If you read this blog regularly you’ll know that I’m keen on stories about brain health and ageing and this story I came across at www.biospace.com resonated strongly with me. Here’s a slightly edited version of the report……
Researchers at King’s College London have found that muscle fitness as measured by power in the legs is strongly associated with an improved rate of ageing in the brain.
The findings, published in a journal called Gerontology, suggest that simple interventions, such as increased levels of walking (and let’s assume cycling), targeted to improve leg power in the long term may have an impact on healthy cognitive ageing.
Scientists studied a sample of 324 healthy female twins over a ten-year period from 1999, measuring various health and lifestyle predictors. Researchers were, therefore, able to control for genetic factors affecting changes in cognitive function.
Me in action on a previous 100 km plus ride
I’ve signed up to do the Cadel Evan’s ride in late January next year, a mere eight or so weeks away so I really need to start focusing on my training. I’ve done a few long rides in the past including the JDRF Barossa ride which is 160 km, and Melbourne’s Around the Bay which is 210 km, so I know I can ride the 111 km I’ll be required to complete. But I know I’ll enjoy the ride a lot more if I undertake sufficient training.
I also know that after the Cadel ride I’ve also got a few other 100 km plus rides early in 2016 which I’m committed to ride, so the training won’t be a once off. It’s a great incentive for me to get really focused on my fitness and even my riding skills.
From my past experience I know there’s a few things you should do to prepare. Here’s my tips:
Image courtesy of Specialized
Last year Cycling Australia undertook some research where they spoke to about 2,500 female cyclists who were either members of Cycling Australia, and therefore a cycling club, or keen leisure road cyclists. In this research the women who responded identified the majority of their riding is completed alone, but there was a clear desire for riding with other women of similar ability levels.
I remember reading that at the time and feeling a little sad, and hoping that the sort of activities I get involved in like the Cycling NSW Women’s Commission will help over time. I’m really pleased to say that there seems to be an increase in the number of activities for these keen female road cyclists like me. Here’s a short list of events that I’m aware of, and it would be great if you’re reading this if you share other events that you know about. My list are all Australian women’s events but feel free to share international ones as well.
I’m a huge fan of continuous improvement and lifelong learning and these principles apply to developing bike skills for both women and men. One skill which many female cyclists struggle with is descending. I think it’s because we are fairly risk averse and when we feel like our bikes are going too fast the temptation is to grab the brakes. I know I’ve still got a long way to go with my own descending skills so I’ve done a bit of research and borrowed from experts to bring these descending tips together.
To start, familiarise yourself with the condition of the road surface by riding up the hill. Look for loose gravel on the shoulders, potholes or cracks on the road surface. Look also at the radius of the turns – do they follow a continuous arc, or do they become sharper during the middle of the turn? Are there sections that suddenly become steeper?
I recently read an interesting article about how cycling is great for your brain health. I find this area of study quite fascinating. It seems that only 10 or 15 years ago, the learned professionals in the study of the brain were saying that our brains are relatively unchangeable and simply deteriorate as we age. Now it seems there are lots of people saying that the brain is far more malleable than we originally thought and I think it’s great news. So I’ve plagiarised the article I read and provide a summary here. I also found that undertaking a simple Google search on this topic brought up some other really interesting material.
Several new studies have found that cycling improves the way your brain works by making several important structures bigger so you can think faster, remember more, and feel happier.
I really love the concept of mindfulness but I often struggle to do it. Mindfulness to me is about focusing on the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or fixating on future events. It’s about being present, even if it’s not something that brings you pleasure.
Mindfulness and cycling go hand-in-hand and here’s why you should practice it while riding:
It will keep you safe
Being mindful while you’re riding a bike ensures that you are aware of potential hazards along the way. Depending on where you ride the hazards could be potholes, rubbish/glass on the road or bike-path, or even pedestrians. If you ride on the road like I do, then the hazards are often cars, so you need to be aware of what drivers are doing and expect them to be unpredictable, and at times erratic. If you’re daydreaming about other things then you’re not focusing on the present moment and keeping yourself safe.
