Stretching while swimming

Having been away for a week and a half, firstly to London for 3 days and then to Cape Town for the best part of a week, it was good to get back in the pool again today. 70 lengths of a 25m pool was easily the most I’ve swum in one session, which I did in a few seconds over 40 minutes, although there was 30 minutes of stuff on top as I was there with Rebecca who I’m helping to learn the crawl, despite me not knowing it too well myself.

However I made a bit of a breakthrough right at the end with my stroke. I’ve known that the goal is to stretch forward as much as possible as this means you’re pulling the most amount of water and thus going further per stroke, but despite me thinking I was doing this, it turned out I was not. Quite simply, I wasn’t turning my body enough each stroke, and by turning a little more each stroke I was able to both breathe even easier and to reach even further. This made an immediate difference to how fast I was going; when I was expecting to be at a certain point in the pool after 9 strokes, or at best 8, I was there easily with 7. I kept it going and was able to continue repeating it for a few lengths in a row.

This is a definite bonus, because I was starting to wonder whether I’d stop improving at some point, or indeed whether I had already stopped improving, and thus whether I needed to go to a swim coach for further improvements. However, I do still seem to be managing to make my technique better from books and videos and practice, and I’m clearly getting stronger because my torso and pecs are starting to look quite impressive. To someone who is as vain as myself, maybe that’s not a good thing…

Shoulder not happy after swim

Went swimming yesterday and today with Rebecca, so I could help her improve her front crawl. Note I’m still quite useless, but I have enough knowledge to give her some tips as she’s really just starting to learn it. However, after today’s session where I was putting much more emphasis onto pulling myself through the water, I appear to have hurt my right shoulder a bit.

This is the shoulder that was permanently buggered in my badminton playing days, which I had to retire from after my physio finally told me I either had to quit, or get surgery which would prevent me having full use of my shoulder, which would of course mean I would have to also quit. So a quit / quit option – not the best set of options to be given. Anyway, what’s done is done, but my shoulder has never been that stable since those days, mainly because I opted for the “no surgery” option.

The swimming today seems to have loosened it a little, and it’s a bit painful when I extend my arm now. Hopefully it’ll settle down after a couple of days of rest. The swim itself was awesome; I’m getting better at left side breathing, and I managed 4 lengths with only 9 right-hand strokes each, which is the first time I’ve managed single digit stroke lengths.

Groupset upgrade, piece by piece

The damage done to my bike following Thursday’s snapped rear mech hanger continues to escalate. The rear mech, which looked generally ok and The Bicycle Works also thought might have survived has not, in fact, survived. Although it looked like it had taken a very minor bend on one of the plates, it was enough to mean that the chain was not lining up on the lower jockey wheel correctly, and although I tried to bend it back into place, it looks like the RD-4601 Tiagra rear mech has bitten the dust, despite only being used for about 10 days.

105 Chainset

105 Chainset

So this means that my commuter, which ran the Shimano 2300 groupset (aka “the crap one”) for 4 years until I upgraded the whole lot to Tiagra during April’s Easter break is now already on its way to getting replaced with the next level up, being the Shimano 105. I’ve got the chain and rear mech up to 105 now, and the next thing I suspect I will upgrade is the chainset mainly because the Tiagra one looks a bit crap.

Rear Mech Hanger Snapped

I had a fairly spectacular mechanical failure during the week. It all started towards the start of the week when my commuter started to slip gear on the cassette occasionally. I put it down to the fact that I’ve just upgraded the entire groupset and the cables had probably stretched slightly, meaning that I needed a small tweak on the barrel adjusters. However, over the next couple of days, it got progressively worse.

By the time I was heading home on Thursday, it was so bad I kept on having to get off my bike to tweak the barrel adjuster randomly in the hope it would stop skipping gears. It was all over the place – up and down, and my cranks were slipping constantly, really irritating. So when I was about 2 miles from home, I came to a sudden halt.

The noise, when your rear mech becomes detached and launches into your wheel is not one you can mistake. I knew instantly what had happened, and nearly went over my handlebars, but thankfully managed to recover before going all the way over.

IMG_3955I got off my bike and went to have a look to see what had happened. The rear mech was complete detached and had buried itself into my cassette and wheel, with the jockey wheels lodged nicely in the cassette. My rear wheel had become entirely detached from the dropouts and was now hanging precariously with only the chain keeping it anywhere near where it was meant to be.

At first, I thought my frame and wheel would likely be goners. However, what I’ve learnt is that the rear mech attaches to a detachable part called a hanger, and it’s actually meant to brake, to save your frame from breaking. And this is what happened. Also, because I was going slowly when it happened (I was going up a steep hill), and because I’m fairly light, I think this saved my wheel. I can’t see any damage to the wheel at all, and indeed managed to push the bike for a mile before the wife came to collect me, as I managed to reattach it to the dropouts after removing the cassette.

It took quite some effort to get the broken part of the hanger off the cassette, but I got there eventually. I think the rear mech has survived, which is more than can be said for my chain which has a link that’s been completely mashed. However, only one link, so the rest is looking ok. If I get a replacement chain of the same type, then I figure I can make 2 chains out of one, by shortening the new one to the same length as the old one, and adding a link from the new one to the old one to make them the same length.

