My Sixty Ninth Week as a Budding Author
As all proper cyclists countrywide are aware the weather pattern has clearly followed the UK economy into double dip recession. I think I can dimly remember a brief recovery somewhere in March, but at present all climatic indicators point to deep depression and approaching stormy fronts. By the way, the “proper” that I casually slipped in previously is a clear dig at those who think turbo training or the use of indoor gym bikes constitutes cycling. In my world the noun cyclist needs tinkering with and I would like to propose the text below:-
A person who rides a bicycle, outdoors in a wide variety of weather and light conditions completely unperturbed by the strange looks they receive or the cowshit sprayed in their face from the front wheel.
bicyclist - cycler - rider - idiot - taxifodder
Last week I was determined to do something about it and on Sunday morning I stood away from the keyboard and headed off down to Swindon Town Hall, the hallowed meeting place of the Swindon Road Club Sunday run. I used to be a regular attendee of the club run many years back, but had lapsed mainly due to Saturday night wine drinking coupled with the ride’s 9am start time. I limited myself to a mere two bottles of ale the night before and had even fitted a rear mudguard to avoid being sent to the back if it rained. As it turned out it was not a “being sent to the back” day with a reasonably brisk wind coming in from the west.
Not a lot had changed since my last Sunday run guest appearance. I turned up and was relentlessly mocked across the whole spectrum of cycling faux pas including silly bumfluff beard, mudguards and the time honoured who-the-hell-are-you? Eventually they lost interest in my derision and we set off into the wind. I felt an obligation to do my bit for the group and therefore made my way to the front for a long turn into the wind as we wended towards Wootton Bassett and on towards the Marlborough Downs.
Now, attending the Sunday run does come with a certain amount of obligation. One of which is that we tend to ride at 18mph+ as a group. This can vary depending upon attendance, but looking around, there were not many fatties out today. So the 18mph+ was upgraded to 20mph which added some further stress to my load as my partner on the front was up for a chat and the wind had picked up further pace.
Clive: “Hi, Dave, haven’t seen you for a while, how’s things with you?”
Dave: “Good” <enters severe oxygen debt after wasting a litre of air on one word>
Clive: “Bit blustery along here isn’t it? How’s that book you are writing coming along?”
Dave: “Good” <heart rate now stratospheric, the word “good” was formed by belching to attempt to find air from stomach region instead>
This carried on for nearly eight miles until Clive uttered that glorious phrase “I think someone else can have a go now” and let the group come through. I slowly slipped away from lactate threshold and latched onto the back. This lasted for about a mile when a mix up at a junction rearranged the group into me on the front with someone even faster than Clive. To make matters worse we espied splinter groups ahead riding the White Horse Challenge sportive, thus an unspoken chase began. I’m so glad my companion was a surly type, as at 24mph into the wind I’d have only been able to converse by sign language.
Four miles later I made my excuses and returned to the back. I was surviving but there was a definite level of discomfort in riding so fast. We carried on through Calne and at the bottom of Blacklands hill I met my nemesis. You’ll have to read Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder chapter 22 to find out the full story, but let’s just say that his name is Rob and the two of us had a chequered history of making the Sunday run hard.
Rob joined the group and somehow yet again I found myself on the front riding with him into the wind. We egged each other on towards oxygen debt whilst attempting to catch up on old times. Rob noticed that his shoelace was undone or something and retreated to the back, leaving me to face the wind with an over eager partner with a tendency to half-wheel.
It’s possible you may not be away of the heinous cycling crime of half wheeling. I only discovered it after a particularly vicious bollocking from a club member who’d suffered the same from me. It’s the act of going a little bit faster than your colleague on the front thus overlapping him by half a wheel. He speeds up to bring his wheel in line, which in turn makes you think he wants to go faster so you speed up..by half a wheel. You get the picture, every time he manages to catch up you drive the pace harder. It happens subconsciously as you’re basically trying to ride at your pace forcing him to up his tempo usually way beyond comfort zone.
This was happening to me as a pair of legs that had spent miles at the back came to the front to take a brief turn. Half wheelers always “take a brief turn”, show how strong they are and then disappear rapidly to the back for a rest. In the end I gave up and left him to it, so he pedalled gracefully up the road leaving me alone to tow the rest of the group.
After nearly 30 miles we finally turned out of the wind and I hoped to get some sort of rest. A couple of riders had already made the Captain Oates speech and sauntered off home on their own. But the group did not get the message, some of the strong lads came to the front and we were strung out into a furious pace line often touching 30mph. I suddenly understood what my recent training had lacked as I fought really hard to stay in contention. My winter legs had not seen much speed with the chain a real stranger to the big ring. The cafe stop twelve miles later proved welcome respite and here I made my biggest mistake of the day by opting for a mere sliver of cake when my body was clearly crying out for a full meal.
I should know better than this. I’ve been riding bikes for so many years across so many miles and often at very uncomfortable speeds. It’s very rare that it doesn’t hurt a lot in many ways but the golden rule is that you’ll usually be OK as long as you eat and drink. On Sunday I ripped up the rule book and decided that starvation would be the best strategy for surviving the remainder of what was proving to be a hard ride.
The pace remained high after our brief stop as we flew towards Marlborough and an appointment with the long climb up towards Hackpen Hill. I was by no means comfortable, but seemed able to hold the wheels on the flat whilst avoiding any attempt to go to the front. In Marlborough I even managed a glimpse of former hill climb glory as I passed most of the group on the climb out of town. One mile later I utterly died on my arse.
There’s nothing worse on the bike than suffering the bonk. Runners call it “hitting the wall” whilst I think in darts it is referred to as “completely pissed”. There are no warning signs or indicators. Your body has been trying as hard as it can until it suddenly decides “fuck it, I’ve had enough of this, he can continue on his own”. To make matters worse, it usually occurs when your drink bottles are 3/4 full and jersey pockets stuffed full of food. As happened in my case.
One minute I was on the front with Chris doing 24mph on the flat, the next I was watching the arse of the last rider in the group disappear up ahead. The bonk swatted me out of the peloton and turned the world into slow motion. The wind was blowing across the road now and I craved the sanctuary of the bunch but they were going far too fast for my properly wasted legs. Further ignominy descended in spades as this was a climb I usually attacked and waited for the rest at the top. Now it was my turn to grovel up as if on a shopper bike and fend the semi-sarcastic “Are you OK?”s.
Utterly exhausted and alone I began to severely question my lot. I’d worked hard on the front into the wind and now those who’d benefited were up the road enjoying a fast paced trip home. Why weren’t they coming back to help me? How long had their turns been? Don’t they remember how fast I used to be up this hill? However, this was all pointless self-justification. The fault was mine alone. I clearly was not yet fit enough to do so much early work and should have grovelled at the back of the group. I’d not eaten properly either, a fatal mistake on any club run. And I’d paid the “climbers” price, nobody waits for the man who hadn’t waited before.
The remaining eight miles home were not pretty. The bunch had waited at the bottom of the hill but by then the climb/wind/lack of food had taken its toll and I waved them on so that I could ride at “recovery pace”. Luckily my driveway faces downhill otherwise I’d not have made it into the house. I spent the rest of the afternoon eating and constructing excuses for the next meeting with the Sunday riders. Maybe I can blame it on rubbing brakes or a weird tropical disease contracted in Devon or writer’s cramp. But the truth is I had transgressed two of cycling’s golden rules.
Rule 1: You must ride your bike, lots
Rule 2: Energy bars are for mastication not ballast
I fully intend to remain within the law during May.
28th April 2012