Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Peugeot 306 repairs Rip Off !


I hate garages and mechanics because they are thieves and incompetent. This feeling was strongly reinforced yesterday when I took my car to one because the heating had died and it wasn’t a simple problem with the fuses. After diagnostic tests the garage told me the whole ventilation would have to be changed. I pointed out that it was blowing air fine and only lacked the heat! They then continued the diagnostics and told me a temperature sensor had to be replaced before they could really tell what was wrong. I told them that I thought the problem would be in the dashboard – something to do with the variable resistor that controls the heating selection. The cost of diagnositics and sensor change was already up to 170 euros and I heard  long spiel on how this could affect many things. Weird considering that my temperature gauge had always worked!  Once the work was done and there was of course no difference they proposed to change the dashboard control unit – at 675 euros before including the cost of  the work. This is where I lost my temper with them and walked out of the garage telling them that I’d fix it myself and could promise them that it would cost between 20 to 30 euros total  - even if at this point I didn’t know anything about the car – and that I’d be back to show them that later on.

After driving home I got on the internet and found a Peugeot 306 club website where they explained how to dismantle the dashboard – so in 30 minutes I had it completely in bits…

The problem was rapidly located – being a broken plastic pin on the inside end of the heater control knob – something not even worth one euro. I returned to the garage to show them and asked them how they could be comfortable billing someone over 1000 euros to sort the problem of a broken part worth 1 euro. Basically we parted company with not much friendship  or good feeling between us.

Following the latest run in with the garage I located a local scrapyard and there was one Peugeot in it with the dashboard already removed and a control box identical to mine just sitting there – for the taking at only 30 euros! It worked fine and leaves me with a spare control box. So I was 100% correct that it would be repaired for 30 euros instead of over 1000.

The garage also pulled out a list of sensors that needed to be replaced adding potentially another 500 euros to their bill. When I asked them for a copy of the diagnostics test they refused and said that they couldn’t do that. I gave them the option – a photocopy of the diagnostics or my money back for the test! They relented and gave a photocopy. Basically the main dealers are crooks with a license to rob people – trying to bamboozle them with their “sophisticated” diagnostics. All the work they were going to rip me off for was just simple replacement of simple external sensors. I’ll never take a car to a main dealer again – they are much worse than I could ever imagine – total thieves and rubbish mechanics. They are fleecing people left right and center.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Big bug at home on my lettuce!


I never cease to be amazed at the number and diversity of bugs in this region. I’m not sure what this critter’s normal job is but it seems to like my lettuce and it’s two hooked fingers on each leg / arm or whatever are impressive.

This second photo shows baby’s hanging on to its belly – either that or beetle parasites. You can see two of them and when the original image is expanded they are in clear detail. I wonder what our closest common ancestor is to this critter.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Colle St Carlos–Italian Hot Chocolate


At the top of Colle St Carlos in Italy there is a small traditional restaurant and cafe – where they serve genuine thick Italian hot chocolate. Each year before the mountain passes close for the winter we go there for one of those real hot chocolates. There is a magnificent view of Mont Blanc and great hiking area, but today there was thick cloud cover and not the best light for photography.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Unbelievable Road Bike Handling


I definitely wouldn’t try to join this guy for a bike ride.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Colle St Carlos

Woke up this morning with calf muscles debilitatingly sore and stiff from running “doms”. I’d stuck to only 5km (two days’ before) but significantly accelerated for the final two kilometres and that was enough to push me though this adaptation phase. That would have been fine, but not when the idea was to get up early to go on a monster bike ride (115km and 3100m (10,500ft) climbing ) over the Alps with someone fitter and faster than myself.

Only four days earlier I’d covered 120km cycling and went through various ups and downs in performance that were seemingly due to blood sugar levels. This time it would be prudent to try to learn something and do a better job of controlling the issues – otherwise the day would not be very enjoyable. The first climb of the day (1400m) was from Bourg St Maurice at 853m altitude to the Col de Petit St Bernard at 2245m – for which I unfortunately forgot to start logging on the Xperia. This isn’t a steep climb but it’s very hard work because the climb is non stop for 30km and the moderate gradient allows you to go relatively fast. With this being the “warm up” climb for the day Chris and I climbed it together, managing to hold sporadic conversations on the way up. We didn’t want to overdo it on this climb because the real target was the dramatic ascent of the Colle St Carlos – plus there would be 5hrs 36mins of aggressive cycling ahead so it was prudent to start off “relatively” easily.