So it’s off to the shops to try to find a rear mech hanger. Apparently all frames come with their own version of a hanger, but my commuter is a Specialized, so fairly common and therefore I’m hopeful that somewhere will have something…

First triathlon

Completed my first triathlon today – yay! I came a miserable 144th out of 166. Pish, eh? However, there’s lots of room for improvement.

I managed to do the swim without stopping, however I was still 8th slowest out of 166. I followed this up with the 2nd slowest first transition out of the entire field – holy crap. This left me 3rd last overall after the swim and T1.

The cycle went much better. I overtook loads of people, especially at the start, and lost count how many I went past in total, and got to the end without being overtaken myself. Granted, the really fast cyclists would have also been much faster in the pool and thus in a much later heat, but still… So after the cycle, I’d made up 16 places. T2 wasn’t quite so bad, although I still took almost 2 minutes, and from looking at other people, it seems I could have knocked off at least 30 seconds here quite easily.

The run… didn’t go so well. Turns out it was a cross country run, and my ankles don’t cope with such territory at all well and thus it took me far longer than I thought it was going to take. I still made up a half dozen places, but it was disappointing.

So plenty of lessons to learn from it:

  1. Get a trisuit. That will save vast time in transitions, and also make me look less pathetic when going to the start line
  2. Get quicker during transitions in general. This merely means being more organised. I was in total chaos and time flew by.
  3. Keep up the running training. I started far too late, concentrating mainly on swimming with some biking. My run was terrible.
  4. Get better at swimming. Work in progress.
  5. Get better at cycling too! I need to start doing shorter faster cycles. My cycle averaged 16.1mph, so I really need to get that higher

Sky breaks Never Miss feature on their web site

I like Sky’s “Never Miss” utility, as it allows me to make a note on their site of a film I’d like to see which isn’t on Sky right now. However, they have currently broken it. It usually works easily; get an email telling you a film is on in a week’s time, click link from their email to go to their site, click various “Record” buttons, and hey presto – job done. But when you click on the 2nd Record button, nothing happens. Or at least, nothing appears to happen. Actually, what is happening is a web request is sent off silently, but it fails… silently. So you think the link is broken, or goes nowhere. It pretty much does go nowhere, let’s be honest, because the connection is reset by the web host at the other end – but if the site at least told you that, it wouldn’t be quite so bad!

C’mon Sky, fix it please!

Shimano Tiagra Groupset is Installed

Back in January, I did a trial run to install my new Shimano Tiagra groupset on to a frame that I’d bought off Gumtree. The exercise was thoroughly worthwhile because I learnt a lot about how a bike is put together, and there’s no better thing than taking apart a bike that you don’t actually need to use – taking apart the one you use on a daily basis puts a lot of pressure on to get it all working again! It wasn’t perfect, though, mainly due to the frame forks being too wide and the cassette not fitting in the forks well such that I couldn’t put the bike in the smallest cog on the cassette. But still, a good practice.

Well, I’m on holiday this week and it was the time to put the groupset on my commuter – the bike I use on a daily basis. I deliberately did it at the start of this week to give me time to fix things as and when they went wrong. But surprisingly, the main things that went wrong were more to do with taking the old kit off the bike, rather than attaching the new kit on it. It’s all on, and a 23 mile test ride this afternoon suggests that there’s no major issues with it so far. I’ve gone from 8 gears up to 20 – win!

I have learnt a lot from the exercise, so if you’re considering upgrading your bike, here’s some important lessons to consider:

