A few months ago, you may recall that I was genuinely ready to throw in the towel on cycling and, no doubt, had I done so, I expect I’d also have stopped swimming and running, too.
I’d had two consecutive DNFs at 200km distance and, given that both were wholly due to simply “not enjoying the ride”, I reached the conclusion that cycling wasn’t doing it for me any more.
Don’t underestimate how genuinely close I came… I was poised over the “delete” button for my beloved Strava app!
And then I had a bit of a moment where I consciously thought about how to get my mojo back.
And it fits better with this blog if I leave you in suspense re just how I did get said mojo back until later… but I’ll just say that, since that “wobble”, I’ve done two 200km rides, a 300km ride (only a couple of days ago) and, in terms of my day to day riding, I think my “year to date” total mileage covered is higher than any previous year except 2015 (when my 1,000 miles of John O’Groats to Lands End ride tends to skew the figures a little).
So, anyway, Saturday’s 300km ride, then;
I wasn’t really sure what to think when, in conversation with my dependable cycling buddy, Russ, the idea of entering the Rough Diamond 300km Audax came up.
I don’t even know which one of us suggested it!
I think it was a case that it suggested itself and, because I was feeling buoyed at having just nailed a 200km ride, adrenalin had the final decision – and it decided to go for it.
300km is quite a long way.
I’ve not done too many 300km rides (and only once have I ridden significantly further than that in one day) so we’re not talking about entering an event which I could “bang out in my sleep” here.
I actually started to get a little nervous about the whole thing, the day before.
Two weeks previously, I’d done a 200km ride at a pace which left me feeling, truth be told, pretty spent – did I really have another 100km in my legs?
The start was at 6am from a location a clear hour’s drive away from my home.
I like to get somewhere like that a good hour before the start.
I also like to give myself a good hour for breakfast and general “waking up”.
A mathematician will have already worked out that I needed to be out of bed at 3am to get my day off to a good start.
I met up with Russ, and a couple of dozen other audaxers at 5am and, before we knew it, we were lined up at the start being given our pre-ride briefing.
One of the things I love about Audax is that you get such a huge variety of people and bikes taking part.
There were what I can only describe as “stripped down racing bikes” (although I know I’ll sound old by saying that), full on touring bikes with panniers and even a big, heavy looking, tandem with a recumbent front half and a more conventional rear.
I think it’s fair to say that Russ and I were “somewhere in the middle”… clearly riding bikes that were more used to being lighter and speedier but, for the occasion, had let us hang some bags off of them.
A blow by blow account of the next 192.2 miles would probably take you the same amount of time to read as it took us to ride it (12 hours, by the way – not including stops for food and drink)… so I’ll spare you that.
Suffice to say, though, that it was characterised by the weather; we’re currently having a hot spell, here in the UK and yesterday saw temperatures of over 30°c being maintained for most of it.
I’d taken, as I normally do on longer rides, copious amounts of gels and energy bars but I ate literally none of them – the heat was suppressing my appetite like you wouldn’t believe!
Even at the stops, I ate very little.
But my; did I drink!!
The first 60 miles, before the sun had really found its feet, was business as usual; I had a few swigs from my bottle but not anything out of the ordinary.
The next 130 miles were basically spent drinking anything I could get hold of.
And, because I was only interested in taking on fluids, I needed to rethink the fluids I was ingesting… electrolytes were fine, but I wasn’t about to get any sense (false or otherwise) of energy from them.
So I did things I’ve never done before on long rides (driven by the choices I was seeing others around me make, I should add).
I was throwing Coca-Cola down my neck at a rate that almost certainly will see the share price of Coca-Cola rocket. (That’s a stock tip for free!!)
I was filling my drinks bottles with energy drinks (as well as electrolytes tablets – odd taste but acceptable).
At around 140 miles, I even went into a shop to buy a protein milkshake.
If it was liquid, my body was craving it in a way unlike I’ve ever known.
From a pace perspective, Russ and I were, as usual, pretty much identical.
There was one occasion where he pulled away from me, on a particularly nasty hill at around 125 miles, but he waited at the top for me.
Having someone who rides at broadly the same pace over that distance is a huge positive.
It pulls you along.
When your energy ebbs and flows, as it inevitably does, you find it within yourself to keep up the pace… if nothing else than to make sure you can carry on chatting!
We did have a “third spoke” to our wheel – a chap called Justin joined us at around 60 miles and rode with us all the way to the end. He typically stayed a few bike lengths off the back but wasn’t shy of mucking in at the front if Russ or I slowed – so that was nice. He seemed a lovely chap.
Outside of going into boring detail about every climb, descent, flat, straight road and twisty bit, there’s little else to add, really – except to say that the views we were treated to throughout the day were stunning.
As we rolled into the village hall where the ride finished, both Russ and I were pleased to see a 16mph average speed (rounded down to 15.9mph by Strava – damn you, Strava)…. not least because 16mph was where we had wanted to be at the end of the (quite hilly) 192 mile route.
We were even more pleased with that average when we took into account the fact that a huge portion of the last 25 miles was spent either at a snail’s pace on a gravel/stone canal tow-path or at an even slower (almost pedestrian-esque) pace negotiating our way through Gloucester (seriously, Gloucester… you might think you’re “cyclist friendly”… but you’re not… sort it out!)
So let’s return to that thing I mentioned before; what did I do to get my mojo back?
Well, firstly, I deferred my Ironman Hamburg 2018 entry to 2019. The “pressure” it was putting me under was counter-productive and it needed to go.
Secondly, I joined the Audax organisation. Sure; I’d done countless Audax events before but never as a “member”. Being part of the club changes the dynamic of taking part in their rides. I feel more at home – more welcome… and I’m accumulating “points” towards the various Audax statuses that are there to be attained. It’s nice.
Thirdly, and most importantly,I resolved to enjoy not just the “pedal pushing side” of cycling… but to also appreciate the scenery I am riding past. I now give myself permission to stop when I see something really worth looking at (especially when I’m riding solo); a lovely view, a field of cows, a swan in its nest by the side of the road. Before, I think I was too “head down” to even notice any of that.
As a natural extension of the above, I also make sure that, for most of my rides, I take photographs. People who follow me on Strava may have noticed that I now upload pictures far more frequently than I ever did – I’m lucky to live in a gorgeous part of the world and cycling through it is a pleasure to be captured/shared.
I also take my go-pro with me more often – and upload the results to YouTube. On solo rides, in particular, it’s almost the next best thing to having company (Lisa astutely pointed that out) and, for all rides, it’s nice to watch the resulting video back and relive moments that, at the time, I clearly thought were worth preserving.
And on that note; here’s the video of the Rough Diamond 300km Audax!
I hope you liked that and, until the next time – keep enjoying what you do!