Chris wore winter style clothing with full gloves and long leggings. I wore summer gear with a base layer and arms warmers to start with plus a wind breaker. It was only around 10°C at Bourg when we left and 8:30am and it would probably be near freezing at altitude but clear sky and sunshine were forecast. As it happened there appeared to be  a form of temperature inversion and it was warmer at altitude than in the valleys – especially over on the Italian side of the border.

Pushing hard up to la Rosière ski station I was already starting to feel a form of tiredness after about 90 minutes. Although this was not the hardest part of the day we were not hanging about and it was time to put recent lessons to the test. The last thing is the world I felt like doing at this moment was eating. It’s not that the desire to eat is absent, there is a positive desire NOT to eat. The body is working very hard and all the blood is pulled away from the stomach to the legs so it’s like the stomach and all it’s needs are switched off making the very idea of eating repulsive. This appears to be what has always in the past prevented me from reacting to fatigue by eating and always associating it with lactic acid instead. I made myself eat an almond bar and drink some electrolyte fluid. Within five minutes the sensation of encroaching tiredness had subsided and full energy levels returned. It’s the first time I’ve ever made it to the top of this 30km climb without flagging towards the end! The time of 1hr 50 mins is a reasonable time and in line with a good solid workout even it was the only climb of the day. We stopped to put on windbreakers for the very long descent into the Aosta valley and that’s when I spotted that the Xperia had not been switched on to logging.

Passing through la Thuille in Italy and dropping down the narrow valley towards the Aosta alley it became very cold. This was partly due to the valley being in the shade and partly due to the temperature inversion. Fortunately it warmed up again towards the bottom of the descent and it wasn’t too bad. My descending was slightly affected by the effect of the running “doms” in the legs and the resulting sub 100% feeling that this leaves you with. To descend strongly you have to be at 100% to have the necessary confidence. I was generally hanging back behind Chris all the time – not chomping at the bit at all to be pushing on the pedals. Everything seemed to be done with a slight reluctance but acceptance nonetheless. While traversing the Aosta valley towards the Colle St Carlos I ate another almond bar and Chris gave me a large dextrose tablet – which I’d wait until about 10 minutes into the climb before eating. Dextrose is identical to the sugar in the blood so it doesn’t need to be digested and goes straight into the blood stream. Meanwhile hopefully the recharge from the almond bar would be working it’s way into the system.

The Colle St Carlos is viciously steep – up to 18% for significant stretches and climbing 1000m in only 10km. Most of the steep climbing is concentrated in the first half, which seriously tires out the legs for the second half. The first time I ever climbed this my bike had a standard 38T front and 23T rear gear setup and I had to zigzag to make it to the top. Today I’d have a 34T front and 28T rear available so there were no worries there. Most of the steeps I managed to climb in either the 23T or 25T, only dropping down to 28T on the nastiest parts and trying hard not to remain there afterwards.  The Rotor oval chainwheel is actually the equivalent of a 37T during the power phase, dropping to about 31T through the dead spot. The climb took about 1hr 2mins and it was tough. Normally I’d expect to die about half way up this climb but for the final 30 minutes the opposite happened and my heart rate was even higher at around 160 bpm average. There was no sign of light headedness or headache or of the sensation of energy draining away. The sugar management was clearly working and “lactic acid” was evidently not the main issue after all. One new drawback surfaced however! There was now no excuse to ease off with the effort! The limitations were now simply power to weight ratio and fitness. Whenever I found the thighs or hips hurting too much then some relief could be found in standing up on the pedals and getting a better extension of the hips and contraction of the glutes – also taking some of the strain off the lower back. Whenever I remembered to work from  the core there would be a dramatic recovery of speed and ease of pedalling – as if the “pull up” happened without trying. For some odd reason I felt unable to focus on that consistently, but it came to the rescue frequently when the going got tough.

