The Phoney War …

COVID-19 reached Australia in late January since then according to this morning’s figures from the Federal Government there have been

7,185 people infected

103 deaths

6,606 people have recovered

By world standards we have scooted through virtually unscathed – almost 6 million cases and 367,000 deaths elsewhere. The Victorian State Government was recently declaiming loudly that at least 30,000 deaths have been avoided.

All of this achieved by a rapid and vigorous response that is now being eased.

On 1st September 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war. And then nothing discenible happened for eight or nine months. The period became known as the Phoney War. Many of London’s children were evacuated to safe places in the English countryside. These included my mother, her sister and their two brothers. My mother found herself reasonably comfortable on the country estate of one of England’s aristocrats. The boys were housed elsewhere in fairly primitive conditions and were being treated as unpaid farm labour. My Grandmother went for a visit, was appalled, rounded up the kids and took them back to London … just in time for the Blitz.

Australia has declared war on this virus. It has shut its borders, external and internal, shut down its economy, thrown a huge number of people out of work, sent a major proportion of its businesses to the wall and abrogated the freedoms of movement and assembly. In short it has mobilised its armies and spent its treasure. The enemy has bided its time.

Victoria has been especially zealous. The people have barricaded themselves behind a wall of toilet paper, the government has banned golf, hiking and fishing, the police have been throwing fines around like confetti, going as far as pinging a stand up paddle boarder in splendid isolation on Port Phillip Bay. In the ACT the police haven’t found it necessary to issue a fine and the police in NSW have issued far fewer. I have been wondering how long it would be before Victoria Police began shooting us for our own protection.

But we won the war, right?

Well, no. We are in exactly the same peril as when we started. We have a naive population, no herd immunity and the virus is still present in the community. The phoney war may soon be over.

For those struggling to pay the rent or fend off bankruptcy it must be sobering to know that without the lockdown most of them would have recovered from a mild illness by now and be back at work.

Everesting …

The Strava Climbing Challenge is to cycle up 7500 m (24,606 feet) of climb in a month.

It’s not especially mountainous around the Victorian Goldfields. In cycling 1266 km so far this month my climbing adds up to a mere 4998 meters. So if I cycle around randomly I’ll have to push the distance out to

7500/4998X1266 = 1899.759903961584634 km.

That degree of precision is probably unwarranted. Let’s call it 1900 km or 2000 to be safe. June only has 30 days.

Obviously it would be more efficient to find a decent hill and go repeatedly up and down it. This is not a novel idea. George Malory, inspired by his grandfather also George Mallory and quite possibly the first person to climb Mount Everest in 1924 (He died on the way down) came up with the idea of going up and down a suitable hill until the Everest equivalent of 8848 meters (29,029 feet) were in the bank. Mallory did this on Victoria’s very own Mount Donna Buang in 1994.

Winter snowfall in Victoria commonly reaches down to 1200 meters, Mt Donna Buang stands at 1250. It’s a short 89 km drive from Melbourne so it’s the place where most of Melbourne’s kids get their first feel for snow. A short drive there, heaps of fun stuffing snow down each other’s necks and a long miserable drive home – a rite of passage for parents and children alike.

Everesting now has rules and a Hall of Fame which I’m unlikely to be joining any time soon. A desirable hill is as steep as you can manage to keep the horizontal component short and as straight a route as possible so that you can descend safely even with your brain in a fog of exhaustion. A relatively short course with many repetitions may be preferable to a very long course.

That’s the lovable Dr Oliver Bridgewood PhD from Sheffield UK which is where I studied for my first degree. The accent brings back a lot of fond memories. If I was obliged to endure England’s execrable climate again Yorkshire is where I would choose to do it.

Ollie ground out his Everest in a shade under 16 hours so assuming an even pace throughout he earned his Strava Climbing merit badge in 7500/8848X16hours or just 14 hours.

That of course is not a record. In recent weeks Keegan Swenson knocked off the 8,848 meters in an impressive 7 hours, f40minutes, and 5 seconds. He’d have got his merit badge in about 6 hours and 45 minutes and I need a month!

Job Done …

It was a late lunch but gee I enjoyed it.

The ride took me through Maryborough, out to Majorca and around Tullaroop Reservoir. Out to the right from there I could see Mount Tarrengower at Maldon, the highest point for  miles around. A Black Kite followed me for a couple of kilometers there. Perhaps it thought I would expire.

