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Ramadan Training Again: This Time in Zwift

This was the training ride I’d been putting off since Tuesday. The ride I was afraid of and wanted to cry about.

I’ve been really unsure if I could get through such intense training during Ramadan. Years of road cyclist dudes talking about how FTP tests are the true ruiner of a man (’cos there’s still barely any women representation in major sports coverage) and riding at FTP is always some intense thing.

I’ve trained before during Ramadan. I’ve trained every year and almost every day. I know I can do it. Part of observing Ramadan is I do not ignore my other obligations. At the same time, my other obligations do not mean I can ignore Ramadan. Early on, nine years ago now, when I first started taking the month seriously, giving my attention to my hijabi grandmother, I’d have a date or fig and a glass of water in the afternoon. My obligation then was to the theatre production I was working in, to do my job and not sugar crash mid-rehearsal. It was new to me, fasting through a single day was a big, intense process.

Those early years I didn’t even make the whole month. It took a few years to build up to that. And even now, strictly, I don’t do it proper. Proper is eating before dawn, before the first light on the horizon, stopping at Imsak, a little before Fajr. Today, that’s 03:45. I try to start my fast before sunrise. That’s 06:02 today. Still means 14 hours of fasting, still means that month-long tiredness from eating late and early and sleep compressed in-between. Muslim-ish. Not Muslim. Do what I can Muzz-adjacent or something.

I know from previous years I can train and rehearse and do everything, I’m a little slower and sleepier, have a little less strength and speed, and need to focus on concentrating and everything else. But doing the work? It can be done. This year, I have my new Wahoo KICKR, a subscription to Zwift, and am in the last two weeks of an FTP training programme.

Wild diversion here. WTF is FTP? FTP is functional threshold power and it’s simply the power in Watts you can hold for an hour. Divided by weight you get your Watts per kilo, which is apparently a big deal road cyclists care a lot about. Put your heart rate next to it and that’s a pretty good indicator of your fitness. A specific, endurance-ish fitness. What isn’t included in those numbers is the mental and emotional aspects. Gouging yourself on the limit for a solid hour is pretty fucking upsetting.

I think one of the reasons dudes make such a big deal about FTP is ’cos they’re all about power as numbers, crushing mad guns reps and skipping leg day, and are mentally and emotionally not that tough. Or, not being so salty about it, they simply never learned how to think and talk and live these things. When I was doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld, there’d always be dudes trying to chick me — aand another diversion! WTF is chicking?

Chicking is when dudes feel their dicks shrivel ’cos a chick is laying down more speed or power or whatever than them and they have to try and flex. It comes from a core belief that even the most mediocre dude who’s armchair-ed their whole life is physically superior to a world champion woman athlete. Or even a dedicated amateur. They show up, see any and all women and their singular thought is, “I can beat all of them. I am better than them.” simply by virtue of having a dick.

I’m not making shit up here, check out Maxx Dude Dean Smith who sued Scienceworks in Narrm (Melbourne) when he broke his neck running into a wall trying to out-sprint a video of deadliest Blak, Olympics gold medallist Cathy Freeman. In an exhibition for kids. This is a direct quote from the hero: “All these little things made me think I could beat her, I got a bit competitive, thinking ‘I can take on Cathy Freeman’.”

Yeah. Almost every time I’d ride at the old airport there’d be a dude pulling that shit. And I’d bury him. Because I don’t skip leg day and my idea of fun is sucking up suffering. And I’m petty. One very underrated thing dance teaches is how to go hard while smiling like at a picnic.

I took a long break from riding after wrecking my back early-November last year. I struggled to get back into riding because of that noise, dealing with str8wyt dudes and their background low-level aggro to women athletes. Imagine if they knew I was trans. And Muslim (-ish.)

Buying the trainer was and is a very essential part of my rehab and my need to be a lot more diligent in training as I get older, and the constant dance of holding my space around str8wyt dudes (and cis woman who do white supremacy’s work of shitting on trans femmes) which also has gotten tighter as I’ve gotten older. The first thing I did was the week-long Zwift intro, with its ramp test on day 3. Me, not having ridden for months, nor done any aerobic or endurance training, and doing a ramp test. And what’s a ramp test? It’s a way of estimating FTP without crying for an hour. Every minute it gets harder until you crack. I cracked pretty early.

All of that is to explain the training programme I’m doing bases my workload on the number from that ramp test and does this fun thing called progressive overload. Just like the ramp test, things get harder as the weeks go by. Five weeks in and fitness returning — mental and emotional as well as physical — it feels slightly on the easy side, which I’m ok with, ’cos this is all about re-establishing and resetting my training.

Easy-ish until I’m fasting.

I put this session off all week. It was the Tuesday session and I did it on Saturday. I did some light rides earlier in the week, checking to see if it was even possible, and vacillated all over about when to train. Early in the day, when I was still hydrated and had food in my guts, but would possibly crash later? Later, before Iftar, when I’d be hungry, tired, thirsty, but could deal to that immediately after? Evening, when I could drink during and eat after?

Evening was out because by the time I’d digested enough it was well late and I was thinking of hitting bed. Late-afternoon was out except for the easier rides. It had to be morning with no idea if I’d have a wicked crash in the many hours before sunset.

So, here’s me doing one of, if not the hardest ride I’ve done in Ramadan, mid-morning with 8 hours to go till I can eat and drink. It was mentally tough. And slightly tough on my guts which did the no-food churn on themselves. My mouth was well claggy. It was Saturday, and I had a very lazy afternoon.