Something else happened that seems to be the mental equivalent of physical centring with the core muscles. Deprived of my normal “get out” and default “plodding” mode with my head completely zonked out, then a new strategy would be necessary for dealing with discomfort. For some reason enforced “plodding” limits the self inflicted discomfort you experience. The body defends itself and goes into fat burning mode, which you can maintain almost indefinitely. The discomfort levels associated with fat burning plodding are not so great – it’s just that it’s an enforced condition and the brain won’t permit you any other options once this happens. Recently I read a letter by Stephen Gough – famous as “The naked Rambler” who has just spent 6 years in solitary confinement in jail. He is a man with incredible integrity and courage. He discusses how people’s prejudices are mostly caused by their inability to question their own assumptions – in other words – to participate consciously in their thoughts and acts. He gave an example of a neighbour in prison who would complain of boredom. He responded to this other prisoner by asking him if he had ever questioned his assumption that he was bored. When his neighbour actually interrogated himself on the issue he realised that there was no boredom. Christiane, when she walks or runs likes to see the ground and scenery as if they were moving towards her, so that she can feel centred and focused more inside her own body instead of externally. During the discomfort of extreme effort in cycling I noticed the same issues arising. Looking ahead at the long steep road it could quickly become discouraging, so it was important to bring the focus internally. Bringing the focus internally also would mean avoiding “external” assumptions of discomfort or anxiety. It was necessary to question the assumption of discomfort – was it really that bad? When observing the body attentively and putting this to the question it became obvious that the discomfort was largely an illusion, an assumption – an “external” thought just as external as the long steep road ahead. Centring the mind meant focusing directly on the body and asking for accurate real-time feedback. 

The summit of the Colle St Carlos has a fantastic little cafe / restaurant which is always open even on Sundays. They serve REAL thick Italian hot chocolate, but today a coffee would be fine. The sun was out and it was warm enough to sit outdoors and try to dry out a bit. Removing my headband and wringing it created a large puddle of sweat on the ground. It took a good ten minutes to recover properly from the exertion. Drying out was important because there was a 500m vertical descent back to la Thuille before the final 700m climb of the day back to the Col de Petit St Bernard. We refilled the water bottles at the cafe from an outdoor tap and set off refreshed.

Arriving at la Thuille we bumped into two British cyclists preparing to set off up the same climb – Martin Row and Sam Pritchard. By now my legs felt weary and although I’d expected a relaxed final climb it was obvious that this wasn’t going to happen. Chris and I packed away the wind breaker jackets and set off on the climb at a good pace. Looking back we could see one of the other’s also attacking the climb at a good pace. I could stay with Chris at the start but found myself working at a level that was unsustainable so once we arrived at the steeper parts I let him go ahead. For my part I simply maintained a solid workload – most of the time in third gear or dropping to second when absolutely necessary and applying all the technique and psychology that I could muster. Once again my body was failing to default into plodding mode so there was no “get out” possible. The distance grew between me and the “competition” behind so that was quite satisfying considering the big workload from the day already in the legs. Chris waited in the Italian cafe at the top of the col and when I joined him it was difficult to walk into the cafe. My legs seemed to be seizing up mainly from the running “doms” and somehow this was now really catching up with me. Inside my thighs started to ache and throb – a fairly unpleasant sensation. This left little desire to pedal on 30km descent to Bourg – which can be greatly assisted by pedalling hard. I ate more sugar to help with tiredness and once again it did seem to help. However I WAS genuinely tired by now.

At home I was totally wasted and unable to even watch TV or a film, my powers of concentration were so seriously depleted. Sleeping was not an option either because of aches everywhere. The fantastic thing is that I had learned why the quality of long workouts had so often (but strangely not always) been so poor due to blood sugar management. Endless hours of plodding through an inner fog are just demoralising and discouraging. Short fast workouts are great but they don’t build enough stamina – or at least they don’t teach you how to cope with longer demanding rides and how to develop appropriate tactics and strategy.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Nike God

It has been a real battle changing running technique to a more natural form. The problem is that the Nike invention of heel striking and soft shoe soles is a bit like a fast food addiction; great at the time but extremely damaging in the long term and very hard to change. This problem is compounded from a lifetime of walking around with thick heels on shoes and so always reaching ahead with the feet and heel striking even when walking. On top of this an entire pseudo-medical industry has developed to deal with the problems this generates, all with an extremely pious air of respectability and authority. My own experience at age 25, with serious back trouble, was to have the country's leading podiatrist jack me up on even higher heels and plastic foot supports. Almost 30 years later I can now see the complete stupidity in this and how it damaged my posture and back even more - but when young, inexperienced, uninformed and guided by society we are vulnerable to this self-generated expert authority. All of this masks the simple fact that the body contains it's own wisdom and knows what's best. If the noise of civilization can just be quietened enough so that we can listen to the body then all the information required is already there.

