Again with the late post! I might as well just change national Half-Rust day to Monday.
I never thought that I would be a man to wear tights. A builder’s son, a swarthy countryman from the rugged windswept coasts, I have no business in tights. The mocking would be relentless. I have a beard, for crying out loud. The last man to pull off a beard and tights was Friar Tuck.
I desperately need some tights.
Yesterday was the first time I’ve been out on a group training ride since before the early autumn’s colossal rush of races. Imagine my surprise when I left the house in the usual padded shorts at half seven, just to find that it was snowing. Bloody snowing. In November. And it snowed all the way to Richmond Park, conveniently stopping just in time that I couldn’t take any photographic proof of this meteorological anomaly.
Even though we decided to cut the route down on account of low numbers and poor conditions, by the time I made it home after the ride (and subsequent brick run, because masochism) I felt less like I’d been on on a Saturday morning jaunt around Surrey and more like I’d been on a casual day trip to the ninth ring of hell. It sure picked a fine week to get winter-cold. Shorts, somehow, did not quite feel adequate.
Yesterday also served to highlight how much bike-fitness I’ve lost over the last few months. I would like to blame it all on the weather, or the fact that I seem to have some kind of psychological aversion to cycling in tight (read: efficient) formation, but really I think I’d be lying to myself a little if I didn’t acknowledge that part of the reason I was struggling is because I’m just out of practice at the moment.
Much like swimming, cycling was something I only took up again at the start of this year. Also much like swimming, I just went ahead and assumed that I’d be okay at it. Growing up as a young’un in Cornwall, where public transport only seems to turn up when you’ve sacrificed a sufficient number of goats/nosey policemen, I used to bike around quite a lot. Then turning seventeen happened and I passed my driving test, and I never got on a bike again until February.
Unlike swimming, I’ve turned out to be not completely terrible at it – little more than average, sure, but I have yet to be in any danger of drowning, so I guess that’s nice. So far in the races I’ve done, I’ve not lost any/many places due to a poor bike, usually managing to pick off a couple of stragglers after the swim; discounting Jetstream, where I had a freakishly good bike, and St Ives where… Let’s not talk about St Ives, actually.
Cycling is the Tri discipline that, living in London, I find the hardest to train for in a lot of respects. If you want a decent ride, you first need to battle your way out of the city, extricating yourself from the legions of noisy smelly traffic to get out into the slightly clearer countryside. That in itself is a pretty big task – I’m really not good in traffic. Then you have to do it all again on the way back in, this time with the added bonus of having done an 80k obstacle course of Kent’s finest hills. Oh, deep joy.
There’s also the time aspect. A trip similar to the one above, you’re looking at four or five hours, depending on pace and traffic. This means it’s not really something you can just pop out after work to do; not for me, anyway, because I’m a lazy shit like that, and my commute is very long, and it’s cold. Judge me all you want, I don’t have tights, you Rocky Horror reject.
That said, once you’ve got somewhere suitably car-free (or car-limited), cycling really can be a wonderful few hours. I find my enjoyment of it varies a lot more than swimming or running; whereas I have good swims/runs and bad swims/runs, I tend to think of my cycle expeditions as either bloody brilliant or fucking terrible. There doesn’t tend to be much middle ground. Some of the summer rides I did with the Chasers, back when warmth was still something you felt and not something you ‘remembered’ like last year’s office party, were some of the most enjoyable training sessions I had. This also is probably something to do with living in London, which makes the occasional chance to get back to my rural roots all the more appealing. Even so that I’ll tolerate the idiots hurling abuse at cyclists just for existing in order to get that high quality country oxygen.
There are other ways I could train cycling at the moment that I may need to look into. Unfortunately the club spin classes clash with Pilates at the moment, and Pilates is kind of becoming my new thing. There’s nothing more thrilling at the moment than learning about precisely how inflexible I am while every joint in my body cracks at once and Russian ex-ballerinas shriek at me about my pelvic floor. I’ve decided that Pilates is what middle aged women do when they’ve just read 50 Shades of Grey and have decided that they’re going through the ‘kinky’ stage of their life. Oh yeah, pulse those legs baby. Make it hurt. Amateurs.
I do also happen to have a turbo trainer, which occasionally gets dusted off for home use now that brick sessions are done for the year. The idea is good: set up in the living room, engage Netflix, and relax in the knowledge that I’m asserting my athletic dominance over my housemates. Even the one who’s a far, far better cyclist than me; he don’t turbo like I turbo. This idea, however, goes to pot because as anyone who’s attended a brick session with me knows, I have THE NOISIEST TURBO IN THE KNOWN WORLD. I’m not sure whether I get more pissed off about only being able to watch silent movies on Netflix or getting complaints from the neighbours.
It is clear that I do need to work on my cycling for the Ironman, though. Although I’m a much worse swimmer than I am a cyclist, I still consider cycling to be the area I need to work on the most in preparation. There’s three key reasons for this.
One: I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I’m just not a good swimmer. It’s okay. I can live with it. But I don’t intend to be a poor cyclist; it’d injure my pride.
Two: the bike being the longest segment of the day, I need to make sure I post a good time if I want to hit my (slightly over-ambitious) goal time. The difference between me having a good swim and a bad swim might be ten to twenty minutes. The difference between me having a good bike and a bad bike could be one to two hours.
Three: as a strong(ish) runner, this is the area (if any) that I’m going to excel at. I’m not going to be able to do so unless I can complete the bike course and still have something left in the tank to push through a marathon.
It’s largely with this third point in mind – and let’s be honest, a little bit of the second, and also partly just to look really fucking cool – that I have made a decision of shockingly terrible financial acumen. I am going to purchase a proper, funny geometry, carbon and deep wheels Tri bike. Is this a little bit overboard for someone who’s been a competing triathlete for less than a year, and in his own words isn’t a great cyclist? Sure. Absolutely. I recognise this, and in response I say: well, fuck it. A lot of decisions in life are made in the moment without a great deal of experience to back them up. It’s no more stupid than the whole Ironman endeavour anyways. I’ll live. I am hoping it will turn out to be a good investment going forwards as well, because I don’t plan to be done with the sport once I’ve finished this.
I’ve decided to go for, barring any last minute uncertainties, a Planet X Exocet 2. Luckily I’m off to catch up with the Uni Lads in a couple of weeks, so I’ll be heading over to the Sheffield showroom to finalise the details, before catching a bus back into town, heading over to the Porter Cottage (my second home), getting a hug and a pint from Mandy (my second mother), and proudly announcing: Mandy, oh Mandy, guess what I’ve gone and done. It still won’t be the stupidest thing to have come out of my mouth in that place.
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Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!
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