Do You Believe in the West World

This was meant to be one of three, my last big weekend before Wessex… but it was almost none of none.

My problems started during the week. I had barely recovered from a hearing problem, when the high pollen count starting playing havoc with my allergies. This was followed by a more serious problem which knocked me sideways… blood in my stool.

I have a condition called Ulcerative Colitis, fortunately I’ve been in remission for a few years now, but the sight of that blood scared me… was it all coming back?

These problems affected my mood, my sleep and most importantly my appetite. Not the ideal preparation for my first triple century. As the weekend approached I switched focus to concentrate on the task in hand, banishing thoughts of my health problems to the back of my mind.

Saturday morning arrived and I was up early as usual… usual routine, usual preparation… three bowel movements. “Hang on that’s not usual” I exclaimed. “Banish these negative thoughts… I’m OK, no really… I’m OK” I commanded myself.

Fate however, had other ideas and started to drop hints. First up it was Garmin bike computer, deciding to freeze as I loaded today’s course.  This was easily fixed by a reboot, but then my cycling glasses snapped… I can’t reboot them! After scrambling around on garage floor for a few minutes I found the stricken temple and crudely re-attached it with some electrical tape.

“Right, that’ll do… have you quite finished fate?” I enquired, and then I was off.

The first hour was reasonably straight forward, my average speed was hovering around the 20mph mark helped by a nice little tail wind. You see nature does like me… well occasionally.  But what about my complaining bowels? They were suspiciously quiet… but not for long.

Somewhere between mile 30 and 40, I sensed all was not well. Some discomfort in the bowel region started to creep in while I was simultaneously feeling weaker and slightly nauseous .. “shut up bowels, shut up body… I’ve got a century to ride” I told myself.

Half the battle with riding centuries is psychological, so I never think too much about how far I’ve ridden or how long I’ve got left to ride. But when I whizzed passed the road sign declaring that I was now in Hampshire, it dawned on me that I had just ridden the 50 miles across the whole of West Sussex and now would need to ride the same distance back across my home county to reach home.

It was starting to hit me how weak and empty I was feeling, how sick I was feeling and the enormity of the challenge I was now facing. “Call home” I hear you cry. Can you imagine the conversation… “Can you pick me up?”… “I’m in, errr Hampshire!”… I don’t think that would have won me any popularity contests. The only contest I was entering was the battle to get home, fifty miles… depleted… into a headwind… I was destitute.

I decided to pull over, rest and consider my options. I had been riding for three hours and had the best part of another three to go. Time for a plan.

I took the opportunity to rest for several minutes. As usual on these long rides, I had brought more than enough supplies… so I forced down a double helping of a gel and some energy sweets. Not ideal when you’re feeling nauseous, but it had to go down one way or another. Although the sickly treats didn’t help my grumbling stomach, they, combined with the rest gave me a bit of a boost.

So, that’s my plan, stop every hour for several minutes and have a double helping of energy food. Forget what I had done, forget what I needed to do… just ride for one hour, rest, feed and start thinking about the next hour.

My mind games worked to a certain extent, I was pedalling squares for the first hour and pedalling through quick sand for the next, but these were soon ticked off.

Stop number three left me about eight miles from home. “I’m almost there now, maybe about half an hour, dig deep… I can do this!” I told myself. I dug so deep I was close to finding water.

The last few pedal revolutions and I was home. Bottles empty, pockets empty and me… empty! I spent the rest of the day on the sofa.

Sunday’s century was a non-starter, I just rode for a very sluggish 30 minutes or so. An improvement on Monday found me riding a slightly more sprightly twenty miler, but nowhere near the intended third century.


My last big training session ruined by illness.

Having said that, in my world there’s always a plus… the message I’m taking away from last Saturday…

If I can get through that, I can get through anything!

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April Fools Double

Some people can’t resist coffee and walnut cake, some people can’t resist chocolate biscuits… but me… I can’t resist century bike rides.

My original plan for the weekend was a short gentle ride on Saturday followed by the usual Sunday club run. The latter was pencilled in as a 65 miler at ‘social’ pace, and if I included my commute… and a few extra miles… I could muster another century. But then I got thinking. There was also a local Sportive on Saturday, an 80 miler and if I included my commute… and a few extra miles… and yes, you know what’s coming… another century!

