My Eightieth Week as a Budding Author
History and literature are littered with examples of people who were told not to do things but did them anyway. Pandora was given a box of evil and told in no uncertain terms that she shouldn’t open it. What would you have done? Stuck it in a safe and thrown away the key? No, you’ve have had a sneaky peek just like Pandora, therefore becoming directly responsible for Margaret Thatcher.
Adam and Eve had a similar quandary when God apparently made them a tree with a lush apple hanging from it and then said “No biting”. Clearly Adam was not up to much in the sack, as Eve got bored and ended up in conversation with a snake. It didn’t take much persuasion to sink her teeth into the Granny Smith and as a result I have to live in Swindon.
In cycling we too have our boxes and apples. It’s called “Strava” and simplistically it’s a website where you can upload your cycling performances and be judged against others. Many of these segments are hills and the fastest rider gains the “King of the Mountains” (KOM) award. Strava then mockingly emails the previous holder to advise them that their record has gone, maybe they’d like to have another go?
I’d been avoiding it for a long time on the advice of others. They’d told me that it caused countless damage to social rides which had become rudely interrupted by individuals sprinting off the front in order to claim the fastest time over a segment. Routes were being designed to take in Strava segments rather than nice scenery. Social networks were flooded with Strava boasts and the British hills were now littered with riders devoid of oxygen in their quest to gain a new KOM. For an obsessive like me, Strava is a Pandora’s box and Garden of Eden apple rolled into one. I dared not look at it for fear of being dragged into this nationwide web based time trial.
But you know what’s coming don’t you? Fortunately I have a brilliant excuse.
I’m finishing off all of the statistics pages for my UK road route guide. This includes analysis of the climbs along the route and many eons ago I wrote about a computer program that I’d knocked up to help. I’ve been testing this program in the evenings whilst the rest of the world is either watching Eastenders or riding up hills on mopeds to regain their Strava KOM. I wanted to make sure that my hill profiles were correct. A friend advised that Strava had gradient profiles for their hill segments. Dave, here’s a box full of evil. Step away now.
Signing up for Strava was painfully easy. The site even noticed that my GPS was connected and “would I like to upload my previous rides and analyse them”. I saw no harm in that and so pressed the “Yes” button. The web page chuntered away with a “processing” message whilst I took in a bit of Eastenders to fill the gap. Ten minutes later we were done and I had a bit of a flick around the site. Well, well, well. Just about every single cyclist I know was registered. All of my local hills had been claimed by members of my road club and to make matters worse the guy who’d warned me about Strava had taken a KOM that very day.
I delved further and had a good laugh at some of the segments. “L’Alpe Nationwide”, a pissy little climb no more than 500 metres long and there’s my old nemesis Rob Jackson at the top (read Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder for more detail on that). Marlborough Road and its MASSIVE 15m elevation gain, make sure you’ve got a compact chainset for that one. However, I was intrigued by some of the hard climbs. Salthrop Hill is a bit of a beast and I’d won my one and only hill climb up there. The Strava time was slower. A few others had some pretty impressive ascents and I ended up furiously stroking my chin, wondering whether I could get near any of those times. But work intervened. I look at the gradient profiles, decided they were crap and went off in search of other options for book diagram testing.
The next day I was awoken by my email in-box furiously shaking me. It was full of email from angry Strava users imploring me to delete my rides from their sacred site. Apparently I’d caused mass offence by my cycling history upload as I’d demoted KOM’s country wide with my quite frankly unbelievable climbing performance. This had me stroking the chin again and saying “hmmmmm” until I realised that the GPS contained more than just cycle rides.
Every time I’d taken photos for the book I’d left the GPS switched on. This allows me to geotag each photo as I will invariably forget where I took it despite the large amount of visual clues. Of course I’d driven to and from many of these locations and all of the traces had made their way onto Strava. Twenty miles an hour up the Bwlch is a pretty impressive performance in anyone’s book. There were loads of these traces and whilst Strava is clever it doesn’t appear to spot car journeys. The email box was pinging away so I was faced with no option but to delete all rides.
