More Miles–Some Smiles

Thursday saw me have a massage in the morning. I had feint hopes of all my ills being cured in one session, but just walking home afterwards I realised that the Achilles alone is some way off being comfortable to run on. I took Thursday off, planning to ride long on Friday.

Friday was a day of frustration, suffering problems with computer hardware and various other things. That meant rather being ready to ride at around 10am as planned, I wasn’t ready to gone 3:30pm. I’d knocked up a 30 mile or so ride. I’d spent some time trying to get the route to work properly on the mobile phone before giving up and returning to the old faithful Garmin Venture Etrex CX, originally purchased back in 2007 for my Land’s End to John O’Groats adventure.

The main problems I had with the unit back then and subsequently were that the route mapping was slow and unpredictable, often sending you on wild long excursions – not handy when you are on 100 mile plus rides. The other more frustrating problem was the device would turn itself off at the first hint of a bump, which is something of a common affair with our poor British road surface. I’d tried squeezing the batteries with crushed matchsticks in between the electrical contacts with minimal success. Then last year my Dad gave me a tip for temperamental battery contacts: place a small strip of tin foil between the + end of the battery and the contact itself. Since then the Etrex has worked like a charm and hasn’t switched off yet due to being bounced around. And, based on tips from the internet, I opted to abandon the routing (More like forced as the modern mapping websites create too many waypoints for the Garmin to handle) and follow the purple roads manually, which, apart from a few visibility issues in the rain, has worked like a dream.

That the unit didn’t suffer major water damage on Friday’s run was a major surprise. It had rained on and off during the day, and had been dry for a while, but almost on cue as I left the house it began to rain, becoming more intense as the ride continued to the point where come the end of the ride it was nearly dark with leaden skies. The route sent me north towards Newark without actually entering the town upon-Trent, running a rough figure of 8 through Hough-On-The-Hill, which was the only real area of elevation on an otherwise flat ride.

Despite the rain the ride was fairly enjoyable on mostly quiet roads. I had a near tumble on a slippery manhole cover just before tackling a crossing of the busy A17 which left me a little nervous for the next few miles. I got good speed up heading back down Stragglethorpe Lane before a final struggle on the Hough-on-the-Hill revisited from another angle. I finished the ride having covered 32 miles at an average of 18.08 mph, an improvement on Wednesday’s ride.

Friday night and I mapped out a ride taking me down to Rutland Water, looping it and then heading home. I had some issues with a waypoint limit on the Etrex but thought I had it all covered. Some dreams of taking on a Sportive in the near future saw me take a look at the UK cycling website, when, to great coincidence. it transpired that the Dare2B Rutland Cycle Tour was taking place on Saturday morning. I had no idea what route they’d be taking, only that they were heading north from Rutland Water, with the long ride cyclists tackling a loop of Belvoir Castle.

I was out by 10am on Saturday for my ride, the roads beginning to dry after a night of rain, which finally relented minutes before I left. Looking at the weather forecast I knew that I’d have a headwind for the opening half of the ride, so I focused on conserving energy for the second half of the ride, hoping the tail wind would produce good speeds. It wasn’t long after leaving Grantham that I began spotting the Sportive riders heading in the other direction on their ride. Over the next few hours I must have passed around 100 of them as I uncannily seemed to have mapped out a route very similar to theirs. All a very friendly bunch, I said plenty of hellos and good morning.

The run down to Rutland Water, despite the wind was very pleasant, and after a melted Snickers break, a brief wrong turn and plenty of jelly beans I began to ride back home, relishing the tail wind pushing me on. I had a problem not long later when it turns out that the Etrex is limited to 250 positions per ride when following a route. This meant that somewhere near Oakham I ran out of routing. Moreover, opting to have the backlight on permanently (As I had done on Friday when it was too dark to see the screen) had eaten all but the last quarter of the battery life. Very fortunately I had created an alternate Rutland route which took me down to the mass of water in the opposite direction, so to speak. I was able to follow the route in reverse which worked perfectly save for the final 10 miles or so repeating the roads that I took on the way down rather than heading the alternate way I planned, which knocked a mile or three of the final total. As for the batteries, I thought about trying to find a shop for some replacements, eventually I risked it and by turning off the backlight completely I just about made it home with the unit still functioning.