It’d been several months since my last (and first) double century, so why not?

Day One… At the Plumpton Races

Saturday arrived and I also had a sub-mission for the day… distribute some flyers for my website amongst the Sportive riders. Fitting everything in required an early start, so I found myself whizzing around some local lanes racking up some early mileage while more sensible people were still tucked up in bed.

I arrived at Plumpton Racecourse, the venue for today’s Sportive, to find riders streaming out of the venue… it would seem that most riders had already departed. Not wanting to be left behind, I hastily dispatched my flyers on a table near the entrance, hoping that people would help themselves when finished later in the day.

I had ridden this course before, in the months building up to my first century back in 2014… so had fond memories. It starts off fast, with a fairly flat 20 to 30 miles before the hills kick in during the middle and latter sections.

I say hills… there are certainly some gradients on this course, but nothing compared to the grimace inducing ascents experienced a couple of weeks ago during the Battle of Bradfield. The hills in this part of Sussex may slow you down, but they only take the edge off your average speed unlike the Yorkshire variety which take huge chunks out of it.

I found a group of eight to nine riders to latch onto “this’ll  be nice” I thought to myself “being towed along”. I stayed towards the rear trying to reap the benefits, the first small rise came and I pushed to the front to take my turn. I looked back at the summit and the group had gone… this happens to me a lot!  I didn’t want to waste time waiting, only for the same thing to happen again – so I pushed on.

All was going well, the sun was out and there was very little wind, but about 60 miles in…  I noticed a wobble coming from my front wheel, I kept going for a short while but it was more noticeable on the descents… “looks like I’ve got a puncture” I thought to myself. I pulled over and my fears were confirmed, not quite pancake like, but certainly on its way.

Punctures are not usually a problem, wheel off… tyre off… tube out… new tube in… inflate and go, but it all started to go wrong during the inflate part. My pump was gripping the valve so tightly that it kept pulling it out releasing all the air I’d just spent the last few minutes furiously pumping in. A few more attempts at inflating the tube were pursued, quickly followed by frustrating bouts of deflation… for both me and the tube!

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  “Time for a different strategy” I thought to myself… “if I semi-inflate the tyre, use the old valve as a tool to hold to new valve tight… it might just work”… “phew” it did. Not an ideal result, but at least I could get going again.

40 miles to go on a half inflated front tyre… I’d have to take it easy cornering from now on.

My mind kept going back to those flyers. I just left them in a pile on a table. “People might not see them” I thought to myself “I’d have to go back and start handing them out, perhaps as riders cross the finish line… yes, that’ll be a nice touch”.  I hadn’t planned to go back to the venue, but I’d never know what became of my flyers if I didn’t.

So this became my new plan. Now it was time to give my brain a workout… “If I wanted to arrive home with 100 miles on the clock, no more, no less… and ride via the venue… what shortcut could I take?” After running through a few options, I chose a new route and with unnerving accuracy arrived at the racecourse with 95 miles ridden… 5 miles from home… perfect!

The finish line is an ideal opportunity to hand stuff out, where everyone is in a good mood, a mixture of relief and sense of achievement. Everyone was so grateful as I milled around handing out the flyers… but not as grateful as me, flattered with the interest shown.

Once all my flyers had been gratefully received, it was back on the bike for the last leg of today’s journey.

Once back at home, my thoughts turned to tomorrow and time to instigate my recovery routine… protein shake, ice bath, omelette for lunch, followed by stretching, compression tights and an early night… not forgetting to fuel up for tomorrow in between.

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Day Two… Post Century, Century

I always like to be immaculately turned out when I start a ride, which I why I chose not to wear my Gabba… it was covered in energy gel from yesterday. I must have put a half empty wrapper back in my pocket, which over the course of the ride seeped its way through the vents and down the back of the tail… yuk… a thick gooey sticky mess!

So, my choice for the day was shorts, summer jersey with arm warmers, mitts and a gilet… largely dictated by the weather forecast… dry, starting off around 7-8 degrees, increasing to double figures by early afternoon.

The forecast lied!

Five minutes in and my barely covered body was exposed to a bone chilling mist, numbing and invigorating in equal measure, it took some furious pedalling to keep the cold at bay. At least it took my mind off the pain of yesterday, still grumbling away in the background.

