In Feb 2020 I was planning on a year ahead with a fixed SR and at least two other rides - maybe Normandicat and something gravelly. I was def up for LEL and thinking about something lllooonnnnggggeeerrrr for 2022 before bouncing strongly back for a sub 85hr PBP in 2023 - maybe fixed. I was hitting the gym for core and doing my usual 'reverse periodisation' routine - train for strength in winter and length in summer.
And then... nothing.
'Hunk, chunk or drunk' was the common way of describing your reaction to lock down. I was mostly chunk with a bit of drunk. I was extremely busy at work. I was highly anxious. I couldn't face riding on the road. Basically I gave up and concentrated on survival and not losing my job. No furlough miles. A lot of staring at a wall a screen and the inside of my head.
This lasted for a long time. I did some local miles on bike paths. I put flat bars on my fixie, put all my other bikes away and rode 90 mins max. I did have a bit of fun riding fixed in The City; empty of people it soon got a small but keen set of users on bikes and skateboards. But mostly lock down a grim exerise in forbearance for me.
I've another piece of writing about my lockdown fixie miles, so we will come back to that. Oh, and I did start mucking about with audio and produced an hour long audio documentary about 2017 LEL, so not a complete waste of time.
There is one ride that is a bit special and that is the Richard Ellis Memorial ride. It's always scheduled as the first ride of the new season - so early October. It's special because I like it but also that it's a good 'index' ride for me. I know it well and so it's a good benchmark ride for end of year fitness. In 2019 - post PBP - I stormed it even though my elapsed time was pretty poor due to a complex puncture.
So it felt like a good point to see if I could still ride a 200 - two calander years after doing SFA.
In one of the more ambitious moments of the pandemic I had bought the last turbo trainer on Amazon and the cheapest possible power meter (single crank 4iii) in order to encourage a bit of activity.
The good thing about a power meter is knowing how many watts your ftp is and your watt/kg split. The bad thing about a power meter is knowing how many watts your ftp is and your watt/kg split. My FTP had slipped, a lot, but knowing that I planned the ride around the concept of slowing the fuck down when needed. A power metre really helps here. It gives you an upper limit and means you can crawl up hills really slowly knowing that you are not 'using all your matches'.
There are two consequences of riding this way. The first is that it you ride up hills really really slowly. Hills that a couple of years ahgo I would have just stomped up and pretty much ignored now I was doing at about half the speed. And when I say hills I mean the lumps and bumps of East Anglia, so five minutes tops. And the second thing is that you end up not riding with anyong else because you are crawling up hills.
After driving up from London I caught up with a few Audaxians and some news. My favourite comment came from Tom Jackson who had kindly listened to my LEL doco and commented dryly that I had a lot going on in my head - he just started rides and then finished! That, Tom, is why you have an extraordinary palmares, you don't over-think things. I over-think everything, even thinking itself. The fact that he had found the 2022 editon of LEL pretty hard going meant it really must have been tough!
At the start Andrew teased me about turning up on a geared bike before disappearing up the road on his fixie never to be seen again. There was a time I could keep up with Andrew. Sigh.
The first leg of the ride, from Dunmow to Grantchester, is flatish most of the way so, by starting towards the head of the field I could briefly latch on to passing groups without and keep a halfway decent pace without redlining. A quick bounce at Grantchester meant I was on my own, which I would remain for the rest of the ride. I was ready for this and also looking forwwartd to it. It had been such a long time since I had ridden in the country that, once the traffic was left behind in Balsham, the riding was a real joy.
This leg has one of my favourite sections in it, a kind of 'Roubaix light' single lane road that runs around farm fields and ducks up and down small dents on the 'High Essex' ridge. Again, exercising restraint and making sure that I wasn't burning, this passed in a pleasant haze of green fields, mild exertion and general self satisfaction that I was going to be something like ok to finish.
The halfway point at The Maglia Rosa cafe came soon enough. The fast groups had already gone. I was aiming for a relatively quick stop so I could keep going and stop at a Co-op for a quick lunch later if needed. In a clever move I ordered only cake so that I could get it at the counter, eat and go, meaning I wouldn't have to wait for food prep.
Well that was my plan. Unfortunately my order was taken... and then put in pile with all the others. So I sat for twenty five minutes looking at my cake portions behind the counter not moving. In the end I got my order but I might as well have got something decent and hot given the time it took.
At moments like that you can choose to be frustrated or you can chill the fuck out and adapt. The second way is the right way and, given my low ambition for the ride and a rare moment of adult behaviour, I did just that.
The third leg is a mix, a bit of 'distance gaining' roads and then a lovely run in down to the coast at Manningtree and the lovely home away from home control in Andy Terry's parents house. Awesome. Beans on GF toast. Excellent!
I was probably a good hour and half slower than I would normally be at this point. I was notceably not sitting around with the riders I normally would. Normally I am a fast slow rider, or a slow fast rider - in other words pretty much middle of the pack. Today I was middle of the slow pack rider. That's sound judgmental of myself and others, but it's not. Audax is whatever you decide it to be and can be anything from a training ride for a longer ride taken at pace to a social amble near the time limit with friends and loads of stops.
Finally tearing myself away from the lovely hospitality I started out on the fourth and hardest leg which involves a series of up and downs that gradually take up back up to Dunmow.
I was really crawling up hills now, glad no one was around to watch. I was riding a bike I hadn't really used for ages either - a Genesis Rquilibrium. It is comfy but a heavy beast and a bit soggy. Worse I had forgotten to adjust the gearing and I was missing my top cog and was really having to grind some of the rises. Wistfully remembering back to the time I rode this fixed and took these final slopes at pace, I continued the crawl and reminded myself to look around and enjoy the countryside.
I like dusk too, so the snicking around the back lanes in the lowering light was a real treat. I was tired, yes, but not blown and I was really enjoying it. For me a long ride gives you a chance to get beyond thinking about the cycling. At a certain point there is just the speed you can do and that becomes something you accept. Then you are free to look around, or think about nothing in particular, wafting along somewhere between comfortable and tired, fast and slow, adapted to your capability and in no need to be anywhere other than cycling along in pursuit of an arbitary goal.
Getting back to Dunmow I sat around the church hall sipping tea for a while, enjoying the conversation. It had been a blissfully uneventful and in no way spectacular reentry into the world of Audax. I was two years older and two hours slower, but what the matter. The reality is that my time for 200 was about the same as when I was starting 200s and they were a lot more difficult and painful back then.
The question, and one I still have no answer to, is what next? I've been doing a bit of static biking and started riding to work three days a week - it's the only reason I go to work anymore! And my son is being my personal trainer at the gym so I have been working on all round conditioning. But if I want to do 'that ride' and beyond then January is the latest time I can start back at it, both for the fitness and the qualifiers. Also having so very few points means I will be at the back of the queue in terms of entry, so I may have to make alternative plans.
I am writing this on xmas day so the time of commitment is coming up fast. Part of me would like to do something a bit different this year - maybe something in the Alps, but also prepping for 'that ride' would form a solid base for any riding in summer, so, while the ends may not be sorted yet the means are stacking up.
After all I have a power meter now. It would be nice to have some power to go with it.