The jelly beans certainly did the trick because I stayed strong until the end of the ride, pretty much riding successive quicker five mile segments as the ride went on. I ended the 58 mile ride averaging 17.32 mph, which is probably up on what I was riding on the few rides I made last year, and not a million miles away from the best cycle years of recent times in 2007 and 08, when I put in a around 3000 miles over the two years.

I mapped another ride for Sunday, around 10 miles longer and heading towards the flatlands of the Fens – approaching, but not quite reaching, Spalding. I chose the route deliberately because the weather forecast predicted quite stiff winds blowing from the east, meaning that if I could survive the opening half of the ride, I could enjoy a swift run home.

I was out at just gone 8am, pretty impressive considering a fair amount of wine was drunk on a Saturday night out. The first miles were slow as I climbed out of Grantham, bemoaning my inability to get any jelly beans out of the freezer bag I’d put them into after similar problems with their original packaging a day earlier (After 45 miles of struggling I finally poured a lot of them direct into a cycle pocket which worked much better).

Much of the opening 35 miles were fairly tortuous. I’m not particularly strong on the flat at the best of times, not helped by my inability to properly use the handlebar drops – which is a big disadvantage when riding into a headwind. And, aside from 5 miles or so when I headed south, the headwind was relentless as I traversed near deserted lanes on the exposed fens. An amusing Strava segment I passed, the Col du la Railway Bridge Gosberton sums up the total flatness of the area, the 0.1 mile segment with an average gradient of 1% representing the stiffest climb around for as far as the eyes could see.

The wind, much stiffer than yesterday, took its toll. I stopped for a breather at 36 miles, just after I’d turned and began heading home. I’m not a huge fan of the fens from an aesthetic viewpoint, but the area around Surfleet, following the River Glen, was very picturesque on this sunny spring morning.

Surfleet Seas EndThe Pub Where I Briefly StoppedThe Old Faithful - She'll Do Until I Can Afford A Carbon Bike

Invigorated by the Mars Bar break and enthused by the prospect of a tailwind all the way home, I set off with renewed vigour. The ride along Station Road beside the River Glen was good fun: flat and fast with a few corners to keep the attention. The same couldn’t be said for the B1397 High Fen, which was six miles of all, bar a pair of 90 degree chicanes, dead straight, dead flat road. I found the biggest gear I could turn and churned away. By the end I was quite tired, turning a big gear is, in many ways, as hard as climbing and descending. Plus with near relentless flat land for the best part of 50 miles, there’d barely been a minute’s cycling when I wasn’t pedalling. I know I am used to running where such a free break is the stuff of fantasy, but pedalling consistently for hours on end takes its toll.

In many ways, although tired, I was relieved that crossing the A15 meant that the terrain would take a generally upward theme, with plenty of twists and undulations. According to Strava this was by far my strongest part of the ride, and, to my great surprise, I clocked fourth overall on one Segment. I’ve barely troubled the top 100 on most segments, so to come fourth was something of a thrill.

Approaching Grantham there was the quick drop down the A52 into town. I favoured one last climb towards Harrowby rather than face the dreaded traffic nightmare that is the centre of town – this sapping any energy I had left. I finished the ride of 67 miles averaging 17.24 mph, which was just a smidge down on Saturday’s ride and was not bad considering I was averaging around 15mph at the turnaround thanks to the headwind.

So four bike rides, a very stiff neck and sore right arm, but the legs are feeling  generally quite good and enjoying the break from running. I imagine I’ll be cycling for the first half of next week before testing the legs with a run to decide whether I’ll take part in the Milton Keynes Marathon.

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