Get the right tools
I don’t think I would ever have believed someone if they told me the amount of different tools you need to maintain a bike. There’s a lot more to it than just some allen keys (which are important!). A socket wrench, torque wrench, rubber mallet, bottom bracket tool (x2), cassette removal tool, cable cutter, adjustable spanner, phillips and flat-head screwdrivers… there’s bound to be more, but those are the key ones. Make sure you have and understand all the tools that you need for all the jobs, because there’s nothing worse than getting half way through the job to discover that one all-important tool is missing.
Cables, inner and outer
Rather than buying cable sets, I just bought a bunch of inner cables and a bunch of outer cables. This makes for a lot less waste, or at the very least a lot tidier box of kit. Buying them individually appears to be much cheaper! And OMG, but replacing cables makes such a difference. Also, the cables are different for gears and brakes – that’s both the inners and outers. So make sure you get some of both. And cable end caps. And ferrules…
Too long an outer can cause a problem
I had a bit of outer just in front of my rear brake caliper which was around 3mm too long and caused my brake to not release properly. I shit you not. 3mm made all the difference; it was basically forcing the inner through too much of a bend, and knocking 3mm off the outer made the bend straight enough to not cause a problem, but still bendy enough to allow the barrel adjuster to work.
Cassettes are a bastard to remove
I could not get the old cassette off the wheel. Spent an hour trying to do it, pulled a muscle in my back trying to force the fucker to budge, but I couldn’t get it to move. Took it to the bike shop, the guy did it instantly. In fairness, his spanner handle was really long, so he was able to get a lot more leverage, so maybe I need to get a bigger one (oo-er). When I put the new cassette on, I didn’t put it on tightly. Indeed, it’s on quite softly, tbh. Hopefully it won’t fall off.
Cables can get jammed in barrel adjusters
I had some serious issues with cables jammed in barrel adjusters. One of the barrel adjusters in my brake calipers is a write-off (no biggie) as I ended up having to cut the cable as it just wouldn’t come out. Therefore, consider that you might have more trouble getting the kit off your bike rather than putting the new kit on it.
Front mechs have braze-on and clip-on
These phrases meant nothing to me initially, but it’s pretty simple; clip-on front mechs quite simply have a round band which goes around your seat tube and is held in place with nothing more than tightening the band. This initially surprised me – I thought it must surely have been held in place with some kind of screw through the seat tube, but no, nothing more than tightening the clip. Measuring the size of your seat tube is potentially the first time in your life that π (pi; 3.14159…) comes in useful. Braze-on, on the other hand, require your bike seat-tube to have a specific thing on to which you attach a braze-on mech. Therefore, the braze-on is the same as a clip-on, just without the round “clip” (round band). If you’re completely unsure, you could always get a braze-on and get a separate band on its own on to which you can attach the braze-on front mech – but if you just have a good look at it, you should be able to tell whether yours has a band round your seat-tube or not.
Triples are pointless
I knew this already – having a triple crankset is a waste of time. I think mine was 52/42/32, and aside from comedy value when I first got the bike, I never used the 32 (aka granny) ring. The smallest gear I ever used was therefore a 42/25 (since my cassette was a 12/25). This never caused me a problem. However, today I went in my new smallest gear of 39/30 and holy crap, it’s small! Only needed for the steepest of hills, and even then, very rarely. If you really do need low gears rather than high gears, get a compact 50/34. I’m running 53/39 on both my commuter and my Cervélo, with 12/30 on the commuter and 11/28 on the é. Loving it.
Bike stands are a must
SSIA. If you don’t have one, you really should, they are a life saver.

Office 365 is broken: Sorry, there’s something wrong with your account

I have Office 365 which has been ace for the past few months. Alas, it’s stopped working on my Win7 laptop for no apparent reason, and when I attempt to log in to office.microsoft.com and see what’s up, I get “Sorry, there’s something wrong with your account”. Unhelpfully, although it says “We need your help to fix the problem. Click Contact Support to get help”, and suggests I click the “Contact Support” button, it takes me to the front page of their Support Centre, with no indication of WTF I am now supposed to do to gain said help.

So I contact Microsoft through their web site and they are totally stumped. They first say they can see nothing wrong with my account, but later admit they have many other cases of this, and they have to escalate it to get it fixed, which can apparently take days. So I’m without Excel on my Win7 laptop for a while, then… :(

[ Updated 16-Apr-14 ]

Credit where credit is due, Microsoft duly fixed the problem 2 days later. At least, they have fixed the problem with my online account – I still have to reinstall it on the Win7 laptop to see if that resolves that problem, but I didn’t ask them to fix that (yet).

Swimming just got easier

This week has seen a significant breakthrough in terms of swimming. Before Wednesday, the most I had ever swum without stopping was 300 metres, and when I finished that I was absolutely exhausted. Then, on Wednesday, I decided that my aim was to try to swim while breathing left. This I managed with relative ease, so had a bit of a practice of that for a few lengths, and then just kept on swimming. I realised I hadn’t been counting the lengths I had swum, which I usually do, because I had been concentrating on the different breathing technique, but I also realised that I didn’t feel tired or out of breath, which is very strange, because I usually start running out of breath after about 8 lengths. I eventually decided to stop so I could see how many lengths I had gone – 16. So, 400 metres. A new PB. It was amazing.

Today, I thought I’d try the same thing again, although this time to actually count the lengths I was doing. Now, normally I’d have done something different, such as sets of 4 lengths to improve my speed, but I wanted to see whether what happened on Wednesday was a fluke, or whether I could repeat it… because swimming actually felt easy for the first time in my life.

What do I mean by easy? Well, I can describe it fairly simply. “Not dying” has been my only tactic up to this point. I have never been able to swim with any level of confidence (or skill), and merely breathing has always been the major issue, in terms of not managing to get enough oxygen into my lungs. But on Wednesday, I seemed to be able to do it without any problem.

Therefore, today I got in the pool to see if I could hit 16 lengths, and I managed it again with ease, so kept going. By the time I was on length 22, I knew I was able to get to my ultimate goal of 30 lengths, which is what I need to do so that I can enter a sprint triathlon, leaving me merely to then get fast enough to do it inside 20 minutes. And guess what – I managed it in 19:33. Winner.

Needless to say, I’ve entered the next available triathlon, which is in April. Looks like I’ll need to get my running shoes out again :)

This week also saw a good number of miles, mainly on the bike, with a solid 117 added on to the year’s total:

miles-comparison