The first thing to understand when changing running in this direction is that the "fast food" days are over; no more instant gratification. Say goodbye to Nike and all the copycat products everywhere; the "motion control", "anti pronation", "shock absorption" junk food equivalent. This all means that a whole new mind set is required to work along with a whole new set of muscles, tendons and ligaments doing a whole new job. Shock absorption and motion control now come directly from the muscles, tendons and ligaments so the demands placed upon them are dramatically different. This change is major and so it changes every aspect of running and what to expect from it. It takes longer to build up distance and speed due to the direct demands placed upon the body. Interruptions in training cause a more significant impact on performance and it takes longer to get things back together again on returning to running. Good mechanics of movement require awareness, focus and attention at all times, instead of mindless abandonment to the Nike God. Adaptation towards "Conscious" running is the easy part. The hard part is in dealing with long term effects of "fast food" style withdrawal and the slowed and changed patterns of progress, yet rapid set backs due to interruptions. Over time however it is noticed that interruptions are no longer due to chronic injuries, but are only due to priorities. The aches and pains after running (doms) and aching tendons are very predictable and noticeable with each increase in distance or speed, so with just a little experience it is very easy to avoid those issues becoming injuries. The Nike God in contrast has a tendency to directly mask those issues and allow you to forge on through until something breaks. Frustration at the slow build up of speed or distance is easily offset through patient appreciation that the quality of the build up is much greater and deeper. Whether this eventually leads to a better overall performance is debatable, but what isn't debatable is that it definitely leads to a better overall experience in several different and fundamental dimensions. Just get used to more progressive and methodical build-ups in training. Quality can't be rushed. We are off the "fast food" and preparation takes time. The heartening thing for those who persist is that as the level builds so do the rewards, on every level. Awareness grows steadily like a solid and massive oak tree from a tiny acorn. Performance itself takes second place to this other development. Each slow build up after an interruption also gives time to let fresh water and nutrition get to all the existing branches and leaves of this oak tree - letting you get properly back in touch with the body as the physical side sorts itself out. Awareness and good mechanics are necessary together to fight off the omnipresent Nike God.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bauges Revisited

Last weekend was frustrating as another weather front passed through putting paid to most outdoors activities – including bailing out of the Cimes du Lac d’Annecy race on Sunday and just going for a 5k run instead. Tuesday morning the sun was forecast to return so we made a date for a tour of the Massif des Bauges. Experience has taught me that unless you are on a tight time schedule it’s best to wait until the sun has the chance to warm up the air a bit and to delay the start of any trip until late morning or lunch time. In the summer it’s better to start early to avoid the heat, but in Spring and Autumn late starts are better – though not so late that you get caught out in the dark.

Paul was a little late arriving at the car park in Albertville but he had much further to drive and on a road that is frequently blocked – coming from Chamonix directly over the mountains. The Chamonix valley, like the Tarantaise valley is narrow with steep sides, so this limits the sort of cycling available there. Annecy and Albertville open up extensive rolling areas at lower altitude. The scenery is stunning and roads relatively empty so it is ideal cycling terrain for the whole year round. Personally I find that I’m spoiled regarding scenery after so many years of living in the mountains. I recognise that the Bauges is incredibly beautiful but it doesn’t take my breath away. Perhaps I’d need to go to Mars to get that feeling again – or just go somewhere flat for a few months.

Unfortunately the weather was heavily overcast again in the morning so I’d packed a full assortment of clothing options. Even when preparing in the car park the clouds started breaking up and blue skies started to appear. It was obviously going to warm up as predicted. We had one climb of 650m up tot and altitude of 950m so there would be no high altitude issues to deal with – sticking to “middle mountain” terrain. It would be cycling shorts and short sleeved shirts – with arm warmers and wind breaker in the pocket.

