"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Bristol-Tewkesbury-Bristol 180k - June 2021
This was the last of my six 180k training rides building up to Ironbourne in mid July. 3 weeks out from race day and with the next two weekends booked out doing life things other than training, this seemed like the best time to put in the final effort before tapering down ready for the Long Distance challenge itself. I started my training by riding GPS-routes that took me exploring and ended up in interesting places like Golden Valley, Longleat or Bruton. Now, with my mind very much on maximising the training value on the ride, I opted for familiar territory - the Vale of Berkeley - with the extra miles out in the countryside around Gloucester that I rarely get to see. I had no exact route beyond Saul and Elmore - once there I planned to fine an easy route through the city of Gloucester (if there is such a thing) then head out to Sandhurst or Tewkesbury to get the extra mileage I needed before heading home. The wind was forecast from the northeast so this route, meaning I'd be fighting the headwind on the way out and feeling a tailwind on the way home. The same should happen in Eastbourne for the race (meaning it probably won't!).
I got out on the bike at 7.09 which is pretty early for me, and it was cool/mild as I headed north on the A38, my friend and my enemy. It gives me ease of navigation and no serious hills but I'd prefer a scenic lane any day of the week to a relentlessly straight A-road. It served its purpose though, taking me over the motorways and level with Thornbury before I heaved a sigh of relief and swung west into the flat lands bordering the Severn. My training aim was to ride at something between 16 and 17mph, with no more than a token stop for a drink (simulating, I guess, a stop at a mid-race aid station) and none of the cafe-indulgence that I build into an Audax Perm or DIY. I was still wrestling with the whole feeding-on-the-bike issue, and my rough plan for that was to eat plain or savoury snacks in the first third (crackers mostly), sweet and chewy snacks in the middle third (Ride Bars, Clif Bars) and then switch to sachets of banana baby food for the last 40-odd miles.
I rode into a light shower at Berkeley but not enough to bother me in the gilet, then found the road to Slimbridge closed meaning I had to swing back east to the A38. Once there I tried to see the A-road as a positive rather than a grind - fast, easy miles. I was clocking high-sixteens without the effort telling too much, which as good considering 2 days before I had done my longest training run since March up Coombe DIngle and over the Hallen Marshes. That was still there in my sore and tired legs but as I wasn't asking them for race pace they were not protesting too much.
Relief from the A38 came again with the signpost for Arlingham and I followed a quiet road out into a bend in the river, on flat lanes, leading to an old ferry crossing and a riverside Inn. I kept my head down and rode loops of the flat lands, coming out at Stone Bench where the road is right on the bank of the wide, serene Severn and the peace of the river permeates the scene from horizon to horizon. Sadly this had to come to an end when I hit Gloucester and found myself on the busy Secunda Way that took me north round the edge of the city towards the highways leading out to the Forest of Dean and Wales. I had no intention of getting stuck on those dual carriageways or fighting my way through gravel-surfaced, so-called cycleways (as had happened on my last 180k) so I turned into town and looked for the A38. After a lot of stop-start and traffic lights and lane changes I was out on the A-road following signs for Tewkesbury, glad to be free of the urban fabric.
Although it's an A-road, this stretch of A38, like much of it, follows parallel to a motorway so only local traffic tends to take it. There is a marked cycle lane along a lot of it too. I even found the fast section of dual carriageway pretty tolerable. It was all flattish but the headwind made life tricky and when I sighted a farmyard coffee cart on the other side of the road I promised myself an Americano on the return leg, just to keep myself going. I had to calculate how far to go before turning and I thought it best to go to around 58 miles so that on the way back I could avoid some of the out-and-back around Arlingham and ride a faster route. Then again, I wanted to see Tewkesbuty Abbey so I could say to myself that I had ridden from Bristol to Tewkesbuty - that sounds so much more satisfying than "I rode to some random place on the A38 just north of Gloucester". Well, to me it does.
Fortunately I only had to go half a mile further north than planned to see the romanesque glory of the abbey and pause to take a picture. Then I was heading back south with the tailwind to help me, 16.5 mph average speed on the Garmin and a good prospect of hitting my targets for the day. I stopped for just long enough to down the promised Americano at the farm shop and then, with caffeine and tailwind combined, I sailed back down to Gloucester at a decent pace and got the average up to a healthy 16.8mph. I decided to try and maintain that all the way home, and although I had to ride through the pedestrianised heart of Gloucester I managed not to lose too much pace. There were big crowds in the streets, just enjoying shopping and being outside after so much lockdown - there were even folk musicians in costume making it feel every inch the ancient english city it is. I soon managed to retrace my route along Merlin Way and out towards Stonebench where the views over the river seemed event better than before (caffeine and tailwind probably still helping matters) then I rode my loops around Arlingham and Saul with the speed still holding steady. I had to pause for a bridge-swing over the canal and the narrowboat seemed to be making only 1 knot as the minutes ticked away, but once the bridge had swung back into place I rode in a tuck position down to the A-38 and began to eat up the miles to Bristol.
Gradually I upped the pace until at Hill just south of Berkeley I was on 17mph for the day, then a massive effort down to Oldbury got me up to 17.2. I knew I wouldn't maintain that over the drag up past Thornbury but I managed to hit the Aztec West roundabout with the Garmin still on 17.0. I didn't have enough miles behind me to head straight home so I cruised through Bradley Stoke and down past Parkway, just managing to hit 112 miles / 180k with 17.0 on the clock. I had also finished in under 7 hours including my 2 short stops (coffee and swing bridge). So all in all the ride had been a success, especially as I was wasted but not quite as wasted as after the last 180k ride - somehow the training was slowly building my stamina and getting me race ready. Now all I needed to do over the next 3 weeks was taper down my training volume and up the quality of my sessions, then pray for calm weather on race day. Rain I can handle, and sun, and cold, but rough seas are not easy for someone who trains in a lake. Well, whatever I get on the day at least I can say I have trained for this one. And it has been a great experience.
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