Spoke Too Soon

Reality comes in many shapes and forms. Unfortunately, when it comes knocking on your door and you remember the days when you would instinctively have said yes, no comes with more than a hint of regret. I’ve spent much of this week realising that no is the correct answer to something that really appeals to me as an athlete.

A couple of months ago, I got a message from an old mate of mine, an occasional Caley Thistle Highland Marcher, about a bike ride that he was planning with his mates. Would I be interested in joining them was the question? SatNav, as we call him, used to work for Reuters in London and for a couple of years back in the HM days, he was in the habit of taking the overnight sleeper, jumping off in some remote part of the Highlands then walking 25 miles with us lot, cross country from nowhere to nowhere, knocking back a few swift ones in the pub then getting the next sleeper back again. The next morning, he’d be back at his desk as though nothing had happened. Remarkable.

So SatNav asked me whether I’d go a bike ride with him and his mates. They’re doing it on a Saturday in the middle of June (for max daylight). Nothing special: just Manchester to Edinburgh in a day. 225 give or take ten either way.

The adventurous me remembers doing something similar in 1994 on exactly the same weekend. Our trip was Manchester to Glasgow, and notwithstanding a long lunch that we had in the pub at Penrith, we could have finished on the same day that we started, but we’ll settle for inside 24 hours instead. That was the time I fell off at Carnforth, cracked a bone in my elbow and rode 175 miles one handed.

So having done it once, albeit a long time ago, I fancy another crack at it right? Well yes, but actually no. The reality is that I can’t live with these guys. I’ve seen their training rides on Strava and they’re in a different league from me. We’re six miles an hour different in speed and even allowing for them taking it easy to carry an old codger on the back of the peleton, I’d still be the one blowing a gasket. Time waits for no man, including me unfortunately. On top of that, the thigh injury that I’ve now been carrying for eight months would become terminal on a jolly of that intensity. On a 30 miler, I can nurse it home by clever route selection and easing back on the gears. When you’re in fast company looking down the barrel at a big total, that damaged muscle is simply not going to take it. Fact.

So regrettably, I’ve had to turn down the end to end adventure but instead I’m working on a plan B whereby I can maybe offer some support in the middle. I’m thinking I might take the train down to Carlisle (direct train from Stewarton) then cycle south to meet them. I can be in Carlisle before 9am so there may be an opportunity to ambush ‘em at the top of Shap: well it would be silly to cycle down the other side just to turn round and have to come back up it again, wouldn’t it? I’m not daft, y’know. Then I was thinking that I could see them safely over Hadrian’s Wall, having vouched for them at border control, then head back to the train and home, with a wee carry out naturally.

That might be a day with about 50 or 60 miles on its label and that would do me in my current nick. Another thing that bothers me about trying to match these guys, is heart rate. You cannot alter the fact that as you get older, your maximum heart rate drops. As these guys are all mid thirties, their max heart rate is typically going to be 185. The computation is 220 minus your age. My max heart rate is only 155. That difference of thirty is huge in terms of performance, and goes a long way to explaining why I can’t ride at their pace. If you reckon on the dreaded red zone, which you can’t keep up for any length of time, occuring at 80% and above, then for me that’s anything above 125. That’s not high. But for the others, their red zone is my max: ‘nuff said.

So the inequalities lead to me to be realistic and turn this one down. I know my limits, I’m happy to explore them and push them in my own way, but this is a challenge too far.

