There and Back Again

I think it was around about Wandsworth when I noticed it. I’d pulled up at another set of reds, gliding gracefully to a halt as is my usual manner – when your legs aren’t too cold to unclip your cleats in time, anyway, but that’s a story of a different day. This happened this morning, bright and bushy eyed, just coming up to half seven in the morning. Okay, maybe not that bright.

The woman in the car idling next to me was paying zero attention to the road; I’m not sure what usually happens on Facebook at that time of day, but whatever it was, it was hella interesting. All I had was my fancy GPS watch to look at, with all it’s fancy metrics: time slowly ticking upwards, speed stuck at 0.0mph, heart rate – what? No, that can’t be right. Nope, it’s malfunctioned, metric’s gone empty. Dammit. Oh no, here it is again, flicking back up…


Shit. I’m having a heart attack.


Monday: 25 mins physio, 20 mins S&C, 1 hr swimming
Tuesday: 1 hr each way cycle commuting, 25 mins physio
Wednesday: 25 mins physio, 50 mins swimming plus 20 mins each way cycling there and back
Thursday: 25 mins physio, 20 mins S&C, 1 hr 5 mins swimming
Friday: 1hr each way cycle commuting, 1 hr 5 mins turbo, 25 mins physio
Saturday: 6 hrs cycling, 25 mins physio
Sunday: 1 hr 45 mins cycling, 25 mins physio if I find the energy to do it later

Sorry about that. I’ve always had an infatuation for media that starts in media res, for some reason. It’s terribly dramatic. That’s probably the reason. It’s been one of those weeks that threatened to be very, very dramatic – and then ended up kind of petering out for a number of reasons: unexpected mechanical problems, partially unexpected cold that would Dante proclaim that Judecca is a wonderful place for a summer vacation, absolutely expected tedious swims, an achilles that is never going to bloody work again. Where to begin.

As a result of my ongoing achilles condition, I’m still ramping up the swimming and cycling – in particular, this was a heavy week on the bike, with lots to shout about (or type furiously about). An early week accomplishment was nailed: I finally broke the home to work commute in under an hour in moving time, although my watch is currently in disputes with Strava over this. Bloody Strava, trying to ruin my week. Piss off. Given that my commute is fifteen miles largely along the south circular and other traffic-heavy roads, I’m pretty happy with this. The quickest I managed it before Christmas was 1:03:something, so a 0:59:16 shows pretty significant improvement, I think. Of course, it’s kind of hard to tell with the traffic.

Then this weekend happened. In total, over the last three days, I’ve spent about eleven hours cycling in various forms. Yes, my legs are feeling it, and they would like your sympathy. After Friday’s commute/turbo effort, yesterday was a shockingly hard six hours into Surrey and back. It was ‘only’ about 75 miles, so two thirds of what I need to be doing come August; but frankly, sod the pace, I’m just glad I survived. A – it was very hilly. B – it’s possibly the hardest group ride I’ve done. When I say hard, I mean cold. So, so cold.

By the sounds of it, out of what I think was seven groups of Chasers cyclists, only two made it back in one piece. Mine being one of them, natch – but not without struggle. At some point along the top of Leith hill it started snowing: very pretty, but I was wearing fingerless gloves. Changing gears became a problem after every sharp downhill. The hot water taps at the top of Box hill were used and abused. My carefully colour-coordinated outfit was little protection against winter’s fell grasp, and I was still wearing a coat indoors for about three hours after I got home. Regular readers will remember me dedicating most of a post to writing about how much I didn’t want it to be freezing in February, and, well: screw you, weather Gods. There’s a deer cull in Richmond Park, is that not enough livestock sacrifice for you? What else do you need? I’ll give you next door’s noisy cat if you want, just give me some damn sunshine, please.

Somehow, and I’m still not sure how, I lived to wake up horrendously early again today to go out again. But this time, I had a much fancier steed than my road bike. This was the big debut.


This is my fabulous steed, ready and kitted for a tempo ride that went completely sideways before it even began. See how the tyre emblems match up to the wheels? Okay, the picture’s not great, but they do match up, trust me. I’m that sad. But hey, let’s put that to one side for a minute and just focus on how beautiful it is.

Okay, the tempo ride. What went wrong?

So, the plan was to head out to Richmond Park, do some quick bursts on a half lap to warm up, and then progress out to Hampton where I’d do a 25 mile out and back course to Chertsey-ish. This was scuppered fairly quickly by the heart rate thing. Apparently, riding a TT bike in a proper aero tuck for the first time on London roads – even if it’s before 8am on a Sunday, and the roads are pretty quiet, and I’m only doing the tuck when the bus lanes are empty because I’m not a complete knob – has about the same kick on my circulatory system as speedballing cocaine. Based on completely anecdotal evidence, of course. I always drew ‘the line’ at injecting things; because every druggie has ‘the line’ that they won’t cross, until that day when they do. Luckily, I never reached that day.