An hour later I arrived at the meeting point, the mist had cleared and the sun was starting to seep through what cloud cover remained. I was met by an array of jackets, long sleeve jerseys and winter tights… my riding chums had all chosen more sensible attire. That was until, like a juggernaut, Jason arrived… just jersey and shorts… ready for action!

So, this ‘social’ pace ride… what exactly does ‘social’ mean?  My definition would be riding at a steady pace, where you can easily chat to your co-riders… with your eyeballs remaining firmly in their sockets!  I obviously misunderstood the term.

Jason and Gary clearly had different views on the definition, as they drove the nine rider train down to the south coast at breakneck speed… with the rest of us desperately clinging on.

I was getting a sense of déjà vu, I was sure I’d been here before… a fast group on my way to a century steaming like a train through Amberley to the foot of Houghton Hill… “Yes you have” I thought to myself as I recalled the Accidental Century ride from last August.

I didn’t have a tactic for the climb today, after all I still had yesterday’s century in my legs, so I relaxed into the foot of the climb. No-one seemed to want to lead this one out, so I obliged… lighting the touch paper for Jason who powered passed me, disappearing into the distance… Yes, this was definitely a case of déjà vu!

At the summit Jason waited for rest of us to arrive, all out of breath but happy enough to joke about the ‘social pace’. “Well its slower than my commute, so I figured it was social” Jason joked. “The only thing that’s social about this ride is that you’ve got company” Ian replied.

After a bit more banter we were off again, down the glorious two mile descent into Arundel.  I led the way, 40mph… 41… 42… then all of sudden Gary flew past me, followed by four fleeting blurs of lycra… I dread to think what speed they were doing.

We regrouped at the bottom of the hill, our leader pointed out “we’ve got a flat bit now”.  Now that’s what I was worried about, the climbs and descents I can do at my own pace… but the flat.. trying to stay with the Jason and Gary train on top of yesterday’s 100. My legs were screaming at me to stop, slow down, rest… anything but this, but no… the relentless pace was never ending.

I needed a break… I desperately needed a break. On cue Alex obliged…  a puncture… thank you Alex, what a relief! I think a few us thought the same.

Slightly fresher after the enforced rest, the pace was a bit easier to manage and with the longest climb of the day coming up I was more hopeful.

Up Upwaltham and Down Duncton… a seven mile stretch with three separate climbs followed a nice long descent at the end. Time to relax into the climbs and do my own thing at my own pace.

We regrouped on the last summit, rapidly descended down the other side and turned east on the homeward journey.  A couple of the group decided this would be a good time to split and tailed off for a coffee.

The rest of us stayed pretty much together until it was time for Jason to spin off home.  “all we need now is to put Gary’s brakes on” joked Ian.  Nice thought, but no such luck. Every time Gary came passed I could see the back of Ian’s head visibly shaking left to right… as if to gesture “oh no, not again!”

Somewhere around the 70-75 mark I was really starting to struggle, my legs were protesting… not just because they ached like fury… but because they no longer had the energy to continue at the pace we were going.  My mind games were no longer working and I was getting dropped by the remainder of the group at every opportunity.

I was due a gel in about 15 minutes, so I tried to use that as an incentive, but I was so drained I had to take it early… in fact I had to take two. It took a few miles, but I picked up a little and was able to at least keep up now.

We arrived back where we had all met earlier in the day, with a shade over 80 miles registered on my Garmin. The consensus was to stop for a coffee. My first thought was relief but I was also slightly frustrated having just taken two gels. I sat down with my strong black coffee added more sugar than I would usually consume and wolfed down a rather large granola bar… my body was being very demanding. This was closely followed by half a tube of shot bloks, similar is shape and consistency to wine gums… but packed full of energy.

Now I was hyper… I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike!

There were just three of us now, we were all going for a century today… but I was the only one who was hyper… my turn to drive the train, summit the hills first and wait at junctions.

As we approached the last few miles, I bade farewell to Ian and Gary who live further east than me, so still had a few miles to clock up.  I was soon home, immensely quicker than yesterday… both satisfied and relieved. I’d need to get used to this though… the Tour of Wessex was only eight weeks away 🙂

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