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Marginal Gains

            Although I go on out on my bike for nothing more the pure pleasure of a ride, I do like to feel fit when I go and so over the past year I have been working on making what Sir David Brailsford and the folks at Sky call ‘marginal gains’ – those little and often overlooked details in training and riding that (in their case) can make the difference between winning and placing in the Tour de France or (in my case) the difference between turning around at Pevensey on a Sunday morning ride and saying oh-what-the-heck and pressing on and doing an extra twenty, thirty, forty miles.

            To that end, I have been doing to the gym nearly every day and toiling away on the cross trainer there. I try to do an hour each time, pumping along at a fairly high cadence and at a reasonably high resistance level too.

            It’s quite tedious it must be said, and made all the more so by the fact that the only distraction, as I churn away, is Sky News on the big-screen TV that is affixed to the wall in the gym. I have never been much of a TV watcher and as for news, I would always much prefer to read a story than watch it on TV. But, hey-ho, I have no choice here but to watch – and suffer.

            And suffer, I do. The advertisements are bad enough, ranging from mildly insulting to one’s intelligence to the outright barbaric, but what is truly testing of one’s mettle in an hour of distance run, is the sub-titling in the news coverage. Words fail. Indeed. It is unbelievably – even hilariously – awful, like a really, really bad Google translation from Chinese. And it doesn’t stop, and never gets better. As a writer and a journalist I find it excruciating to watch and read. As the seconds and minutes drag by, with nowhere else to look, I’ve had to learn to dig deep and focus, shut out distractions, maintain cadence no matter what. I’m not saying I’m ready to tackle The Hour record yet, or become a champion time trialist, but I’m certainly on my way at least as far as the mental aspect goes. Certainly I noticed the difference this morning as I was spinning along the country lanes, homeward bound from a distant ride, and decided to try to maintain my jaunty pace all the rest of the way home. And I did it too. After endless hours on the cross-trainer, tormented by awful syntax, malapropisms, misused homonyms, and sheer gobbledygook, a fast and focussed ride in the cleansing morning sunshine seemed a piece of cake.