Cycling though Albertville is a mundane affair through busy traffic and junctions, but within minutes the town is left behind and you find yourself on the edge of the Bauges national park. The road skirts the edge of the Southerly facing mountains passing through vineyards linked to spectacular old chateaux and monasteries. For some reason the road is not on the valley bottom but follows the base of the mountains over rolling hills, making it much more enjoyable cycling. I felt strong at the start having rested the previous day and only running a short distance the day before that. Paul on the other hand had done some challenging mountain-biking the day before – but his level of fitness in general meant that this wouldn’t present a problem. I have a tendency to back off on long trips to conserve energy – but Paul set off at the sort of pace I’d normally reserve for a 90 minute ride. This tour was intended to be about 3hrs 40 minutes or thereabouts. Choosing a pace seems to be a largely unconscious thing – the brain making choices for you. I still felt it my duty to work some of the time in front doing the pulling and with the stamina built up over the previous couple of months figured out that my body could sustain the effort over the distance even though there was a mental resistance towards it. Racing is a great way to overcome this resistance and stretch yourself a bit further – somehow it’s easier to accept this mind-set when racing – perhaps due to adrenaline. Perhaps it’s just that I’m used to either short sharp distances or long plods – but when stamina has built up a bit then it’s time to push harder for longer – so I had no issues with attempting to do so.

The first 650m climb was the biggest of the day up to 950m altitude, taking us from St Pierre d’Albingy up onto the Massif des Bauges plateau via the Col de Frêne . From Albertville all the way to Chambery this ridge of mountains sits on the south side of the valley and there are several cols that can be used to cross it – the other common one being the Col de Tamié which is a much shorter loop through Faverges which I’d normally tackle directly from Aime . Paul was pushing hard up the climb as I know he likes to do and I put any thoughts of being lazy out of my head. For about one third of the climb I stayed on the large chain wheel to work on strength. With the Osymetric chain wheel it is the equivalent of pushing on a 54 tooth ring during the power phase and a 47 tooth ring over the dead spot. Earlier in the season I discovered that my legs were not strong enough to get full advantage of this effect and it worked against me as a result. When the dualcam chain wheels work they are fantastic – but they need a minimum of conditioning and strength. The muscles being used are different too and this takes some time to adjust. I now feel that I can align everything and get a strong push through the power phase with enough strength to make it count. To start with I only benefited from the easier “dead spot” as the pedal went over the top dead centre but couldn’t capitalise properly on the power phase.

Once over the top we put on windbreakers for the long gradual descent through the plateau. My telephone was providing navigation as well as logging data – all using the Endomondo app featured above. I was expecting a bridge and turn to the right and being fearful of missing it and descending too far I decided on a turn off with a sign marked “Doucy” – going right and over a bridge. Glancing at the very small scale map on the screen (the entire 100+ km route was visible on a 4” screen) everything appeared to be okay. We started up the climb but kept the jackets on as it should only have been short, although we couldn’t see far ahead. Once again the pace was quite high so the entire focus was on working hard. Several times we appeared to reach the summit but then it would continue and I mentioned a couple of times that I had no recollection of this place from the previous trip, but just joked that I had probably been in a daze then as I’d not been in good shape at the time. The climb continued and eventually we stopped for a minute to take the jackets off. The gradient seemed to get steeper and the road narrower until eventually I could feel a headache coming on and at the same time the legs starting to give up. It’s a horrible feeling – a sort of implosion that comes across fairly suddenly. On both climbs there had been some stomach issues but that was due to digestive problems from eating badly the previous few days after Christaine had left for a week and I was free to gorge on whatever junk I wanted without my “female conscience” to stop me! This new development however was different. The feeling of strength that was there from the start just vanished. Paul saw me going in reverse so slowed down a bit but eventually took off at his own pace to wait at the top – which was the best thing to do. I kept a good plodding pace though and a short while later saw Paul heading back towards me – which could only mean one thing – a dead end! We had just climbed 500 vertical metres up the wrong road and were now at 1200m altitude.