North past Cairn Curran reservoir, north again to the little town of Eddington. I must have blinked because I didn’t see any sign of it. Into the gold rush town of Dunolly and then south over the Mount Hooghly Ranges to home. Not a lot of people know the Mount Hooghly Ranges largely because there is no such geographical entity. A passenger in a car would hardly notice the hills. On a bike they make more of an impression. I reached the highest point of the ride at kilometer 103 – I organised that well!

I did it that way around because some of the route was unfamiliar and Dunolly being reasonably large was going to be easier to find than places like Baringhup West that are really nothing more than names on the map.

115 km at 24.3 km/h, 674 meters of climb. And that nailed the Strava May Distance Challenge with four days to spare. Another merit badge for the Trophy Cabinet.

What next you ask. Well, the other non-trivial monthly challenge is the climb.

Merit Badges …

When I was researching Durability I came across the feats of Kurt Searvogel and following links I arrived at his Strava Trophy case. He has a truly impressive trophy case crammed with merit badges. As a Strava newby not only was mine empty at the time I had no clue how to get them.

Subsequent exploration led to Challenges. On that page one can choose from challenges in a variety of flavours suited to a variety of sports. The first one I accepted was the May Grand Fondo. Sometime in May I was to ride 100 km and thereby earn my merit badge.

Uncertain that I could meet such a challenge I did the ride then accepted the challenge. Let’s not put the ego on the line publicly. Child that I am I immediately craved more badges.

The sun is about to emerge above the trees behind me and at the moment my trophy case looks like this …

Not all challenges are created equal. Among the less trivial and therefore more desirable is the …

As you can see I was rash enough to join before I’d actually accumulated the distance but I’m now only 98 km from completion. The sky is blue. The wind is light. Once the sun has dealt with the frost I’ll be off. That badge may be in the case around lunchtime.

Renting My Life …

I rent this domain. Add a subscription to WordPress for hosting the blog. Add a subscription to my internet service provider. I fled from Lightroom to Capture One to avoid a subscription. Phase One no longer upgrade my program but they offer a subscription. Sometimes it seems like I rent my life from someone else.

It may only be the cost of a coffee and a doughnut at a time but add all the opportunities together and they could easily add up to a nasty case of obesity.

I recently gave up obesity in favour of riding a bike. In the process I discovered Strava and an easy way of tracking my training. It comes in two flavours – plain vanilla and subscription. Plain vanilla did everything I felt the need for … until today.

That things were going to change had made it to my consciousness via Bike Radar and Global Cycling Network and a notice on Strava itself. Co-founders Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath were careful to get the spin they wanted on the news. The components of the change that were emphasized were that Segments and Route planning were largely going to go behind a paywall. We were assured, however, that there would always be a free Strava and that it would be good enough to serve as a worthwhile introduction to the program.

There were three ways ways to review your training, on the Dashboard, the Training Log and the Training Calendar. The Log provides the easiest way to compare week against week, the Calendar is the easiest way to find out where you are for the month. It always struck me as odd that the daily rides in Calendar didn’t have the distance in numerical format. That deficiency in the Calendar makes the Log the most useful means of long term comparisons.

The Log disappeared behind the paywall this morning.

Without the Log a free Strava doesn’t really cut it. Not that Strava has a duty to provide me with a free anything. It has been a pleasure to use, it is not full of annoying adverts and it has not made a profit. Good value for the consumer but not a long term business model to invest in.

So it’s time to consider renting another little slice of life or do I just start a spreadsheet? When I fled from Lightroom I realised that whilst I owned a lot of good photos finding the ones I was looking for had suddenly become a problem. The changes in Strava make me realise that I don’t even own my own training diary.

Colour Fast …

There is a new steed in the stable. It’s red.

The task of choosing a road bike has come to fruition. It’s a beautiful red Merida Scultura.

It doesn’t tick every box on my shopping list but I think it ticks enough. Most importantly it was less expensive than a spa which was a competing interest (at least as far as Gayle was concerned). The price was at that point on the curve where extra bang was going to cost rapidly increasing extra bucks. And it has the benefit of being red.

