Now, cycling was something that I wasn’t a total novice at. I had learnt to ride as a child, as most children do, and had owned several bikes since then, mainly for getting from A to B (short distance). About a year before my brother mentioned the triathlon to me, I had bought a ratty old road bike from eBay in an attempt to get fitter. It worked a little bit and would occasionally ride the 14 miles round trip to work so I wasn’t too worried about the distance in the race. Only the speed.
My birthday is in January so I bought myself a present – a Pinnacle Arkose I from Evans Cycles. It’s a cyclocross bike (which I aimed to use as such in the winter months) but I bought some slick tyres to make it smoother on the road. It turned out to be a pretty useful present to myself; not only for the race ahead, but also because the present from my brother that year was.. entry into the Cambridge 100 cycle ride. 100 miles! Crikey. That was so much further than I had ever been before. I wasn’t even sure if my arse would be able to cope sitting for that long, let alone my legs! Well, if that was good training motivation, I don’t know what is. So I got to work.
Short evening rides and longer weekend rides became the norm for me. I had recently moved jobs so the the cycle to work had changed from 14 miles to more like 60 miles. It didn’t seem like a feasible option anymore. The weekend rides were quite enjoyable; I began with 10 miles, then 12, then 15, 20, 25, etc. 15 miles became my evening ride and I started really enjoying the ride. I tried to go out most evenings but with a wife and young son at home, wasn’t always so easy. After a point, it became too much to fit it all in, and I needed to get more miles in; so I decided that I had to ride to work.
I toyed with the idea of getting a train to work then cycling home; or driving to work and cycling home then getting a train the next day to collect my car; or cycling to work and get a train home whilst leaving my bike there over night. None of these options sounded particularly great. So I decided just to do it. There and back again. No trains, no leaving cars or bikes. Just going for it. But I didn’t want to do it totally blind. No, I wanted to have an idea of what the route was like and if there were any routes which Google Maps didn’t tell me about. So, one weekend, for my long ride, I set out on the route to work. I didn’t take much with me, a bottle of water and a couple of gels (I had decided these were necessary when I went past the 20 mile mark – totally not necessary) as I thought I’d only be out for a couple of hours. A couple of hours later and where was I? Yep, I had cycled all the way to work. Bugger. I had run out of water and didn’t have any gels left. I also forgot to take any money out with me (NOTE TO SELF: ALWAYS TAKE SOME MONEY!) so wasn’t able to buy any snacks. I hunted around campus and finally found a security guard who could let me in to fill my water bottle. After a brief rest, I got back on my bike and headed back home. It was getting hotter so I was consuming more and more water as I went along. It didn’t last particularly long. As I cycled through one of the towns, I stopped at a petrol filling station. With no money, I wasn’t able to buy anything to eat or drink but fortunately, the clerk was kind enough to fill up my water bottle. What a champion. After having a quick drink, and getting the bottle filled up again, I thanked him and got on my way again. Even though my sugar levels were somewhat hugely depleted by now, the kindness I had just encountered (even if it was just some water) fueled my legs for a good few miles. I only had 12 left to go.
There was a downhill section that I remember cycling up when I went the other way. I was looking forward to going down it very, very much. Any kind of respite on a journey like this was hugely appreciated. Dreaming about this moment, I concentrated all my energy on reaching it. Finally, rounding a corner, the downhill section appeared. Thank God! I sat comfortably (not interested in ducking down and going fast), giant grin on my face, and went down. It was all going well until.. Uh oh. I must have been enjoying the wind in my face so much that I put my head back a little and closed my eyes. I don’t remember doing it but it’s the only explanation I can think of. Either way, I lost concentration and ended up coming off the road and hitting the undulating dirt path on the side. My left knee took the brunt of the first knock and then I, somehow, managed to control the bike and stop without falling off. My knee was in quite some pain. Instead of doing the wise things and calling my Wife for a lift home, I rested for a minute, had a drink of water and carried on. “It’s only another 10 miles or so,” I remember saying to myself, “I’ve done this most evenings for a while now.” It was unlike any of the evening rides I had been on. It was painful with each pedal stroke and, as a result, I ended up using my right leg for most of it. I had never done any 1 leg drills before so this was it’s own kind of agony.
Finally, I made it home, rested my bike down, and slumped on the sofa. My wife got me some lunch, then I fell asleep
Sadly, the knock to my knee put me out quite a bit. I didn’t get a chance to cycle to work for another few weeks and there was constant pain when walking and cycling. As a result, when the day came for the 100 miler, we decided that it was probably best to do the 50 mile option instead (no, of course we didn’t consider not doing it at all!). It was a fairly wet day but was a really good ride. We took it easy and made it round in just over 3 hours. My knee held out pretty well but I think that was just the adrenaline of my first event. As soon as we got off the bikes, it fell to pieces and, as a result, I didn’t do anything except rest it for the next 2 weeks.
At least I had done plenty of training for the rather small (in comparison) 20km ride; and, with my swimming coming along, I felt like I could rest for the rest of the time and still be ok.