What better time to kick-start a return to fitness than whilst on holiday at the beginning of a week full of sunshine. Yesterday, after a lazy morning spent watching the London Marathon, I decided to jump on my bike and hit my legs hard with an 80 mile round trip to Ardingly.
To me, there really is nothing like the freedom of heading out into the countryside on a well-tuned bike in the Spring sunshine. The Sussex lanes are beautiful at this time of year, with blossom on the trees and lambs in the fields (note to self: I can’t believe you just committed that to writing). There was however an element of risk to my cycling plan, as C and the kids were away from the weekend and there’d be no easy bus/train ride home in the event of an mechanical failure. Pushing those thoughts aside, I loaded up my jersey pockets with emergency supplies, and headed off.
I’m really not very fit at the moment, so knew I’d have to take things steady. It’s all too easy to to find yourself fine one minute, then with cramps and lactic acid build-up the next. Once that starts to happen you’re in trouble, particularly if you’re riding hills and a long way from home. With this in mind, I set myself a target average pace of 15 mph; this would allow me to push harder on the open roads (25-30 mph), with some slack for hills, and get home before sunset (just).
Nowhere in Sussex is flat for long, particularly not around The South Downs. Here’s the route I went for…
5,279 feet of elevation, culminating in The Ditchling Beacon – http://www.strava.com/routes/266758.
As I was cycling out over Devil’s Dyke I’ll confess to feeling slightly nervous, wondering if I was biting off more than I could chew, in my current state of fitness.
The first 40 miles felt really good – I managed to climb well, and keep a good pace on the flat. I’d made some changes to my bike a week or so ago (saddle position, angle of hoods, cleat position etc), which stopped some niggling pains I’d felt on a previous ride. Then, at about mile 40-42 I started to get some cramping in my lower quads, particularly when riding out of the saddle. This was really annoying as I’d been hydrating properly etc, and not to mention I had a blooming long way to go! After unclipping and doing some on-bike leg stretches things started to ease. To put the situation in context, the cramps I experienced in the 2013 Brighton Marathon have made me very wary, fearful almost, of not being able to continue once twinges start. It’s so frustrating when you’re aerobically fit/capable, but cramping makes it physically impossible to carry on.
The sun started to dip at ~6.30pm, and the roads around Cooksbridge seemed to go on forever. The wind chill was also starting to bite, and the lactic acid was burning into my quads. With gritted teeth, I cast my mind to the professional cyclists who cover well in excess of 100 miles per day for weeks on end, which quickly stopped me feeling sorry for myself.
My heart sank when I saw The Ditchling Beacon, with it’s 0.9 miles of steep winding uphill, 9% average gradient – could my leaden legs handle it? I knew I didn’t have a choice but to push on up, so again gritted my teeth and thought happy thoughts. A few hundred yards past the top I began to feel positive again, and set about hurtling back down to sea level and speeding the remaining miles back home along the coast to Worthing.
I was positively spent when I arrived home (I won’t lie to you), but very happy I’d made it – 81.7 miles at an average speed of 15.33 mph, to be precise…