You’ll enjoy the things around you
I love that saying ‘stop and smell the roses’, and it’s something that I try to do both literally and figuratively. When you ride a bike you get to experience things around you that you wouldn’t see, smell or hear in a car, or other mode of transport. If you are focused on the present then you’ll notice beautiful scenery, and also smaller everyday things like friendly people and changes in your neighbourhood.
Earlier this year my cycling club LACC started a women’s only bunch ride which I was asked to lead. It started out as part of a pilot program for women’s bunch rides under the auspices of Cycling NSW, and when the pilot program concluded at the end of March, the regular participants voted to keep going with the weekly ride.
I was very happy to continue with it and get real buzz out of encouraging other women to learn more about road cycling and riding in a group.
It’s a straightforward ride, just four short laps around Sydney Olympic Park, a total of about 25 km, followed by a mandatory café visit and we all head home around 7 am. If you’d like to know more about it visit the LACC Women’s Facebook page.
Today I was enjoying reading through the latest articles on one of my favourite online cycling sites Ella Cycling tips when I came across these great posts from pro cycling Verita Stewart. They are entitled Don’t be that cyclist and Do be this cyclist and I would recommend a read. They reminded me of the some of the etiquette of bunch riding so here’s a few tips from me on joining a group bunch ride:
I love words and mojo is amongst my favourites. Apparently it is of African derivation meaning magic, but over time like many words its meaning has changed and it’s now associated with self-confidence. My own interpretation of cycling mojo is when you lose interest, or fall out of love with the wonderful activity of cycling. My own interest has waned at times but I’ve always managed to get it back. Recently one of my favourite cycling buddies lost her cycling mojo and I’d like to help her get it back. Here’s a few tips for any women (or men) out there who find themselves adrift.
Just do it
I sometimes wake up in the early morning and want to go back to sleep, but I force myself to get out of bed because I know that I will be happy when I’m on the bike and when I return from my ride. I have never been on a ride that I have regretted, so I focus on this thought when I’m tempted to turn my alarm clock off and roll over. Just push through that feeling and you’ll be rewarded.
Organise to meet a buddy
If you commit to a friend to meet up for a ride then you are far more likely to get out of bed. My friends and I always leave each other with a ‘thanks for the ride’, because we are grateful for each other’s company, and we might not have turned up if we weren’t committed to each other. The night before a ride send out a few text messages and make a firm commitment to meet up. Then don’t let your friends down.
If you take up riding in your 30s or 40s as many of us do, one area you need to focus on if you want to advance, is to learn some bike skills. As children most of us rode a bike, but the majority of us were not formally taught, so we didn’t have the chance to learn any bike skills and this particularly applies to women.
In my experience in meeting many female cyclists, women tend to approach cycling quite differently to men. Although many of us rode bikes as kids we usually did a few laps around the neighbourhood and didn’t jump off gutters, perform wheel stands or other daredevil acts like our male counterparts.
The good news is that it’s easy to improve your bike skills. Here’s a few tips on how to improve your skills in areas like cornering, pedalling, safe braking, descending, climbing, riding in a bunch and more.
If you think the Gong Ride or Around the Bay is a serious challenge, then think again. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a team of women who are training for a huge race/relay called Race Across America that takes place each year in June. Last year I wrote about two American women tackling it and this time it’s a team of four Australian women calling themselves the Veloroos – Natasha Horne, Sarah Matthews, Julie-Anne Hazlett and Nicole Stanners.
Race Across America known as RAAM is a race but instead of being in stages it is one continual ride similar to a time trial. Once the clock starts it does not stop until the finish line. RAAM is about 30% longer than the Tour de France and is not limited to professional cyclists. While solo racers must qualify to compete, anyone may organise a team and race.
Racers must traverse 3000 miles (4,828 km) across 12 states and climb over 170,000 vertical feet (51,816 metres). Team racers have a maximum of nine days and most finish in about seven and a half days. Teams will ride 350-500 miles a day, racing non-stop. Solo racers have a maximum of 12 days to complete the race, with the fastest finishing in just over eight days. Solo racers will ride 250-350 miles a day, balancing speed and the need for sleep.