This week (5th – 10th October) is Dyspraxia awareness week so I’d like to share some information about Neuro-diversity, specifically Dyspraxia.

On Saturday 10th, the documentary film that I have made, #FatLadsCantClimb, based around my Everesting attempt will become live on my Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTDRMLmPuWc). To find out more, just type #FatLadsCantClimb into the search bar on facebook and you’ll see what has already been posted and the event too and I will also be hosting a live Q&A (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/x/fatladscantclimb-qa-session-tickets-124127766491) where I will be taking questions about whatever you’d like to ask me…

You may be reading this because you know who I am through Cycling and be more familiar with me talking (or writing in this instance) about bikes or an event, or more likely some daft idea for a ride that might not even be possible to do! If this is the case, I’d like to ask you to bear with me as you read on. This is not specifically about cycling or bikes but it is about endurance and determination and where that skill-set comes from.

Some of you may already know that I am dyspraxic and live with depression; in fact, I hope that most of you already know that as I feel like it’s quite important to raise awareness about hidden disabilities as a matter of course. In the very nature of the fact that someone who has a hidden disability like a mental health condition or a  specific learning difficulty does not display any physical characteristics, it’s really easy for our awareness to slip and for discrimination to take place without any acts of malice. I have no specific, high profile case to cite and no data to support it, but I’ve been there personally and I’ve taught young people who have been there too.

I don’t believe that anyone sets out to dis-advantage and marginalise people like me in day to day life so there isn’t anything that people need to stop doing so that Neuro-diverse people are included but there is something that you can do and its easy!

If someone is behaving in a way that seems different, its probably because they are thinking or experiencing the world in a way that is different.

I’d like to point out that I didn’t do my Everesting attempt to raise money for a charity, but I did do it for a good cause (raising awareness of Neurodiversity) and this is the part where I ask you to give; not money, but time. Watching #FatLadsCantClimb will cost you 24minutes and might help you to understand the subtle differences between how we all experience the world. I’d also appreciate you spending 5 minutes to forward this, along with a quick note from you, onto a friend, colleague or family member who you think may benefit or find it interesting.

If you don’t know about Neuro-diversity, please ask. I think a lot of people nod along without asking the question on their mind for fear of it being seen as rude or ignorant where actually it could make a big difference to the way we understand each other: I obviously, can only speak for me, which is where some of the social awkwardness around this stuff lies. The next person might really dislike explaining how they are!

To make it easier for you to come up with the questions, here are a few topics that they might fit into…

  • My cycling achievements (please stroke my ego!)
  • Questions about cycling
  • Specific Learning Difficulties
  • Depression
  • Neurolinguistic Programming
  • Being a fat lad and wearing lycra in public!
  • How to get into cycling
  • Learning to ride a bike
  • My strategies
  • How to create your own strategies
  • Anything else (literally anything: if I can’t or don’t feel comfortable answering it, I’ll just move on or answer privately later!)

Why is MTB Adventure Therapy different to Mountain Biking?

I’ve been fascinated by the notion of delivering Adventure Therapy on bikes since reading an article about Lee Craigie’s cycle therapy work (https://leecraigie.com/cycletherapy) in MBR magazine. As I was already looking into becoming an NLP practitioner and getting more involved with outdoors activities, as part of my teaching job in a PRU, I began to fully appreciate the connection between physical outdoors activities and developing more positive behaviour patterns. After a few years, this led me to leave the classroom and spend a few years working in the bike industry and eventually set up Breaking Cycles CIC to combine my passion for behaviour change and Bikes!

Over the years, having a keen interest in the subject, my mind has been drawn towards a plethora of research, anecdotal evidence, heart-warming articles and stories about the benefits, of getting fit and being outdoors, to our mental wellbeing. This has led me to ask the question ‘When is it just a ride and when is it adventure therapy?’

Cycling, particularly when you venture into the hills, helps us to de-stress and gain perspective on the challenges we face in life. On its own, simply getting out for a ride can be the answer to your problems, but adventure therapy adds a more purposefully directed experience to this and provides me with truly awesome environments in which to share NLP techniques in a meaningful and memorable way.

This week, I have been providing some Adventure Therapy taster sessions for pupils of The Alternative School (https://www.thealternativeschool.co.uk) at Harwes Farm CIC (https://harwesfarm.org). Developing a generic taster session was a bit of a challenge for me as I would generally think about specific aims for each pupil and general aims for the group as I plan the activities for each session, which would generally be a full day too. So, following in the footsteps of Albert Einstein, I went for a ride and came back with an idea!

I’d like to take this opportunity to publically thank Anderton Bossonet estate agents (https://andertonbosonnet.co.uk) for offering some financial help to provide these session and 3 Peaks Cycles (https://www.3peakscycles.com) for the excellent quality and well maintained hire bikes we used; my tools stayed in my bag all week!

The session was built to include elements of learning new skills, developing confidence and gaining a sense of community by giving something back. We concentrated on understanding the cone of movement and how our position on the bike affects our ability to lift the front wheel over an obstacle (wheelies!), using a couple of trail features that myself and volunteers at Harwes Farm had built the week before. After a brew, we returned to the developing skills area with tough gloves and shovels and began to develop the trail features further. As Harwes Farm has an ethos of environmental sustainability, we only used materials that we could find on site too!

Groups from both the Accrington & Rossendale and Pendle Campus’ of TAS are keen to return and continue the development of an accessible, sustainable MTB skills are and themselves!

“We already have the resources we need, or we can create them” – Presupposition of NLP

National 100 mile TT 2019

I rode the National 100 today and feel elated to be unhappy with the result, as I was about 1mph off the pace I was looking for and something went wrong with course navigation; resulting in receiving a DNF result.