Strava achieve this by making you click a “Delete” button next to each ride then answering a a tedious “Are you sure” question. I’d uploaded over 300 traces. The children were out and unavailable for paid piecework so the only other option was to delete my account entirely. Pandora and Eve never got a second chance. You’d have thought that I’d have left it at that and gone back to bimbling along on the bike blissfully unaware of how shit I was compared to everyone else. But I kept wondering about Rob Jackson and how fast he was these days post marriage. They only way to find out was to sign up again and have a look.
Ten minutes later I was cautiously uploading recent rides in an attempt to take Rob’s L’Alpe Nationwide KOM. I’m sure I’d done it quicker than his 1 minute 37 seconds. It didn’t take long to find one, suddenly I was a King of the Mountains myself and Rob’s in-box was full of gloat. Sadly my performance on other hills was patently dismal. A few top tens but mostly minutes behind the leaders. I blamed it on age and a year spent riding at photography/dictation pace. I probably would have left it at that until a day later I received a nice portion of electronic gloat myself:-
“You just lost your KOM on L'Alpe Nationwide to Rob Jackson by 5 seconds.”
The cheeky bugger. I know for a fact he has no reason to ride up that road to work, he’s gone out to exact some revenge. He’s done that out of pure bloody mindedness. I was having none of it. I logged out of the myriad of things I was logged into and selected the lightest weapon from the bike fleet. Minimal cycling kit was donned and I emptied all non-essential items from my cycling repair kit. I even took my spare tube out of its packet to save a little weight. The water bottle was filled 3/4 full and I set out to have my revenge on Jackson. The other climbs were nagging as well, so I decided upon a route that would take in a few of the biggies in the name of “hill training”.
L’Alpe Nationwide was despatched first. I must have looked a right twat as I lactate thresholded my way up a slight incline in the middle of Swindon. Snot shot left right and centre as lungs unused to this training zone attempted to breath in as much of the surrounding atmosphere as they could. I had no idea whether I’d beaten Rob’s time at the top but hoped that this completely inappropriate urban effort was enough to take the spoils. Onto Salthrope Hill.
Salthrope is a climbers quandary as the gradient eases in until a really steep section through trees which levels into a sprint at the top. It’s hard to know where the best gains are made, high gears and speed on the shallow section or a massive effort on the steep bits where others will probably fade. I went for the latter strategy, a fast yet controlled approach followed by one gear change then a huge effort up the steep bit. Bloody hell it hurt. I’m years away from any kind of competition and had forgotten the real pain of extended hard cycling. I couldn’t get my mouth open wide enough to take in the required air. All I could hear was this rasping at the back of my throat as bits of thorax detached themselves and went south. The legs seemed to be coping ok and were shouting at the lungs for more but it wasn’t happening. I’d planned to sprint once out of the steep section but managed a fast amble instead.
Another Strava segment done, four more remained. Clyffe Pypard was remarkably similar but by Hackpen Hill the legs were on the way out and so I declared myself to be officially out of competition and slowed down a bit in order to make it home.
Usually I’d get some coffee, eat a little food then have a shower. Not today. I ran straight for the shed and shoved the GPS into the computer. A few tense moments were had as the route uploaded and I worried that maybe I’d not put in enough effort to do Jackson over. Finally the results screen and a very welcome surprise.
Three KOM’s and a Salthrop Hill time 1 second off my previous hill climb win. What the hell have I done? This is not going to end is it? The gloaty emails will have been sent and three other riders will be stripping bare and heading out on the bike tonight. And when they’ve taken my KOMs what am I going to do next? Bask in the previous achievement or head back out myself.
Somewhere out there is a mad web developer laughing into the screen of his computer at the evil he’s managed to unleash. I look at Strava and all I see is pain. I wish I’d never opened the box.
Dave, 27th July 2012