For the fanatic let me tell you it has a carbon frame and forks, the Shimano Ultegra group set and disc brakes. I would have liked DI2 (electrical) rather than mechanical gear shifting but it was unavailable for this frame in my size. The covid19 crisis has played havoc with the supply chain.

I thought it would go better with pedals so I put some on. I find it a little odd that bikes come without pedals these days but it makes sense given the different cleat systems in use.

It’s been on the road twice now for a total of just over 100 km. I am relieved to report that it is noticeably quicker than the mountain bike. Not sure I can live with the saddle though.

I will be fitting a Stages L power meter but it’s on back order!

I switched the tyres from 25C to 28C to help out on the gravel. Every ride from home has to start and finish with a bit of rough riding from here to the bitumen.

So far I am ecstatically happy. Did I mention that it’s red?

Lessons of the Third Age …

Gayle’s Uncle Kel is a bike rider. I last caught up with him two or three years ago when he passed through Maryborough on the Great Victorian Bike Ride. That’s a multi day event that takes a different route each year. Completion is quite an achievement at any age let alone for a nonagenarian. Kel is 95 now and still riding. I’m hoping he will find the time to contribute a guest blog at some point.

For my parents  and most of their generation physical activity at an advanced age was virtually unthinkable. Sports rarely lasted beyond school age. Old age began at retirement. The boomers saw things differently and perhaps for the first time since the agricultural revolution a good proportion of them participated in exercise for an extended period. First we had the jogging boom and then the triathlon boom and now we’re chugging into retirement but not quite ready to accept old age. It’s the Third Age, a concept that’s been around since about 1990, a period of health, leisure, personal fulfillment and independence. Amen.

The Fourth Age, of course, starts where the healthspan stops. Just as your body weight is part good – bones, muscles, brain – and part just baggage your lifespan consists of a healthspan plus a period of frailty and dependence.

The most pertinent lessons of the Third Age are :-

  • It’s better than what comes next.
  • It’s worth the effort to extend it.

Mens sana in corpore sano is not a new concept. The modern translation could easily be “Use it or lose it”.

So how will the elderly body respond to the indignity of unaccustomed exercise?


Muscle dysfunction and associated mobility impairment, common among the frail elderly, increase the risk of falls, fractures, and functional dependency. We sought to characterize the muscle weakness of the very old and its reversibility through strength training. Ten frail, institutionalized volunteers aged 90 +/- 1 years undertook 8 weeks of high-intensity resistance training. Initially, quadriceps strength was correlated negatively with walking time (r = -.745). Fat-free mass (r = .732) and regional muscle mass (r = .752) were correlated positively with muscle strength. Strength gains averaged 174% +/- 31% (mean +/- SEM) in the 9 subjects who completed training. Midthigh muscle area increased 9.0% +/- 4.5%. Mean tandem gait speed improved 48% after training. We conclude that high-resistance weight training leads to significant gains in muscle strength, size, and functional mobility among frail residents of nursing homes up to 96 years of age.

Even in the fourth age the muscles still respond. The authors of the study go on to say …

The major finding of the study is that a high-intensity weight-training program is capable of inducing dramatic increases in muscle strength in frail men and women up to 96 years of age. The increase in lower-extremity strength ranged from 61% to 374% over baseline,with subjects demonstrating a threefold to fourfold increase on average in as little as 8 weeks. Because muscle strength decreases by perhaps 30% to 40% during the course of the adult life
span it is likely that at the end of training these subjects were stronger than they had been many years previously.

Shame they didn’t start sooner. The institution where that research was conducted now offers its residents Restorative Exercise so if you’re in the vicinity of Boston, Mass and looking for somewhere to spend your dotage hit the link.

I once passed a caravan with a mission statement on the back …

From Here to Dementia

The Last Great Adventure

May the journey be a long one.

Rules 5 And 9 …

I rode this morning.

This despite the fact that the weather was execrable. I took note of the wind direction and headed straight into it. I generally like to do a circuit but today it was there and back. Go hard. Go home. I couldn’t see any reason to have the rain blowing in from the side of my glasses. When I cleaned up after the ride I had to wash the mud spots off my helmet as well as the bike!

I was so impressed with myself that I mentioned my heroism in an email to a knowledgeable person and got this rather cryptic reply …

When considering whether to ride or not in weather like todays, I typically refer to rules 5 and 9:

Naturally I followed the link.

Harden The Fuck Up.

