Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Another shoulder update

It's now five months since the anthroscopic (keyhole) anterior stabilisation of my right shoulder - brought on by four dislocations over the previous couple of years.  Since my last update, I've continued with a variety of progressing exercises & stretches set by the physio.  Progress along the way has been mostly gradual with not too many obvious signs, but every so often I'd push my shoulder in some direction just a little bit further than I was used to & suddenly realise that there is more movement there than I thought.

I had one such moment a couple of days ago when it struck me that I could now lift my arm out away from my body (but in the same plane), with my palm facing down (much more difficult than palm up) & it would go all the way up & touch my ear.  Bloody brilliant, as that was the most restrictive movement.  When the physio saw that today, she was well pleased - she sent me out the door with a theraband with a bit more resistance & told me she didn't want to see me again.  Fantastic - so after five months I have a much more stable shoulder & I can now start taking small steps (pedal strokes) in getting back to mountain-biking.  Hoorah!

The first six weeks post-surgery was of course the worse, being in a sling & not being able to drive.  The biggest hassle I found was not being able to cook as it meant I had to have ready-meals & they aren't the best for the palate or the body.  Also, not being able to exercise harder than a brisk walk meant I wasn't burning enough energy & therefore, not sleeping so well.  But once that sling was off, things got much better & I haven't really missed the mountain-biking as much as I thought I would (mostly due to the poor weather this summer) and have managed four trips overseas, plenty of other weekends away in Britain and got to a better level of fitness at the gym & running in the New Forest (even if that has been pretty boring).

So definitely no regrets so far in taking the surgery route to fixing my shoulder.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympic Mountain-Biking!

Once I worked out that I wasn't going to be in Prague during the event, I was well pleased to snaffle the spare ticket that John & Anna had for the women's XC mountain-biking at the London 2012 Olympics. The last two weeks have been fantastic to be in the country & be both British & Kiwi, as both countries have done well. Much to most of the country's amazement, the games have been spectacular and very well embraced - it sure has been a great change from the usual moaning, cynicism and football (soccer) coverage.

I set off from Trish's bright & early to meet Anna, John & Richard at Fenchurch St station - it had dawned a lovely day & the stroll across the Thames showed Tower Bridge sporting its recent addition.

The station & train was not nearly as busy as expected & about an hour later we were walking the forty minutes from Leigh-on-Sea towards Hadleigh Farm (there was a free shuttle bus, but we preferred & had the time to walk). The enthusiasm & outgoing-ness of all the volunteers has been noted by many people - & all the volunteers we encountered lived up to this reputation, they were great. Before long we were in a sizeable, but fast-moving queue as we quickly made our way through security.

We got our first glimpse of the course. It was surprisingly open & easy to spy a few of the features - particularly the rock garden to the south (left in the picture below).
The Start/Finish area (bottom right below) was well groomed sitting below all the flags of the participants' respective countries.  I imagine that first climb was brutal enough after a few fast-paced laps to warrant using the switchbacks on the left.

With plenty of time until the 12.30 start, we leisurely checked out various features of the course.  A few of the trickier parts had chicken runs (the easier route on the right below), but I was impressed that I never saw any of the racers take that option - although I wasn't everywhere, so may have missed such happenings elsewhere.

This was the bottom of the appropriately named Snake Hill (all the features were named by local school children apparently) - a series of switchbacks up a hill that was quite steep to walk straight up.  We ended up spending quite a few laps near the top of this climb as it provided a variety of good viewing options - Anna even managed to get a camp seat to sit on from some kind lady.

The view below looks back over a lot of the course to the Start/Finish area from the Rock Garden.  So we could still follow the race progress from afar - with the help of the PA of course.

Parts of the course were quite skinny & weren't ever going to be any good for passing - but there were plenty of other places for passing.

The bottom of the Rock Garden was our first spot, we lunched & patiently waited to hear the race start off in the distance.  Eventually it was all on, & the British representative, Annie Last, quickly got to the front of the field - much to the delight of the crowd.  The lead motorbike came on down the Rock Garden & we got our first glimpse close-up at some fast riders.

Annie Last leading the race down

Sabine Spitz - who I saw racing at the 2006 Worlds in Rotorua
After a couple of laps watching at the Rock Garden, we moseyed off back to our favourite spot at the top of Snake Hill with a view across to see the riders coming down Deane's Drop.