I’m interested, as an athlete, to see how I cope with this, and whether training this hard is no big deal or ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ mistake. I know from all the attention fasted training has been getting in recent years that sprints and high intensity intervals are out, but it might be that threshold training is conditionally ok, for me anyway.

I was surprised how solid I still felt around the hour mark, and how ok I felt for the rest of the day. I’m not sure if this is an indication of my fitness or one of those false highs before a bad crash. I absolutely know dehydration can’t be trained for. Learning to ignore or postpone thirst and hunger, yes. Physiologically though, dehydration — like hypo- or hyperthermia or other very not good experiences — can’t be overcome with ‘get used to it’ positive thinking. And one day of training like this is different to two weeks of it and the cumulative stress incurred.

It’s Sunday and raining, and time to do the last session for the week. And looking forward to it. I like Zwift. Yup, it’s full of dudes and all the rest, but for a social, online training environment it’s mad friendly. I pretend Ayesha McGowan is coaching me, and when Zwift is all, “Good girl! You nailed it!” I hear it in her voice and I’m all “🥰 thank you, coach!”

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Perseverance

Eleven years ago, I got up early to watch Curiosity land on Mars. Yesterday, it was evening and just as terrifying. If I was up for utterly scaring myself, landing the way Perseverance and Curiosity did would be my choice.

It was that same surreal experience knowing Perseverance had already landed or not as the signal arrived eleven minutes behind. And then over so quick. Especially the last part from heat shield separation to free fall and powered descent and Sky Crane and touchdown. Suddenly it was there, in its lime green square with no cables running up to the descent module, just sitting there calm as can be.

And everyone going mental. Except Dr. Swati Mohan who was in the EDL Commentary chair with purple hair and silver stars, who’s been on the project since it began eight years ago, and was calm and focussed on the job all the way.

And then the images came in. And there’s a drone! And there’s microphones!

And no blogging for six weeks? Longest ever? Like …

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And no blogging for six weeks? Longest ever? Like I gave up my life project? Thanks pandemic amping up transphobia and racism and Islamophobia and general shittier behaviour from the str8s.

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Doing Ballet Again

It’s been about 2 years since I last got my arse into a studio and did a ballet class. Good reasons for finding other physicalities to entertain myself since then, going deep in cyclocross and riding, enjoying cold and wet and windy work outside. But I missed ballet. I missed the good things of being in a studio doing the work, I missed being there with good teachers and brilliant pianists.

And this week, I’m back working with Isabelle Schad (remotely, of course), and needed something to get me going, something quick and snappy with a variety of intensities and velocities, something to put me in where I needed to be for the work. And I found Het National Ballet are live-streaming a ballet barre. And first day of doing it was wow have I come far from all that, like a memory of being a dancer but watching myself in the mirror (of course I did, it’s ballet training) I was laughing at how I have all these muscles that are very not from dance, and how much and how my body has changed in the last two years. On the third day though, I started to see it all again, physicality waking up and unburying, and yeah, enjoying it so much.

Ernst Meisner is such a cheerful teacher and Rex Lobo is a joy of a pianist. And doing it live, knowing they’re both in the studio as I’m here in my apartment, and there’s hundreds or thousands of other dancers whereever and we’re all doing it together, it’s truly beautiful and reminds me of how dance saved me over and over (and how dance is also a hard bitch, but, yeah, let’s just enjoy the good stuff for one day, eh), and how special dance is, how fundamental moving together is for life.

“She had me dripping way down”

New music for the new week when we’re all on lockdown. OkayAfrica’s 7 South African Female R&B/Soul Artists to Watch In 2020. Ami Faku, who I cannot believe I failed to blog about, ’cos I bought her album IMALI about 5 minutes after first listening to her. Refentse Solo, who I’ll probably ending up also buying whatever I can once I get around to listening to her. I got stuck on Valerie Omari though. Very casually listening to Just Like The Rain and had to pause ’cos, “Did she just say, ‘she’?” Why, yes. Yes she did. “Just like the rain / She had me dripping way down.” South African R&B and Soul is doing the business right now. And Valerie Omari is criminally underrated.

Another Year of Doing the Work

Finishing the year and starting the year doing the work.

2018, I wore a heart rate monitor for all my training, riding, climbing, yoga, whatever. It felt a bit much. 2019, I stuck to riding only. All of which I keep notes of in a training diary in my calendar, ’cos I’m like that. So, 121 rides last year, and 150+ ‘yoga’ (core, strength, stretching, body work type, as well as actual yoga). Less riding than 2018, fewer long rides, virtually no climbing, and other year without doing a ballet or any kind of dance class in a studio, in front of a mirror.

Interesting stuff: The month of May, with almost no going into the red, and plenty of green and blue zones, that was Ramadan. The hole with nothing in it, June and July, that was me having my face peeled off in Spain. The first big ride, in October, was the Women’s 100, and the second was riding the Berliner Mauerweg on Tag der Deutschen Einheit. In retrospect, I can already see in my gappy training that chronic fatigue from a year of over-intensity and stress (surgery was only a part of it) was getting to me, November and half of December is that burnout.

Bike is currently in need of complete rebuild and new components, most of my cycling gear is similarly needing to be retired, but whatever. I keep riding. Every ride has had something in it for me, and it’s been so, so good for my mental and emotional health, as well as keeping my physicality ticking over. And it’s winter, a broken, very much not cold and snowless winter, barely ever below zero, but even that, riding in the cold, wet, dark grot makes me smile.

I love how young trans feminine mob are throwing d…

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I love how young trans feminine mob are throwing down ‘transsexual’ these days. Very here for this reclaiming of our word.