The weather forecast didn’t look promising yesterday morning when I got up. The good news was that my younger son’s football match had been cancelled so I had all morning to keep checking the weather forecast to see if there was any sign of the minor hurricane that appeared to be in residence outside the windows subsiding.
The plan was to do another training ride with the Paris Trip crowd. For reference, a group of seven of us (all local Dads of varying degrees of middle ages and fitness) are riding to Paris in June. We’re planning on a three day trip which means approx 60-70 miles per day. Even though I am one of the more seasoned cyclists of the group and have plenty of experience of cycling further in one go, I haven’t really done a multi-day trip before, not properly. I did a trip to Switzerland last year that involved 3 days of cycling but the 10 mile day 2 ride up a mountain handily placed close to our chalet was more of a sightseeing trip than a proper ride. The 110 miles and ~50 miles of days 1 and 3 respectively were pretty full on though. Needless to say that, whilst I’m fairly confident of my ability to do the Paris trip relatively comfortably, there’s no harm in putting some miles in to make sure.
I was especially keen to get out yesterday as I have been in a bit of an exercise lull for the past few weeks. I did get out on the bike a couple of weekends ago but haven’t been to the gym in three weeks mainly due to the onset of gout in my left foot. I’ve never had this before and, frankly, would like to never have it again. Firstly, I’m not sure I want a condition that suggests that I’m a port-swilling, overweight old man; whilst at least some of that may be accurate, I’m not keen to advertise the fact! Secondly, it is, as the nurse at the Walk in Centre (or Limp in Centre in my case) pointed out, “incredibly painful” and, as she’s obviously a highly trained medical professional, she knows what she’s talking about.
There were a lot of Whatsapp posts flying about in the morning with varying degrees of enthusiasm for the afternoon ride being displayed so, given I had some spare time and wasn’t convinced that the ride would go ahead, I decided to go to the gym. In an effort to put some miles in, I decided to set a target of 20 miles on the exercise bike and see if I could do that in under an hour. Depending on your fitness level, that may or may not sound challenging but an hour on exercise bike at any speed is tedious at the best of times so it certainly seemed like a challenge to me even if only of my boredom threshold. The result was:
I just scraped in by the skin of my teeth. Half way through I was breezing it and thought I might finish in a sub 55 minute time but the second half was a bit tougher! To be fair, this isn’t reflective of my usual road speeds – these particular exercise bikes do seem to flatter one’s ability but it’s always good to hit a target. Thanks to Avenged Sevenfold for the musical motivation.
After a few other weights and stretching, I headed home, confident in the knowledge that at least I’d some pedalling this weekend even though the ride was likely to be declared ‘wind stopped play’. The wind did seem to be dying down a bit though I noticed as I drove home and the Whatsapp messages were becoming more positive. A couple of short hailstorms did convince a couple to stay indoors but, surprisingly, two of the guys were still keen to venture out so, as as appointed ride leader, I felt obliged to join them.
The plan was to do 20-25 miles and I had picked a fairly flat route that looped through Cobham and Leatherhead, keeping to the back roads as far as possible and definitely staying off the top of the Downs. I did see a post on Instagram later that day from Evans Cycles in Guildford whose ride out was rudely interrupted by a large tree crashing down in front of them up on Ranmore Common so was glad we avoided that!
I headed out with Hugh and Matt into the wind ravaged English countryside and it all started just fine. Keeping to a steady pace and, despite a short detour to avoid a flooded road at Downside, we got the first ten miles sorted without a problem. After that, it was noticeable that Hugh was struggling to keep up once we turned back into the wind because he was riding a hybrid and the higher riding position was hindering his forward progress. If you look at the difference in profile between a tall and well shouldered guy (Hugh won’t mind me saying that given he’s a life long rugby player where that kind of build is an advantage) riding a hybrid and the same person on a road bike, the difference doesn’t immediately look that big. The truth is that it makes a massive difference. I remember doing one of the New Forest sportives a few years ago when I was still riding my hybrid. I had flipped the stem round and lowered the handlebars for a more aggressive riding position but, at one point, we hit one of the big open areas (there’s surprisingly few trees in a lot of the New Forest*) and faced a long straight road of a couple of miles into the teeth of a gusty wind and the two of us on hybrids basically ended up going backwards whilst our friends on drop bar bike at least managed to maintain some forward momentum! Anyway, I took up the position of leading windbreak – I’m told I make a sizeable hole in the air for those riding behind me – and we all made it safely round.
I have to say that I was glad that I’d put bib tights on and a thick pair of socks. The wind was punishing at times but its worst aspect was the fact it was just damn cold. I had also put on a fairly thick jersey/jacket – the same one as sported by Hugh in the photo above – which kept me nice and warm in the wind but when, the sun did break through, threatened to toast me to a crisp. Getting the balance of clothing right at this time of year can be a struggle!
It was good to get out on the bike and stretch my legs. I do hate it over the winter when the weather gets in the way of cycling. I do ride throughout the winter but I tend to avoid rain wherever possible – I cycle for enjoyment and I just don’t really enjoy the rain. Despite the fact that this year has seen a fairly mild winter, I seem to have missed more weekends than I would like for one reason or another. I do hate the feeling of having to start again, fitness wise, in the Spring.
All in all, a good Sunday.