From now on I will have to stop pretending to myself that I can still read a map without glasses. The sunlight had been strong on the screen and the scale too small, reading eyesight crap, fear of missing the turn off, presence of a bridge, then not recognising the terrain but being too preoccupied to check - all leading to a rather painful screw up.

Oh well, instead of a well measured workout it was now going to be a struggle. The rest of the rolling road with it’s ups and downs was painfully hard but I seemed to manage a bit more than a plodding pace – helped by Paul slowing down enough to let me stay in contact and slipstream on the flatter sections. The most important thing when you feel like this is not to be dropped because then you just give up and slow down completely. It becomes a big mental game and having someone to pull you along makes a big difference. I also didn’t want to slow down so much that it would spoil Paul’s workout. I went in front for the descent down to Lac d’Annecy – a tricky descent with a few blind bends and some loose gravel, terminating in an invisible cut off from the road onto the cycle path. Once on the cycle path Paul took over again. We seemed to have a constant headwind no matter which direction we were going. Paul managed a good pace to begin with but I realised straight away that he was probably underestimating the distance to the end – perhaps not in numerical terms but in physical terms – it was still a long way – too long to be pushing air out of the way by yourself at a good pace. I had no option but to stay behind because I couldn’t maintain the pace directly into the wind – even when eventually Paul started to slow down. Meanwhile I made myself useful by eating an almond bar and continuing to drink. I’d refilled the water bottle just before the final descent at a watering hole with no marking to say if it was “eau potable” or “eau non potable“. Paul had earlier made his refill at a trough marked “Eau Non Surveille” which I’d never seen before.  Whatever it really meant it didn’t say that it was undrinkable. Feeling concerned for Paul doing all the work along the cycle path I mentioned that it would be great is some local time trialist went flying past and we could both jump on his tail and let him pull us along. Ten minutes later exactly that happened – but not only were we overtaken too quickly to catch the guy but it was a recumbent two wheeler and would have given almost no slipstreaming – hence his incredible speed.


Not only had the upper quads in my right leg and both hips been mildly hurting all along the cycle path but now the soles of both feet were hurting. I’d been reduced to using 20 year old Time racing shoes and pedals since my ultra expensive Speedplay pedals fell apart. The Time shoes are shaped to be “toe down” and so all the force goes straight across the metatarsal joints. The interesting thing is to discover the massive difference that shoe design can make. My lightest racing shoes were crippling due to causing chronic serious pain at the base of the 5th metatarsal joint on the left foot – to the level that running became impossible. The cheaper shoes stopped this but the old Time shoes shift everything completely again.

Reaching Ugine I took the front to avoid confusion with the cycle path being routed through the road system. Once I got in front I felt that I might be able to maintain the pace but wasn’t quite sure how hard I needed to push. When you are tired it’s hard to judge pace and effort. Strangely, after about half a kilometre I started realising that the strength was returning to my body. It must have been a combination of eating, resting and drinking. The recovery was total and over the normally interminable and boring 11 km from Ugine to Albertville I was able to keep the power on the whole way to get it over with quickly. Paul had run out of both food and energy and unfortunately refused an almond bar from me – but now I was able to take the strain for a while and keep the pace going. It was good to finish on a positive note after such a long and difficult period and it goes to show that the body can recover from a slump. I’d thought that the slump was due to lactic acid from overdoing it on the climb and I associate the slight headache with that too. Paul was horrified that I’d only eaten a single small almond bar during the 5 hours of the workout – and he is probably right that this was the real cause of the slump. I’m really not good at judging the issues involved and separating out lactic acid overload and pure fatigue from sugar depletion.


When the power returned I’d been able to focus on getting strength from the hip extension instead of the quads and all the pains that I’d felt earlier vanished. There was no bum pain either during this trip – the bone bruising from the Time Mégève back in June having at long last gone away. Likewise there was no pins and needles in the hands – all due to the body adapting. Damned shame it’s the end of the season now. If I lost a stone in weight I’d be ripping on the bike. With the start of October however I’ve decided to start to control eating habits much better and to get back into thinking about good nutrition and discipline. There’s still two months to go before the start of the winter season and plenty opportunity for more cycling.