One of the great things about my wife being my boss is that she tries to improve my work-life balance. Over the last year she has encouraged me to resume two hobbies, cycling and photography, that got pushed out of my life decades ago by work. As with almost everything I have ever done, in dropping and resuming these hobbies I have made some blunders that enabled me to learn important lessons. Those lessons are the pretext for this blog post. They have also caused me to broaden the remit of the blog.
The two most important lessons I have learned are:-
- Taking on new challenges is easier if you get help from experts. Self-reliance isn’t always a good strategy.
- If you don’t take your hobbies seriously they don’t improve your work-life balance: they make it worse. You have to subtract from the work side of the balance when you add to the life side. If you don’t reduce the time you spend working when you increase the time you spend on hobbies you run out of time.
Like a lot of people in the UK, I started taking an interest in cycling when Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012. Watching his win gave me a sense of the complexity of the grand tour. Since then I have watched all the grand tours on tv and last year for the first time I went to a race. I took my own pictures of Geraint Thomas in the yellow jersey on the last climb of the Tour, the Col d’Aubisque. That was a fabulous day out with my camera, but it would have been be even more fun if I’d had my bicycle too. So a month later I took my bike to the Vuelta a España and cycled up two of the summit finishes before watching the race.
The experience showed me how unfit I was. I struggled up the climb, stopping every few minutes to catch my breath; the professionals raced up after riding over 100 miles. Obviously I’ll never be as fit as they are, but I decided that I should take on a cycling challenge to force myself to get fit. So next week I will be setting off from Lands End and cycling to John o’ Groats, LEJoG, as it is known.
Although this is an epic journey for me, in cycling terms it’s pretty modest. Our ride will take 13 days: the record, set last year, is 43 hours 25 minute 13 seconds. Even so, our LEJoG will take me to new heights of endurance. When I started preparing, my longest ever one-day bike ride was 80 kilometres; during our ride we will average over 132 kilometres a day. Fortunately, my ride partner is much more experienced. As LEJoG gets closer it becomes increasingly clear that choosing Jon as a ride partner was a very wise decision.
Fortunately, and unusually for me, after only a few weeks of blundering around on my favourite bicycle, which is not really suitable for LEJoG, I made two more very wise decisions. I asked Jon for advice about buying a suitable bicycle, and I asked Richard Lord, a professional cycling coach, to help me prepare.
Much to my surprise, Jon advised me to get a bike with a steel frame. Apparently steel frames have a springiness that makes them more comfortable on a long ride than aluminium or carbon fibre. Jon knows this because he is an ‘Audax’ cyclist, which means he rides long distances, typically between 200 and 600 kilometres in single outing. On eBay I bought a 20-year old Audax bike, made by Dave Yates, a well-known frame-builder and had it refurbished by my local bike shop. To my surprise, it was much more comfortable than my existing bike even though it does not have suspension.
Reassuringly, Richard approved of my new bicycle, and, since January, he has set me a weekly schedule of training rides, gradually increasing in length. I have really enjoyed the process of training hard and getting fit, something that I haven’t done since I left school. Last Sunday I cycled 170 kilometres without any great difficulty. I am now reasonably confident that I will complete LEJoG and enjoy it.
Foolishly, I didn’t cut back my work commitments to make time for the cycling. This has made my life very tiring and has led to mistakes and omissions as I tried to do more work in less time. Right now I am very tired because I have done eight workshops, which would normally be two months work, in the last fortnight. Three weeks ago I made my first catastrophic diary error since we started the company: I had to cancel two workshops at very short notice because I had double booked them. Finally I haven’t written a blog post this year.
I’m going to fix all this by making time in my life, and space in the blog for all the important things I do. Expect to see more posts about photography and cycling, as well as about writing research grant applications.