Sunday, 25 May 2014

Let me sleep

The next item on the 2014 sporting agenda is the Midnight Mountain Marathon in Wales (near Brecon) on 28th June. So that's meant getting back on my feet after the 316km audax a couple of weeks ago.

And that's where things have got tough. I expected a week of reduced power and enthusiasm after the audax, but that's turned into two weeks now. I've still been doing the runs and the miles, but yesterday's moderately hilly 18 miler has left me wiped out, with sore muscles of the like I haven't had for months.

I'm putting this down to a few things: work, lack of sleep, and lack of hills. Work's been even more full-on than usual in the last couple of weeks - the usual combination of living in a hotel and long hours being supplemented by a 'big' presentation and mediating between multiple warring parties; just exhausting. I've compounded that by trying to get by on 6 hours sleep a night, and whilst that might be fine for some people, it's not for me; to function efficiently mentally and physically, I need 8. As for the lack of hills, running up them (and down them for that matter) is hugely different to riding up them - the impact on your joints and muscles is huge - and I just haven't done enough of them in the last few weeks - last weekend's runs in the sunshine were fantastic, but the canal towpath is, by its nature, pretty flat.

So this long weekend has been a blessing, and I extended it from 3 to 4 days by taking much of Friday off to do a few things, including make a rather nice Cambodian curry for Mrs M's birthday (if I do say so myself). The day off also enabled me to have a thorough check over at the opticians about the temporary blindness I suffered at the end of the audax a couple of weeks ago, which was quite reassuring - it turns out I've got "excessively dry corneas", and there's a range of things I can do sort it out, cod liver oil featuring quite highly. It's interesting that most of things that have stopped me running or riding in recent years (sciatica in the leg, bad back, and now the eyes {as a result of being in air conditioned rooms staring at a screen whilst wearing contact lenses}) have all been caused by sitting at a desk and using a computer, rather than actual exercise. There can only be one solution...

I've also caught up with sleep this weekend - 8 hours the last 2 nights, and another 2 hours yesterday afternoon, and 3 this afternoon. Lovely; I can feel things beginning to come back into balance. With a bit of luck I'll actually feel like doing some training tomorrow instead of it feeling like a form of torture. All I need now is to be able to run up some hills without it hurting...

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Old Roads 300 Audax

Let's start with the facts, because there are many to get out of the way. Yesterday, I and great mate Mendip Rouleur rode the Old Roads 300 Audax. (Those who don't know what an audax is - do keep up; it's a pre-fixed route that you self-navigate round, collecting stamps on a brevet card or shop receipts to prove you completed that route. It's not a race, but it is timed). Through a combination of choice and ineptitude we ended up covering 316km, or 198 miles. We started at 6am, and arrived back at our starting point (Honiton in Devon) at 11.36pm, i.e. 17 hours 36 mins later. We ascended 3800 metres, or 12000 feet. Our route took us on a clockwise tour of Devon and Somerset, calling at Okehampton, Barnstaple, South Molton, Wiveliscombe, Bridgwater, Cheddar, Ilminster and Chard amongst other places. We cycled roads across the Somerset levels that 3 months ago were under 6 feet of water.  It was wet and windy during the day, at times very wet, at other times very windy, and other times still both very wet and very windy.

Now for the interesting stuff. First, did I enjoy it? I'm still not sure to be honest. I'd never previously ridden more than 152 miles in a day, and the final 50 miles from Cheddar back to Honiton felt like a slog to be honest. Then again, there are two explanations for that - we had a headwind of varying strength for most of that time, and my eyesight was getting progressively worse. When I've done 200km rides in the past the vision in my left eye has occasionally gone cloudy - like you imagine having a cataract to be - but yesterday was something else. For the last 90 mins I could see virtually nothing out of either eye, and hung on to Guy's rear light like my life depended on it, which in some ways it did. It was really disconcerting riding on unlit country lanes with vision that poor.

Still, it meant that after our midnight veg stew and bread and butter at the organiser's house, there was absolutely no chance of me driving. Fortunately, I'd taken a sleeping bag with me, and I have an estate car, so my filthy bike occupied one half of the boot between 12.30am and 5am, and me tucked up in my sleeping bag occupied the other half. I had to answer the call of nature at 3.26am - I crawled out of the car and stood barefooted on the council car park doing what I had to at the back of the car. It was only when I got up at 5am did I realise that I'd dropped some clothes at the back of the car when I was blindly loading it at midnight....well, you can guess the rest. Oh the glamour, the glamour....