Below is Julie Bresset (FRA) leading Spitz (GER) & Georgia Gould (USA) to the top of the switchbacks

When Spitz crashed coming down Deane's Drop, slowing both herself & Gould down, the race as a competition was effectively over as Bresset kept extending her lead.  The only Kiwi in the field, Karen Hanlen, slipped further down the field to eventually finish nineteenth after a crash & a puncture - nonetheless, she got a cheer each time she rode past.

Naturally, we stayed for the medal ceremony, the flags being raised & stood for the French national anthem.

In a ploy to try & stop everyone leaving at once, there were more of the standard trials shows that seem to crop up at every big mountain bike event.  The RAF Falcons (parachute display team) also dropped in - just not in the biking sense.

So a great day out in the sun, on perhaps what is the only hill in Essex, watching a world class & well-run event.  I was well pleased to get to an Olympic event, & even more pleased that it was mountain-biking.

We wandered back to the train station & didn't really have to wait all that long considering there had been twenty thousand people at the event & then we were back in London for a bit of time on Southbank & a much needed meal.

Sunday provided a necessary sleep-in (I think I was still tired from Prague - it's a tough life) & then the last day of Olympic competition.  The marathon was great, but naturally I was intrigued to see the men's mountain-biking.  It was good to see the whole course as the race unfolded, listen to the informative (if you didn't know anything about MTBs) BBC commentary and watch a thrilling tight race that came down to a sprint finish.

That afternoon was a particularly early birthday dinner for me with a fair few of my second cousins, first-cousins-once-removed (in both generational directions) at a Mexican restaurant.  Good food, fantastic to get quite a bit of the family together - thanks Trish for the effort in organising it.  With almost two weeks to go until my birthday, the timing was a bit off (I was supposed to be in London next weekend, but then the Olympics came up) & it's so long since I've had to blow candles out, I was a little confused as to what to do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Prague weekend

Just in case I needed an excuse to visit another great European city for a weekend, good friend (& one of my oldest) Levi having been somewhat exiled to Czech while he tries to get back in to the UK provided such a reason. As Levi was travelling in by train from the east of the country, he arrived at our apartment (but fifty metres from Old Town Square) a little before me.

Although so close to the centre of the old, & therefore most visited, part of town the apartment was set well back in a big, enclosed courtyard & was super quiet & conducive to sleep. We were bemused by this door as we eventually wandered out to explore the city Saturday morning.

It became apparent quickly that Prague is filled with beautiful buildings.  This is the Rudolfinum - a concert hall home of the Prague Spring Music Festival. 

Crossing the river (Vltava), we were wandering towards the castle to have a look. I spent a little bit of time explaining to Levi modern-European history - well, as much as I know - when we came across this monument marking the German occupation before and during WWII.
Spying a small gate in a large wall, we somewhat stumbled across the beautiful gardens of the Senate.  Eventually we found our way to the one exhibition I particularly wanted to see - the Lobkowicz collection.  A family collection, there was more fascinating history here as the family had their extensive property confiscated & regained not once, but twice over fifty-odd years in the twentieth century.  The first time the Nazis took it all and shortly after getting it back from them, the Soviets came & took it all again for much longer.  The audio tour, by members of the family, was surprisingly good.  The highlight of the entire collection was Haymaking by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, part of his seasons series - another one, The Harvesters, I remember vividly from the Met in NYC.  A couple of large Canolettos of London panoramas were also particularly interesting.

By now we were within the walls of the castle (which is much more impressive from a distance).  In the middle of it is St Vitus Cathedral:

All around Prague were these old open-topped cars for showing tourists around, the one on the right is an old Skoda that somehow is still going.

We were both intrigued by the patterns on the side of this building:

There were plenty of trams around, some sleek & new - others like this one below made me feel like I'd stepped in to an old Bond film.

This poster, on a rather circuitous walk to more fantastic food, I found deliciously ironic:

National Museum

It's not quite the Kaituna River

Prague Castle from Charles Bridge
In between watching the Olympics (with the Czech commentary very quiet), there was plenty of time to wander around & look at the beautiful sights.  This is the Prague Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square - the oldest working example of such a clock in the world, dating from the early 1400s.  It puts on quite the show on the hour, but as a timepiece is extremely difficult to read - we got more enjoyment looking at the crowds delighting in the clock & even cheering it on.

With more delicious gelato & smooth beer consumed, at different times, it was very nice to end up relaxing on one of the islands in the middle of the river.
Dancing House down near the river.
Plenty of people out pedalloing

Did I mention we ate a lot? Gorgeous salmon down near the John Lennon wall.

So a fantastic weekend hanging out in Prague with Levi, strangely we talked an awful lot of cycle-touring - must be a good place for it, seeing the sights & enjoying the local food & beer.