Reaching Richmond Park and stopping for a quick nibble on a stereotypically disgusting energy bar, I realised that the heart rate wasn’t going to settle and canned the idea of heading out past Hampton. It’s pretty difficult to do a measured tempo ride with a heart rate of 80-85% of your max, when it’s already peaking at 130% – upwards of 220bpm isn’t a Tempo ride for me, it’s a medical emergency. However, still needing to get some time on on the aero bars, I decided to hammer out a few loops of Richmond Park.

To continue with the drug metaphors, there’s this thing I used to do called extra-ketacaine ( don’t know if that’s the correct spelling, I never saw a written recipe), where you mix about an equal part of ketamine, MDMA and cocaine. The ket sends you bonkers, the coke gives you energy to go nuts with this newfound loopiness, and the MDMA means you love every damn second of it. This was me, given a whole road practically to myself to play with: wobbly like Bambi, fast like Fenton, and grinning from ear to ear/maybe yelling exultant obscenities every metre of the way. Of course, the speed thing’s only by comparison to my usual pace; I still got overtaken by one lycra warrior, but as I later found out he had about a decade’s experience on me so I can live with it.

Oh, but it was wonderful. I’m saddened a little bit that I’ll never get that rush for the first time again. I’m especially saddened that it was cut short after one lap because of a mechanical error on my part – not the pinch flat that I was half expecting and certainly getting, but my damn bottle cages. Evidently I hadn’t tightened the rack enough, because they kept slipping down until they’d be almost horizontal and I’d lose a bottle every time I hit a bump at speed. The water bottle I could stand to lose and would have happily chucked it. The second cage, though, held a canister with all of my important stuff in it – phone, card, keys, tyre levers and spare inner tube for the pinch flat that never happened. Unfortunately the rack by some stupid design needs a 10mm spanner to tighten, and no-one in Richmond Park that I asked happened to have one – even ten years a cyclist, who was the first person I asked.

Forlorn, I gave up and came home (with a few more bus lane sprints thrown in for good measure). I’m not too worried – my first lone jaunt on Agro didn’t exactly go to plan, but hey. I’m still a novice, the first time is for mistakes, isn’t it? Besides, I learnt some valuable lessons, like how to not crash and explode on a TT bike, which’ll be pretty handy going forward. I’ve already got plans to be out again next week, on a longer solo expedition.

These solo trips fill me with as much excitement as the do apprehension. Isolation is something I’m both very comfortable with, and on the flip side, completely terrified of. I’ve handled isolation before; it’s part and parcel of the whole depression thing. I was very good at cutting myself off from society, and although I don’t do that so much any more, I’m still a pretty introverted guy. The process of training for an Ironman is only going to increase that as I have to start cutting off social opportunities for more time carving my body into a chiseled Adonis. Sorry, bachelorettes of London, you’ll have to look somewhere else for your Valentine’s fix; I’m off the books. I’m not particularly put off the idea of longer TT rides just for the reason that, by the nature of TT bikes, I’ll probably have to be doing them alone. Sure, it’s nice to have company every once in a while, but that’s what Saturday’s training rides are for.

The other way of looking at things is that, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, the prospect of me being in my own head for too long scares me. It doesn’t traditionally go well. This is one really daunting aspect of the Ironman – spending ten and a half hours (best case) stuck with just my own thoughts for company. During the swim I hope to be too distracted as it requires a bit of thought, and during the run I imagine the physical pain will eclipse any kind of mental function. But the bike leg will be tough, I think, coping with the monotony of it without dredging up things I don’t really need to. When at home I can stick some music on or scribble some thoughts out, and that’s fine, and it helps distract me; obviously, these won’t be options on the big day. Unless I fix a notepad between my aero bars and carry a pen in my bento box, but please. I bought carbon fibre bottle cages and aero pedals; I’m too far gone at this point to sacrifice the two seconds that might cost me in aerodynamics.

These Sunday TT rides, until I can do ankle things again, will be pretty important not just for my legs, but for my head. All part of the game, I guess.

On the point of the achilles: it’s still fucked. I have been diligently doing my exercises, drawing a lot of mockery from myself in my own head as I writhe and contort on the living room floor, limbs flying all over the place (like they do in swimming, like they do in most things). I haven’t been running in five weeks now. Worthing Half Marathon was today; many Goodgym PBs were had, none of them mine. Every opportunity for another brick run skipped is like someone’s tied a weight to my soul. Argh. Just argh.

The last race of the XC season passed me by yesterday as well, so that’s it – no cross country finish for me, another year gone. It was a great season for the Chasers – the women won their league, the men stayed up by one point as a result of late drama and relegated a club that’s been in that league since longer than the Chasers have been a club. Exciting times. For me though, the trail shoes have gone away, having been worn for half a race. Disappointing. Maybe next October I’ll have another crack at this seemingly futile task. Providing my body’s not still rebelling, anyway. Guillotines, that’s the answer. Maybe I should just amputate my foot and get a prosthetic, it’d probably be quicker. Grumble grumble.

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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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