This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. George Bernard Shaw
"‘Can I sustain this effort until the finish?’ If the answer is yes, you aren’t going hard enough. If no, then you’ve already lost. The answer should be maybe."
- Chris Boardman explains the art of the time trial
At the start of 2013 one of my goals for the year was to break the personal best for a ten mile time trial I set as a 17 year old, twenty years ago, back when I was working in a bike shop, riding all the time and didn’t have to worry about kids, mortgages or sitting behind a desk all day.
26 minutes and 34 seconds.
Today was the first step - the benchmark. Ten miles ridden on my normal bike, on my own against the wind, the road and my own physical and mental limitations. No fancy aero bike, no pointy helmet, no skinsuit. Nowhere to hide.
The race of truth, indeed.
This first attempt would let me know how the winter’s long hours on the turbo trainer and the one or two rides a week have set me up. Using last year’s bike leg of the London Triathlon as a guide, I reckoned anything around 30 minutes was respectable (taking into account the punishing swim before, and leaving enough in reserve for the run to the finish).
A couple of local clubs run evening and weekend time trials, run on open roads, usually stretches of dual carriageway to keep the way clear of lights, junctions and give the drivers space to avoid us. The glamour of the cyclist, standing on the hard shoulder of the A31 with cars slamming past at 70+ mph. I’d picked Farnham Road Club’s evening 10, run down at Bentley, 25 minutes drive from home after a day at the office. £3.50 paid and a yellow number pinned to my WWF jersey I headed out with a couple of guys from my club for a gentle warm-up.
The weather couldn’t have been better. Blue skies, 17 degrees, not too much wind. I didn’t know the course, and didn’t have time to ride it before, but the gist was ‘Ride until you get to a roundabout. Turn around and come back.’ Not too tricky, then.
My bike computer was set up to show me my heart rate, my cadence (how fast I was pedalling), my average speed and how far I’d ridden. In a Marginal Gains style, I’d looked at enough data from previous rides to know what heart rate I could sustain for 20+ minutes. I set myself a plan: spin my legs at 90-100rpm, keep my HR to 175 to start, ramp it up to 180 then sprint like a bugger for the last mile. a 30 minute target time meant an average speed of 20mph. The numbers would rule me.
Or not. 30 seconds after the previous guy was unceremoniously shoved on his way it was my turn. 10 seconds… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go. Three minutes later my heart was beating over 180, 185, then 190. (I top out at 190 and a bit). The guy 30 seconds in front was my carrot; the guy 30 seconds behind, my stick. I caught my carrot before the half-way roundabout, the stick whipped past a minute later with the rumble that only an expensive carbon disc wheel makes.
Without anything else to think about, my mind was playing games with the computer screen in front of me. Would the fast downhill plus the slow climb back up come out even? How long was it taking for my heart to recover from each climb? Could I work out my expected time from my average speed? No, no idea and no - I’m not great at maths at the best of times, let alone when my heart is telling me it was time to have a little lie-down.
My mind flipped to Boardman’s Law of Time Trialling. Could I keep up this pace? Ummm…
Rolling hills, trying so hard to carry momentum against the headwind.
7.5 miles down. 2.5 to go. Downhill from here. PEDAL! The gradient wasn’t quite enough to be really fun. My mouth was open and gasping in air and my legs were aching and burning, telling me to stop. I couldn’t see anyone in front to aim for, no more carrots. Mr Garmin was encouraging me, but also reminding me that the fast boys would be finishing by now. Hands tight on the drops. Pushing legs hard around.
Cross the line. Push the button to stop the clock. Really?
Without quite enough of a warm down to get rid of a nagging feeling that I’d be paying a price later, I stopped and panted until my heart and lungs stopped wanting to leap out and throttle me.
Double check the number in front of me. Grin, surprised and satisfied with the 27:44 it was showing.
Strava geek? Here’s the gory details.
Chris Hadfield’s Snapshots from Space (by canadianspaceagency)
Epic in-car coverage of the frigid 2013 Milan-Sam Remo (by vittoriageax)
A beautiful interpretation of the Twitter fail whale.
50 years of epic adventure.
SKYFALL: 50 Years of Bond (by Kees van Dijkhuizen jr.)
This post is inspired by two things:First: a chapter in Anthony Bourdain’s book, The Nasty Bits, talking about old, classic French cookery.
Second, Laila Takeh’s splendid post on What to prioritise in digital when you’ve got limited resources.
My list looks a lot like Laila’s, but I’d slice it a little differently - each section/platform/silo includes its own little universe of analytics. If you’re doing something, you should be measuring its activity and impact as a part of that thing. The email person should live by open rates, click throughs and end result actions (purchases, petition signatures, donations, shares); the Facebook person should be spending significant chunks of time in Insights looking at the volume of stories created, and actions directly resulting from their work; the twitter person… you get the idea. As a manager, I’d expect to have external benchmarks for each of these to hand, to know how we’re doing.Digital isn’t just numbers though. If the analytics are a layer under each discipline, there’s an equal layer sitting across the top of them all - the objectives, the story arc, the audience’s mindset. These must be viscerally expressed by anything created on any platform, else you’re just playing for the sake of it.
If you and your team have a solid grasp of audience, what they’re trying to achieve and an awareness of how to run simple split tests on their platform of choice, you’ll drive a hell of a lot more impact than trying to please your friends or colleagues with your ability to be ‘innovative’ with the new shiny.
But you knew that already, right?