fittest I think I’d ever been. Being pregnant and then new mummy to DD put the brakes on that for me but no such barrier for my friends. Most difficult of all to swallow were the achievements of my team mates. Four of us from the mountain bike club had ridden an all-girl team in the 24-hour enduro (Sleepless in the Saddle) and we’re chuffed to bits that we’d podiumed (3rd place – not bad for our first race.)

Four women in pink Manchester Mountain Biker cycling tops on the third place podium at SITS 2012

Me and my team mates on the podium at SITS in 2012

We’d been fairly inseparable since, spending at least one day a week out on a ride together and really getting into our road riding, all riding at a fairly similar level and loving it. That same year I’d ridden Mountain Mayhem in the mud and loved it and had also completed my first century ride on the road. I was getting in 100 sometimes 200 miles or more a week, combining both on and off road, and with all this I was riding stronger and harder on my mountain bike than ever. Clearing Jacob’s Ladder on the Five on a day out in the Peaks was a highlight. I was buzzing on the bike!

One baby later I could barely make it to the shops and back. I had no time to ride with friends and couldn’t have kept up with them anyway as they were by now into riding audaxes, regularly bashing out 200 kms, and riding TT’s with the new clubs they’d joined. I saw from Strava that two of them had ridden past my house on their mountain bikes and not popped in to say hi!! I cried like the baby I held in my arms when I saw that. Why did they not come to see me!? I missed them all so much. I had other friends, yes, but these were my team mates – it was different somehow. It took a while to get past that and I literally had to allow myself to grieve for the old me and not so much my friends as people but the relationship I had with them.

So why am I telling you all this?

As friends, we’re connected again now, which is lovely, but now I look back and see that the time away from everyone gave gave me an opportunity, some space, to find a more balanced approach that was less all consuming. In the middle of it all there was always a ride, always somewhere to go, somewhere to be, someone to beat, whether that was beating my best or chasing the tail of a mate. It was while trying to get my fitness back in acceptance of only having short bursts of time available that I discovered kettle bells and started strength training. I kept using those throughout my second pregnancy (until my pelvis gave up on me) and managed a few months of post-natal recovery afterwards. But then I just stopped. My baby grew. We were moving house, which involved decluttering, packing, and relocating to antoher country. My baby continued to grow, and to crawl, and all the while my older baby stopped being a baby and became a little girl. I had no time even to think about riding my bike and, living in a tiny one-bedroom house, there was nowhere safe that I could swing that bell even if I’d wanted to.

The old me – the post baby #1 me – would have been in bits about this lack of activity. I’d have been freaking out about lost hours, lost fitness, and how I’ll never recover. But this version of me hasn’t batted an eye.

Regarding my general fitness, I know there will be a time for that again too. I eat well (although as I’m still nursing I regularly stuff down a cake and tell myself it’s to make up the calories), which has helped with the weight side of things. Strength-wise, I’m usually wrangling on 10kg tot and his 15kg sister, so I’m not exactly wasting away on the sofa! But some days I’m just tired. Too tired. Trying to implement a fitness regime around all my other commitments and two small children who still wake in the night, or get sick, or who are just bloody hard work some days, is just too much. It’s not worth killing myself over, really. And I’d rather be here with them right now. I can ride all the cols in the world when they’ve left home. It won’t be many years until they have their own things to do on the weekends and I’ll be free to fill my days how I please. I’ll get my fitness back but without pushing it and for now I’m happy with the holding pattern, getting out for a ride now and again or swinging a bell when I get a quiet 20 minutes, in maintenance mode – or taking them out for short loops with the trailer, which is pretty good exercise when you think between them they weight 25kg! And on other days, days when I just can’t be arsed, it’s okay to sack it all off  because it’s virtually impossible to do nothing with two small children to take care of. Where I am now, when I’m just too darned tired, I like that I can cuddle up with them to watch a movie, or bake, or take a very slow walk to the park and push them on the swings. And at nights, while they sleep (when they sleep!) I plot routes and read other blogs about cycling adventures and that is enough for now. There’s a new me in town. I’m a bit wobbly in places, slow on the hills, and have totally lost my bottle on the mountain bike, but it really doesn’t matter.





Do pregnancy hormones have any effect on weight loss?

I learned something I probaby didn’t want to know earlier today. Thanks a lot, Google.

Basically, I was sitting here wondering whether pregnancy hormones (or the flushing out of pregnancy hormones) was one of the triggers for post-partum weight loss. I was wondering that solely on obvervations of my own weight, which stayed put pretty much static for the first couple of months until about 6 weeks ago when I started steadily losing about 1 pound per month without really trying. Yes, I’m trying to be more active and have been careful about what I eat but not really any more than usual as I’m also conscious of the fact that I’m breastfeeding two (yes, two) children, so I started weighing myself to ensure that I wasn’t gaining but also to ensure that, if I was losing, that I wasn’t losing too rapidly, as that would affect my supply. I was also aware that the linea negra was still visible and, knowing that that’s hormonal, was curious about whether that disappearing would coincide with any weight loss.

Anyhoo, that’s the background to why I was Googling “pregnancy hormones weight loss”. So what did I find? Well, of all the faddy, bonkers things that people do, I never in a million years considered that people would actually inject themselves with pregnancy hormones (HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin) as a means of losing weight. I mean, seriously? As if that’s no mad enough, the programme that advocates using HCG as a weight loss method (I don’t want to name anyone because I’d hate to drive traffic to them) provides the course of hormone injections while also stipulating that the client restricts their food intake to just 500 calories a day. Yes, that’s right – just 500 calories, which as many extra calories as I’m supposed to eat in order to sustain my milk supply. And as with so many of these miracle diets it will set you back more than $1,000 for the privilege. I mean wow. So you can take these injections and – while also not eating – lose weight. Go figure. Some people swear by it (duh, you’re not eating) and others just felt conned. Those were probably the hungry ones who didn’t quite manage the 500 calorie thing.

And after that short detour into madness I’m still no closer to finding out whether the release of pregnancy hormones from the body has any impact on post-partum weight loss. Oh well. Time for a healthy snack and maybe a few minutes on the hula hoop.

It’s still all about the hula

Spin it, baby! I’m really getting the hang of this hula hoop malarkey and love that I’m only ever aiming for 10 minute sessions. Things have been a bit mad so aiming for 10 minutes is manageable. In just a few weeks I’ve gone from being a complete hula novice to a full 10 minutes uninterrupted and am working on getting up to 10 minutes in the other direction too (anti-clockwise). It’s awesome! My other activities have fallen by the wayside somewhat – there may even be a think layer of dust settling on my kettle bells – but since I’m finding even these short hula sessions pretty physical it’s not bothering me.

And I really need to consider upping my step target to 10,000 again as I’m hitting and beating that most days now, which is great. I remember my pregnancy low was about 2,500 steps so it wan’t surprising I gained a bit of weight and felt miserable. I’m back on the move – yay!