So I didn't enjoy the end of the ride, but the rest of it was good, despite the weather. The route is so called because it uses in several places the old version of a new road where the latter's been built to accommodate greater amounts of traffic, so those roads tend to be fast and quiet, which is good. We also got some nice  views of Exmoor and from the Black Down hills. To my great relief and slight astonishment nothing particularly hurt, despite the fact I've done almost no cycling in recent months. Neck, shoulders, back, undercarriage - all the bits that are vulnerable on a long ride - seem to have survived pretty much intact. So's the stomach, despite the vast volume of - let's face it - high carb crap it was forced to endure yesterday. We probably expended close on 10,000 calories yesterday, and that's a fair amount of fuel to have to take in and digest. Apart from a few nighttime thunderclaps my digestive system's been fine; the same cannot be said of my riding companion however...

...for about 40 minutes before we finished he did the bicycle equivalent of an emergency stop, and just as I was about to berate him for his bike handling ineptitude, there was an urgent shout of "hold that, I need to vomit". It seemed a bit churlish to carry on with the original complaint under the circumstances (those circumstances being the peace and quiet of a moonlight Devon night being broken by the sound of a middle-aged man dry retching), particularly as it was my turn to bellow "Stop!" a few minutes later to fix a mechanical - a day of rough roads had caused one of the bolts holding a water bottle cage in place had worked its way loose, the thing had gone sideways and I was pedalling into it.

Other notable features of the ride included:

- kamikaze birds: a blackbird and a (I think) a pigeon both flew dangerously close to the front wheel of Guy, risking both decapitation and hearing my Mr T impression ("crazy, bicycle-bothering, bird fool!"), whilst a generously-proportioned pheasant mistimed his takeoff attempt in front of me, meaning I felt the air of frantically flapping wings as he and I had another near-miss;

- the fact that despite there were only 12 starters for the event, and 2 of those packed somewhere along the line, we constantly kept seeing each other during the day; the time spread of our arrivals in Honiton was remarkably small;

 - nobody seemed to get a p**cture; remarkable, given the state of the roads.

So a couple of thanks to end. First, to Mrs Monmarduman, for exhausting the domestic baking supplies (and I suspect those of at least one medium sized supermarket) to create a fine array of cake and pasties. Much of the cake has been consumed, but not so many of the pasties yet, mainly because my saddlebag is only 15 inches wide, which is way too small to accommodate them.

And second, to Mendip Rouleur, without whom I'd have had to sleep in a hedge until my eyesight had returned to normal, and who was his usual pleasingly cussed and cantankerous self. He's also an indefatigable rider who matches his levels of moaning and faffing with sheer, bloody determination to carry on, come what may, which I very much like. I'm wondering if he and I need to ride a tandem together, me stoking at the back and providing a bit of climbing power, whilst he drives and route finds at the front. The only drawback of the plan I foresee is the proximity of my nose and his backside it would entail. And on that enriching note, here endeth today's lecture on what it's like to ride a bicycle practically 200 hilly miles between dawn and (just after; ok 3 hours after) dusk.

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Fear

This Saturday I shall attempt to rode the Old Roads 300 Audax. The number 300 is significant, if inaccurate; the route is actually 308km, or 192 miles in old money. And it's round Devon, where it's quite hilly, and Somerset, which despite the famous levels has some chunky hills too.

So I'm afraid, very afraid, for a number of reasons...

First, I've hardly done any riding so far this year. Running - yes, riding - no. So there'll be no worries with basic fitness, but I'm anticipating the back starting to complain after about 2 hours, the backside after 3, and the shoulders after 4. I'm not particularly worried about pain in itself, but I just hope it doesn't get unpleasantly bad. Which it might, when the previous furthest I've ever ridden in a single day is 152 miles.

Second, there are no bailout options, no shortcuts, no broom wagon. Once we're out there, we've got to be self-sufficient. 

Third, the weather forecast; it's looking showery and breezy at this point, though there's scope for that to improve or deteriorate yet; I'm obviously hoping it'll be the former.

Fourth, as well as a lack of riding, I'm not convinced that a marathon (literally) training run last weekend, and a few two wheeled pootles this weekend represents the best preparation. I managed 3,500 feet of ascent both on the run and today's ride, but nevertheless it's all a bit feast or famine. It's part of the problem of working away during the week - it doesn't allow the kind of consistent midweek training that builds a good base for these mega-events. Ho hum, it is what it is. 

Finally, however, by far the biggest reason I'm worried is the fear of failure. At the start of February I didn't manage to finish a mountain ultra-marathon in the Lakes, and I'd hate to DNF two consecutive events. Fortunately, I'm riding this Saturday with Mendip Rouleur; he and I have achieved some great things (for us) together on two wheels, so I'm hoping we'll spur each on this weekend. Wish us luck. I'll report back on what happens next time.

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