If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

There are 82 rules in all and some are very funny. Well worth a look. Rule 12 is especially pertinent at the moment …

RULE 12:
The minimum number of bikes one should own is three. The correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

In other news the pedals have caught me out at last. The other day whilst riding with Gayle I was obliged to wait for her to catch up. Since my bladder was uncomfortably stretched I thought I would put the time to good use and headed off road to a suitable looking tree against which I expected to lean. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten to unclip, I just didn’t intend to. Unfortunately I underestimated the resistance from the ground adjacent to the road and ended up a bike length short of my objective. Gayle arrived just in time to see me and bike describe a quarter circle until my left shoulder the ground. No harm done.

And remember …

RULE 10:
It never gets easier, you just go faster. To put it another way, “Training is like fighting with a gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired.”

So Use It …

Resistance Exercise Training (RET) is good for you.

Muscle mass begins a slow decline from about 30 years of age, accelerating into old age and resulting in sarcopenia for most older people. There is a fair amount of strength in reserve at the beginning of this process but ultimately there may not be enough to cope with daily life activities. Falls and fractures are bad news for the frail elderly.

Good news – old muscles respond to training in just the same way as young ones. For a review of the science regarding RET in older folk see <HERE>.

Key Messages

  • Strength (resistance) training is effective in elderly persons and can be undertaken without notable adverse effects.

  • Strength (resistance) training is subject to a dose-response relation. Higher intensities yield greater effects than low or medium intensities.

  • Strength (resistance) training in elderly persons aims to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy) on the one hand, and on the other hand, promote neuronal adaptation (intermuscular and intramuscular coordination).

If you have despaired at the mythology surrounding diet or cycling be ready to ignore an even greater torrent of nonsense regarding doing weights. High reps, low weights for stamina, low reps very high weights for strength, medium reps medium weights for bulk. It’s all frog shit.

The reality is that the results depend on the intensity and your genes. Light weights and many reps until exhausted will have the same result as heavy weights and few reps until exhausted. The key is the exhaustion. Near exhaustion is very nearly as effective and has a few advantages!

Recovery and avoiding over-training are the other side of the coin. The science to back up these last few paragraphs can be found in a review paper by Morton et al. Their key recommendations include choosing weights that lead to volitional fatigue, three times per week with a total of at least 10 reps per muscle group and not more than 15 sets per muscle group.

And that leaves plenty of scope. I favour beginning with compound exercises such as squats and lat pull-downs, heavy enough so that 10 to 12 is the limit, 2 or 3 sets, followed by 1 set each for whichever individual muscles best serve your vanity. Don’t waste too much time on the biceps it’s the lats and deltoids that make the upper body!

Assembling the Weapon …

The posh name for it these days is Resistance Exercise Training or RET for short. When I was a lad we just called it weight training and it is sometimes referred to as strength training. I have indulged in it for some big chunks of my life sometimes by going to the gym and sometimes by means of a home gym.

One of my sons has a basic set up that he uses to good effect. When I decided to halt my slide into decrepitude I started to make use of his equipment. And then came Covid-19 and the lock down. I decided to buy some equipment of my own. Me and every other like minded person. I hit the web and found a lot of sold out signs but eventually I found machines for sale.

An outfit called Gym and Fitness were happy to take my order and of course my money and promised to pack and ship my machine within days. I enjoyed a state of happy anticipation for about a week. The excuses then started. They were really busy. How awful for a business. Their sales software wasn’t linked to their inventory software. How stupid for a business to be selling machines it didn’t have. The third version was that they never actually stocked this machine in the first place relying on the suppliers to ship it once the order was received. They really don’t belong in business.

They refunded my money. By that stage it was really hard to find a machine but eventually I found the Celsius GS2 from Rebel Sports. Delivery took a while but eventually a number of battered cardboard boxes on a broken pallet made it to my door. The machine had evidently had its first workout in transit. Fortunately the damage was only to the cosmetics.

Putting it together was the next challenge. The instructions for the frame were pretty good. Finding the parts was the hardest bit but of course that got easier as the job progressed. Fitting the cables was a different story. I think a different team had written the instructions for that phase. The instruction booklet showed the cables in a different configuration than they were supplied but there were only five and eventually they were sorted out.

The machine is working well. The cables run smoothly and a good variety of exercises are possible.