Not all cycling trips are created equal as I have found out many, many times. I thought I would share a recent experience with you that made me feel as though I had never done a day of sport in my life.
A few weeks ago I attempted a 100km Ultra Marathon called Race to the Stones. I say ‘attempted’ because I had to drop out after 80km as the race had gone very, very wrong. I hadn’t paced myself properly and was on my feet for a lot longer than I should have been. That meant that I acquired six massive blisters and as a result, forgot my fuelling strategy too. The medic at the 60km mark was even wincing as he lanced my foot and said it was the most painful thing he’d had to do at that point. Poor bloke.
So the wrong shoes and race plan neglect meant that I pulled the plug at 80km after 17 hours on my feet. My best friend, Emma and boyfriend, Andrew stalked down a pitch-black track to retrieve me from the clutches of the dark night, I was picked up in the car by my dad and put to bed. All very disappointing but I knew there was nothing left to give.
In the days afterwards I was fairly peeved as this was my first ‘DNF’ and it sucked. Physically, I was in such a state that if I sat down I couldn’t stand up without assistance. I was like a turtle that had been cruelly flipped onto its shell.
Anyway, that provides the back drop to the ride that I was to go on a week later. Frustrated by my shit performance and eager to get back on the wagon and carry on, Andrew and I embarked on a cycle from London to Brighton the following Sunday, seven days after my ultra f&ck up.
This is a route I am familiar with which I have done a handful of times. It’s a classic, rolling journey over the South Downs with some magnificent views and the scent of salty air the closer you approach the coast. There is one hill in particular that is fairly anti-social called Ditchling Beacon but it’s manageable and a great feeling once you get to the top. I was really looking forward to this sunny 60 mile trip down to the seaside.
However, we had barely reached Tooting Broadway and I was already panting like I’d smoked a packet of B&H that morning. It was a sensation of weakness comparable to if Superman was a cyclist and a meddling nemesis had spiked his bidon with a couple of grams of Kryptonite.
I had lost all my powers.
As we approached Croydon, wracked with desperation, I created a diversion by telling Andrew that my cadence monitor wasn’t working so that we could pull over and I could secretly Google where Croydon Station was. But, I was soon busted for planning my getaway and Andrew asked me if I wanted to turn back. After a bit of shuffle in my cleats I couldn’t bear the thought of yet another DNF and so I reluctantly elected to push on. I knew that the pain was only temporary and I would just be handing myself another dry slice of the disappointment cake if I’d pulled out.
In the miles between Croydon and Ditchling I was generally just amazed at how slow I was going. I am pretty sure that I got overtaken by a pedestrian on the pavement. It was like someone had replaced my legs with a couple of bread sticks that only had the strength to glide through a pot of guacamole. What was going on?!
By the time I had made it to the foot of Ditchling Beacon, a new phenomenon was happening whereby I had to jump off my bike a few times and perform a little cleated jig to purge a burning sensation in my thighs and lower back. It must have looked so odd.
Confronted by the monster hill and knowing that the Eden that is public transport back to London was just over the brow, I got a second wind. Or at least until half way up when I entered the pain cave for good. This time my legs had turned into a couple of spicy Pepperami’s – structurally quite floppy but burning hot. At the summit, although I look all happy and ‘en danseuse’ in this photo, I was actually hugging the hillside wretching pitifully moments after this was taken.
Eventually we rolled into Brighton and my mood suddenly lifted as we approached the sunny pier. There was an uncanny correllation between my change of mood and the sighting of a sign for fish and chips.
Typically with fish and chips I had about three bites and then thought better of it but I was still pleased that I didn’t parachute out of the ride at Croydon and grateful to Andrew for being patient and understanding of my Pepperami/ bread stick legs.
Sometimes these bad rides happen and in my case it was most likely because I was absolutely knackered from my double-marathon distance shocker the weekend before. Despite my physical breakdown on the ride, I think in some ways it was good for my legs to get moving again and not seize up. I just think that next time I might go for a few laps of Richmond Park instead!