Sunday, 3 January 2016


Friday was spend prepping, packing and preening the road bike with full winter 200 Audax kit for the Blacksheep 'January Sale 200 km' the following day.  Third year in a row participants were due for a soaking on flooded roads, but no matter what, the beautiful Cotswold section always makes the pain worthwhile.  I really needed to complete the ride for Strathpuffer training purposes as well, because, as you all know by now, everything has gone to pot since October.  I felt fit, ready and well-fuelled. 

Unfortunately, it didn't happen. I was woken in the early hours by the significant other in agony with a swollen knee, and when my alarm went off at 5:30 am there was no improvement.  I decided to DNS (did not start).  For a few reasons.  Firstly, and most importantly, I figured the knee was likely to be infected due to the speed of the swelling and the intense heat in the joint and we probably should try and get some medical advice.  Secondly, I was concerned that, in the event of an irreparable mechanical or crash on the Audax, my roadside rescue (aka the significant other) would not be in a fit state to drive. Finally, it was still thrashing it down with rain.  I hate to admit it, but that was the straw that broke the camel's back.

A morning spent phoning NHS direct followed by a trip to A&E confirmed infected bursitis and we were sorted by lunch.  I pondered heading out on a 200 DIY Audax, knowing it would likely be around midnight by my return, but again, the issue with requiring assistance would still be there.  So I settled for something closer to home.  Much closer.  Less than a mile in fact.  20 hill reps on the nearest hill.  An arbitrary number really, pulled out the air, but why not? I've done seven before, although thinking about it now, that nearly killed me.....

The roads had turned to tarmac-lined rivers, torrents of water gushing in from over-spilling drainage ditches, converging between the hedges, leaving sticks and gravel in their wake.  I rolled round the easy way to the bottom of the hill, to warm up the legs, but instead I was immediately soaked to the core and cold.  Climbing has a good way of curing the shivers though, and before long I was pedalling steadily upward.  At the second junction the road begins to steepen, and steepen, with 3 or 4 steep kicks of around 16-22% toward the top. 

One down, 19 to go. Wooooooossssshhhhhhh............all the way back through puddles, dodging precarious pot holes and drainage covers, praying around blind bends and finally to the junction. To turn round and do it all again.

The first 7 reps were a grinder. The lower road has such a shallow gradient that I was chilling off before the climb proper started on each rep.  My back wheel minor buckle was apparently not as minor as I thought. Executive decisions had to be made.  Decision 1: unhitch the brake to stop the chush-chush-chush rubbing of blocks on the rim.  Decision 2: turn at the second junction and save on wasted flat sections. Despite my happiness to pedal for hours at a time, I am not a 'miles for miles sake' rider. Increasing the intensity by loosing the flat was sensible.  I'd stay warm. The time on the bike would be less but I know I can sit on a bike for hours. In a training sense I needed work, not the rolling....and to remember to put the brake back on for the descent.

3 hours later and it was dark and I had 5 climbs left. I'd removed the dynamo front wheel to save unnecessary wear on an expensive hub before I started, but hadn't expected the time to pass so quick. My headlight was still bright but would fade before my legs gave out and I needed a bar light to stop whiteout in the increasing fog on the hairyscary descent.

Of course Steve saved the day when he arrived on the quad to check I was OK. "Could you please get my mountain bike light babe"?  Safe riding for the last few reps, thank goodness.

That arbitrary 20? Well, it was probably a perfect number. 64.1 km, 2,528 m done.  By the last rep my speed was dropping, the fog was pea-soup and my rear wheel was well-wobbly. I was good though, in myself, I was good mentally and physically. Working at about 70% effort left me capable of sitting and spinning the entire climb right to the end. There was a time, not so long ago, I was barely able to finish one ascent of this particular hill, and that would have been grinding out of the saddle. I suspect, if someone had a gun to my head, I could have done another 20, 40 even. Although at half speed, I could have kept going for a very long time.