Change-a-Life Bike Ride 2013

Don't think I've ever been as under-trained for an event as I was for this 67 mile bike ride on 21st June! My recovery from illness, injury, two more illnesses etc. had been a real up and down experience, but I arrived at June 19th feeling well enough to cycle the 8 miles to work for the first time in a few weeks and see how it went. I felt great afterwards, having tackled the climb over Yanley Lane unscathed, so I knew I could have a go at the bike ride and at least get round.

On June 5th I had ridden my first and only "long ride" since September 21st 2012 and found I was OK trundling along at 13 mph on a hilly route through South Wales that ended up being 54 miles long. The first 48 had been OK then at that point the legs had turned to jelly and I'd found the last 6 miles quite tough.The route profile for Change-a-life included three serious hills, one early on, one after about 40 miles then the 7 uphill miles of Cheddar Gorge up on to the high plateau of the Mendip hills which would come just as my legs were jellying. Well, I love a challenge, fortunately.

The first stage to Downs School took us through Brockley Combe, minor roads across the levels to Clevedon and then the first proper climb up Caswell Hill to the high ground between Nailsea and Bristol where we stopped for a feed station at Downs School. I was riding in a bunch with quite a few guys from work including some of the directors - it was unusual after so many years of solo riding and at one point I almost collided with the CFO - luckily he didn't mind :) Caswell Hill was encouraging - I was able to press on up the climb without coming out of the saddle and I felt good to be pushing myself on the bike again after months of not going at anything too hard.

After the Downs School, stage 2 took us on a long flat section into the wind heading towards Shipham, via Portishead, Clevedon, Yatton and Congresbury. The downhill at the start of the stage was exhilarating, I felt stable on the bike and confident to go at medium pace - I'll never be happy descending fast, especially as I'm still on warfarin and at risk of complications if I get a head injury. On the flats I stayed in line and didn't take a turn at the front as I wasn't sure if I'd blow up later - should have done my bit really, but I was conscious of the fact I might regret it later. The climb up to Shipham was easy enough, though the pace was starting to tell and I felt the total distance was going to be just on my limit.

After another food stop at Shipham I headed off solo, hoping to catch the guys in front and have a section of riding either alone or in a group of just two or three, especially as Cheddar Gorge would be the big challenge of the day. A couple of short climbs before I reached Cheddar made it clear that my legs were getting to that stage of saying they'd had enough, but once at the gorge, enjoying the awesome view r blue sky framed by the dramatic crags to either side, I felt invigorated and able to dig in and climb at a decent pace. Just when I thought I'd done the hard bit, the slope kicked up once again on a tight S bend and I had to come up out of the saddle and push some achy legs to their limit, but it all felt great and I did finally catch Matt and Nick (aforementioned CFO) at the top of the climb. I rode with them until a short, innocuous looking rise proved the final straw and my quads felt like they were burning up - terminal muscle fatigue had set in and from now on every slope would be tortuous.

I came into the last feed station in the Chew Valley just a minute or two behind Matt and Nick, ate cake with jam spread on it and some flapjacks for good measure, then headed out solo knowing I wouldn't be able to keep pace with the others now my legs were shot. The last ten miles were a lovely ride through the valley with only minor climbs to contend with (I would have called it flat if my legs were fresh) and I soon found myself on the A38, passing Jasper Foxx (complete with fox tail, ears on his helmet and face painted with whiskers) on the last upslope before the Pavilions.

I enjoyed the ride and felt it was a great starting point for getting back into serious training. I'd been up at max heart rate on the climb through the Cheddar Gorge (first time in months at that level) and my body felt OK. There was no bad reaction at all - in fact I ran for an hour the next day with a couple of efforts thrown in - so all felt good for a return to fitness and maybe even racing later in the summer.

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