Having said all of that, a discussion that SatNav and I were having earlier in the week led to me further understanding some of the things that are happening to me metabolically just now. If you’ve been with me for the past wee while, you’ll know that I turned the wick up on the miles a few weeks ago. That kind of coincided with the arrival (???) of spring and the chance to make hay while the proverbial sun shines. Now I know that a lot of longer distance cyclists like to stop and take on fuel during a ride. I don’t do that. I never did it as a runner and I don’t do it as a cyclist. I fuel up, I head out the door, I do the business, then go straight back to my work. Arsing about in cafes is not my scene. The consequence is I’m limited in time and distance…

In the Fuel For Sport blog from March 2014 (worth digging out if you’ve never read it), I explained how your maximum fuel store is your weight in kilos multiplied by 25. For me that’s 73×25, which is 1825 calories. Call it 1800 for simplicity’s sake. And at the average speed that I ride at, I’m burning up 600 calories an hour. On a fast run, which happens infrequently, the rate tops 700 but for the purposes of this example, 600 is fine. Do the sums: 1800 divided by 600 is three hours. That’s the longest I can afford to be out of the house without running out of gas. And if you take my average speed, which is normally in the 12 to 13 mph range, that puts an upper limit on the distance at somewhere between 35 and 40 miles. Those are limiting numbers.


Because I’m on the threshold virtually every day.

Once you know your limit, you can play with it to see what happens. Riding to it one day is fine because you’ll probably still be okay the next. Ride to it three or four days and you start to notice it. You can feel it, really feel it.

Before I went on Ross’s stag weekend in Amsterdam two weeks ago, I’d got that performance experiment up to 13×30, that is to say thirteen consecutive 30 mile days, and I whilst I was feeling it, I was still doing okay. But I never found the upper limit, the one where my legs simply refused the next episode. So after a couple of sighters to get my legs moving again when I got home, I decided to go again. I understand if you can’t quite grasp how mentally hard this is to do. To go out and ride consecutive 30’s is hard enough. To end the sequence then turn round and say to yourself, y’know what, I’m gonna go straight back out there and smash it, because I can, is what makes this bike ride special. It’s the because I can bit. It sets LCFN apart.

For the record, I closed today on nine in a row. That has a special meaning in Glasgow and tomorrow, for the second time in two weeks, I plan on making that ten before Celtic. But what I really want, what I really, really want, to spice things up (see what I did there?) is to still be going this time next week. Sweet sixteen would be nice. But my body may have other ideas, because I don’t know what the physical limit is. What I do know is that that thigh is feckin’ sore tonight: ultrasound…

Now before I sign off with a tale of woe, I want to say to Gail and to Eileidh that I will be thinking of you in the coming days as you head down to London to start Puddles’s new treatment. And I’ll be thinking too of Cerys, who I assume will still be up the road, and going to school as though nothing had happened. But everything is happening, and Cerys is the best big sister that any five year old could want. The last three months have been especially tough for Eileidh, and for Gail too. The resilience that wee Puddles shows day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, is what drives me on. I try as best I can to be the spirit of Eileidh on wheels.

And so to yesterday’s wee calamity. A month ago, I got new wheels for my birthday. Not a new bike you understand, just new round things. The old ones were worn thin by braking on winter roads. So Neil, my trusty bike man up at Fast Rider Cycles, built the new wheels from scratch, because that’s what he does, and he put heavy duty spokes on them because of the state of the roads that I ride on. In case you’ve never been to these parts, North and East Ayrshire is the pothole capital of Scotland.

Yesterday the weather was rubbish, as per usual, so I set sail directly into the wind. As I was always brought up to do my homework before I got out to play, I’ve modelled LCFN on that principle: when the weather’s shit, head straight out into it, then when you can take no more, turn round and come back on the gale. And yesterday, that’s what I did. I got to Saltcoats, which is on the coast and 15 miles from home, but I was aware of a wee squeak coming from somewhere and it was starting to annoy me. When I got to the turning point, I stopped, got off and had a poke about. It was immediately clear that the shiny new back wheel was out of true and catching on the brakes each time it went round. And the reason for that soon became clear: one of those heavy duty spokes was separated in the middle. Well there wasn’t much I could do, except try to nurse the bike home in one piece. Fifteen miles is an awful long way to walk, especially in bike shoes. After a few miles, I stopped and checked again: two spokes gone. Then three. When I finally got the bike back to the pits in Stewarton, I’d lost four and the wheel was all over the place.

Nice new wheels? I spoke too soen….

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