Saturday, 6 June 2015

I tried to stretch my mind but I just got my body wrecked

This is a tale of hubris, which is also my favourite abstract concept. I'm keen on hope, enthusiasm and love, but I think hubris is so much more educational than all the optimistic stuff.

To be clear I'm the owner of the hubris, although that recognition may mitigate it and make it less hubristic, I'll bow to the philosophers amongst you on that one. A month after my last post, and my first 400km Audax, I attempted my second. In between I have not been idle. Work busy, yes. Home life busy, of course. Inside of my head its usual whirl of random and pointless chatter, naturally.

I have also done a fair amount of cycling. In fact in May I did more in a calendar month than I ever have before, 972 miles. Lots of km. Big events, short commutes.

But you know me, I can do anything can't I? That I set my mind to, I persist, don't give up. I thought that I could actually get up at 6AM on Friday, do a full day's work, off the back of a busy week with not enough sleep, then off to the Blackdown Hills for a 10.30PM start followed by 400 km.

Ever wondered about your own limits? Just keep pushing and you will find them.

But to begin with I thought I was going to get away with it. Outside the Half Moon Pub in Clayhidon, a gathering of 40 or so audacious riders set off down the lanes towards Tiverton on a quite beautiful night.

I'd added a couple of spoke reflectors to my wheels, my dynamo was purring like a cat that got the cream, and we all rode together to Tiverton, 25km in an hour, for the first control.
Maybe it was a coincidence, but looking back on it, I take it as some kind of cosmic warning, as I left the town I very narrowly avoided a bus pulling out on me at a roundabout when I was already halfway round it. I know it's easy to talk about near-misses, but this was one of those times where I went from "silly idiot" to "what is he doing" to "I hope he stops" to "he hasn't seen me" to Fuuuuuuuuuck" in about half a second. It's amazing how adrenaline makes you pedal faster because he missed me by inches. In the moment, I thought I was a gonner.
It may not have been an omen, but the adrenaline certainly helped spur me up the Exe Valley, and I continued to make good time up to Wheddon Cross and down the other side to Minehead. It was getting cold though, as I had seriously underestimated how chilly night-time riding can be over Exmoor and beyond, even if it is June. Summer, remember?
It was also slightly surreal to be in the front room of a Minehead house as two delightful ladies doled out hot tea and coffee to random Audaxers all looking slightly dazed.
The next section was also pretty fast, as a tailwind, a pretty strong one too, blew me all the way along the A39 to Bridgwater and out the other side. Even at 4AM there were still loads of people about, and I didn't linger, heading off into the lanes of the levels towards Glastonbury, where I arrived just as dawn was breaking. The night-time ride had been magical. Despite the cold it had been a clear night, so the stars were at their best, augmented by a wonderful 3/4 moon. At one point a white owl swooped back and forth across the road as I cycled underneath it. Special.  
But as I swung away from Glastonbury it all just fell apart.
I had got progressively colder and colder through the night, but now I was going slower and slower as well, so I popped into Tesco for something to supplement my own supplies. But I was also starting to feel sick, and found it almost impossible to keep anything down. My ITB (the muscle-like structure on the outside of the leg) had been hurting me since Tiverton, and I must have adapted my pedalling style to compensate, for now my knee was screaming in pain. (it's still very sore and stiff as I write this. Although I'm not typing with my knee, I'm not that clever).
I stopped a couple of times to take photos, and tweet my progress, as well as changes to sunglasses, despite the cold and the wind it was turning into a very sunny day.
But with all the accumulated aches and pains, it wasn't much fun. I decided to climb up the Mendips to see if that would help shake things up a bit. It did, but not in a good way. The climb out of Dinder is a tough one, I have done it a few times, but I have never seen the road rise up and down, nor get strange swirly patterns in my vision as I did so. This struck me as being the effect of all that sleep deficit, and though I could nap for a short time, I instinctively knew I needed more.
I carried on to the A37, and stopped for five minutes to decide what to do. I had done 98 miles, with a further 162 ahead of me. I was exhausted, and beyond my deriving any enjoyment from the event, or the pain of the niggles, I was now also worried about falling asleep as I rode.
I decided to bail and head back to Clayhidon, meaning 40 miles into the wind to my car. It took me four hours, although that did include an unsuccessful attempt to get food into me at McDs in Street, and about 30 minutes asleep in Othery churchyard. (it's a great spot for a snooze on a sunny day). Loads of breaks, and painful progress. The final ascent back up to the Blackdowns has me at 797 out of 811 on Strava, mainly because I had to stop five or six times, through sheer exhaustion.
So there you have it. I did about 220km in the end anyway, not a bad overall average speed, or total time. But I didn't get the Audax points. In hindsight it was the right decision and has certainly set me thinking about how I can rein it back without compromising all my goals. I slept for 5 hours when I got home and I'm still tired. But I think there is a deeper and different level of tiredness lurking in me somewhere, one I would be wise to pay heed to, before I do myself some serious damage.
I am not as tough as I would like to think I am.

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