That may seem like a strange concept so I’ll explain the thought processes involved…

When we experience negative thoughts, it can be useful to consider how we feel about our thoughts and feelings by imagining that we’re on the outside looking in.

This pattern is based on NLP change techniques:

First start with the facts of the situation.

Then consider our emotional response and how we would feel about it if we were giving advice to a friend or family member.

Finally revisit the current situation and see if our thoughts have changed.

If the have, is it enough? If not, can we examine another thought or feeling relating to the same thing? We then need to refocus and revisit.

The following is what went through my head today…

After less than an hour, my legs had nothing left and I started to feel very tired: this frustrated me.

I questioned why I was tired and if it meant that I had lost fitness… I racked up 266 miles of commuting this week and was able, both mentally and physically, to turn up at a very competitive event.

My thoughts changed to something more positive.

I felt a little disappointed in myself for having not predicted that this would happen today.

I asked myself if I ‘should know better’ than to push that hard early on or not rest up properly.

It’s only 5/6 years since I rode my first 100 mile ride: that took all day and had 3 cafe stops! I’ve been on a pretty steep learning curve so don’t have years of experience to call upon, I now have a little more! This is OK if I learn from it!

I realised that I had ridden 95miles as I crossed the finish so knew that something had gone wrong with navigation and it was likely that I’d end up with a DNF. This made me feel like the whole day was pointless.

I asked myself why I came here to do this today and if I had achieved anything.

I was never going to win: Marcin Bialoblocki was over an hour quicker than me! I wanted a time for the BAR competitions to see if I’ve improved from last year and a good long ride under race conditions to get ready for the Mersey Roads 24hr.

My position on the bike felt good, I got my nutrition right for the event & I had some really good practice at pushing myself despite feeling rubbish, which will stand me in good stead for the 24hr TT in a fortnight.

Just the BAR comps then…

I thought ‘if I continue to the next Marshall and give my number I can prove that I rode over 100 miles and I have STRAVA for a time’ this is what I did. The organiser didn’t accept this but I know I’ve done what I can to correct the error so I’m disappointed but not regretful.

So in short, whether I end up with an official time (I rode 101.2 miles in 4:47:27) isn’t in my control but whether I choose to focus on the positives or negatives is entirely in my control!

MTB Summer Schools

This August, I will be running some MTB adventure Summer School sessions.

I’ve developed a 2 day program, which will be run at Gisburn Forest on 12th & 13th August. This will help kids to develop their Confidence, Resilience, Independence and organisation skills whilst enjoying spending some time in the forest!

Developing these skills will help a child to get a great start to their secondary education, so this session is great for children moving up to secondary school and in year 7 & 8.

Activities will include: MTB skills sessions, map reading and navigation, outdoor cooking and planning an adventure!

Even lunch time is an adventure with The Ride Guide!

Keep an eye on my facebook page events for details of other Summer Schools, these will focus on Social skills and Building confidence…

The Mersey Roads 24hr TT

I’m preparing for my second 24hr time trial, which takes place on 21st – 22nd July 2018, and its making me think about how I found myself competing in such a challenging sporting event. Those who have met within the last 5 years, will undoubtedly see me as a cyclist, but it’s not something I’ve grown up with, it’s something that I’ve grown into.

Although I have always liked being outdoors and exploring, I wasn’t a particularly ‘sporty’ child. I was actually the lad who’d always get picked last for playground games of football, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have picked me first either! The complexity of football proved to be too much of a challenge for me. I always had difficulty remembering who was on what team and which way I was supposed to be shooting, so when you add trying to stay upright, remembering complicated rules and all of the skills and techniques that I needed, it just resulted in overload!

20 years ago, at 14 years old, I learned that I am Dyslexic and that this is the reason why I found some tasks much more taxing than my peers (I found out much later that my particular SpLD has much more in common with Dyspraxia, which explains my schoolboy football prowess!) Learning this about myself, developing strategies to cope and engaging with the support that I received at school and at home led me to become interested in how we learn and differences in the ways people achieve and succeed. This ultimately led to me training to teach and pursuing a career in SEN and SEBD teaching. A-Levels and a degree course were significantly challenging and at times frustrating, but ultimately achievable with a lot of determination. Teaching at a Pupil Referral Unit was a great fit for me as I got to concentrate on helping those who struggled to fit into the system for various reasons, which gave me a lot of job satisfaction. The education system is just that; a system: a machine that processes learners in order to produce qualifications. Issues arise with this when the components, or the materials don’t fit the original specification, for example if something is of a different shape, size, density etc. maybe these are the materials that need to be worked by hand…

Being of an irregular shape and size as a teacher, I always felt that the system should be developed further so that it can process everything, not just the regular. In short, I found that it doesn’t (well, not consistently anyway!). I had a few years of success and a few years of having my edges smoothed off to make me fit the system. Ultimately, my mental health suffered and I had a career change.

So, getting back to the cycling bit…

Riding my bike, along with other outdoors activities, has done wonders for my co-ordination, given me the space and time I need to organise my head and helped me to keep going when my mental health is suffering. Riding the 24 is a positive expression of what it has taken me to get through school with SpLD and to live with depression. I can compete in a discipline like this because of the experiences i have had: both positive and negative.

I appreciate all of the support i have received from my family and friends

I am grateful for all of the professionals who have helped me, both at school and with my mental health.

I don’t resent those who called me lazy, clumsy or told me to ‘pull myself together’

All of these experiences brought me to this point and without them, I might have ended up doing something ordinary!