So, it turns out I am really bad at keeping New Year’s resolutions then…
Having decided I would document my riding more frequently, and in particular my training for London-Edinburgh-London (henceforth referred to as LEL) I then…didn’t do that.
There were many reasons for this. Number one being my inherent laziness when it comes to doing something which doesn’t have a specific deadline attached! And number two being some other stuff that has been going on which has made riding LEL both less and more important to me (a little more about that later).
So flashback to January…
I entered LEL! Luckily for me, I had joined Audax UK back in 2015, just a few weeks before the cut-off for getting an automatic guaranteed place for London Edinburgh London. So I paid my £329 and I was in. Now just the small matter of getting myself physically and, perhaps more importantly, mentally fit for an event where I would cycle 1433 kilometres in 116 hours or (to put it into terms I can relate to) average around 180 miles a day for five days in a row.
What was obviously meant to happen after I’d clicked ‘enter’ was lots and lots of cycling. What actually happened was a bit of cycling.
Alongside training for LEL I also have ambitions of Randoneering Round the Year (RRtY) – an award you can get if you ride at least one Audax UK accredited ride of at least 200km every month. I wanted to start this in October last year, but then I fell off my bike and broke my hand so ended up hardly riding between October and December.
Having barely ridden the back end of last year, I knew I had to step up my game A LOT. Instead, I stepped it up a bit.
In December I only rode about 200 miles all month, and about 100 of that was in Tennesse on a sit up and beg bike over the Christmas break! In January I managed to double my December mileage, riding about 450 miles, including 100km and 200km audaxes, which hurt. January last year I was coming off spending three weeks cycle touring in Cuba in late November/early December. January this year I was coming off six weeks in October/November of not really riding at all, and it showed.
However, what also showed was that I had a better base fitness than in the past. It’s now been three years since I properly started doing longer distances on the bike and the accumulation of long rides seems to mean that my body can hold fitness for a bit longer. I’m really hoping this is the case for the next few months!
During February and March I should have been really ramping up my training more. I did, a bit. A few more audaxes followed, enough to keep up the RRtY goal but not much more. I still was averaging slightly less in a week than I’d need to ride in a day on LEL.
Partly this was because it’s hard to get out and ride when it’s dark and cold and rainy. But alongside the riding I had another issue: the intermittent abdominal pain I’d been having for several months just wasn’t going away. Eventually I got round to going to the doctor about it.
At some point I might write a post about the maelstrom of emotions that descended after that initial doctors visit and the subsequent many other appointments and tests which I’ve had since. Suffice to say that throughout March and April my life had a constant undercurrent of confusion and dread. But the one constant that kept me going was knowing I wanted to do the LEL. Not sure whether the tests would show I had cancer? OK, but I have a big ride in July so better get on the bike! It was sometimes hard to motivate myself to go out an dride on my own accord, but if I had an audax which I’d entered I made sure I went and rode it, even when I was at my most panic-stricken.
And honestly, long rides have become therapy these past three months. In March, just after the initial ultrasound report had said ‘sinister pathology must be considered’ and I’d been put on an urgent referral pathway, I rode the Scouting Mam Tor 200km, thinking through every possible eventuality of what those words may mean.
It helped that the weather was good. I swore and sobbed my way up the hills of the Peak District, angry at my body for betraying me. Then I felt the cold grip of panic (which had been tightening in my chest all week) loosen a little as I felt the warm sun on my back. Watching the yellow full moon rise as I rode back alone through the Cheshire lanes, I gave myself a good talking to, saying I wasn’t dead yet so might as well enjoy the moment!
At the beginning of April, convinced that I had ovarian cancer (I don’t, the blood test revealed a few days later) I rode the ridiculously hilly Delightful Dales (or as we renamed it, Frightful Dales) 200km, chatting the whole way round with my amazing friend S to take my mind off the pain in my belly. (It’s amazing how pain increases ten-fold once you’re told it could be something serious).
I swore heartily when I ended up walking up the steep pitch of Park Rash but however much I wanted to blame whatever the ‘condition’ I have is, I knew that was really down to my own lack of fitness. And once I’d ridden 129 miles with nearly 11,000 feet of elevation gain I knew I couldn’t possibly be at death’s door just yet!
After each long ride I felt so much better. I was tired and sore, but from riding, not from other, more sinister, pains (real or imagined).
Being out on the bike gives me thinking time where I can order my thoughts, figure out the questions I want to ask at my next appointment and what obscure information I want to Google. But it also gives me something else to focus on at the same time, so I can’t go too far down the rabbit-hole of panic and worse-case scenarios. Being on the bike is a distraction, either through chatting to fellow riders, absorbing the beautiful scenery or swearing my way up another hill. Being on the bike also gives me time to fall apart a little, shed a tear or two and then pull myself together and carry on.
Doing a long ride is also really tiring. There’s a couple of days after when you literally don’t have the energy to feel anything too deeply. This was especially useful the first few weeks of confusion, when all I could think of was worst case scenarios, when my resting heart-rate had spiked from 50 to 75 beats per minute and when I felt like I was constantly on the edge of panic.
By the time I rode my biggest ride so far this year (the BCM Warm-Up 400km in south Wales over the bank holiday weekend) I knew that I was going to have to have surgery fairly soon and that this meant LEL was in doubt. Riding this event was fun though – the route was nice and the weather was fine. Pushing through the night on my own reminded me that I am strong and I can weather difficulties. It also gave me time to think of every conceivable question to put to the consultant at my appointment the Tuesday after!
I completed the event in under 24 hours, the first time I’ve ridden a 400km in under a full day. And I felt good. Sure, I was knackered. At one point at 4am I had a 5 minute lie-down in a bus shelter to revive myself. But at no point did I feel like I couldn’t go on or that I wanted to bail, and I have felt both those things in the previous 400km events I rode.
This past weekend I rode from the Lake District up through Northumberland to Scotland and back on the Westmorland Spartans 300km. It was a cracking route up on deserted roads, just a slight shame about the mizzle and the headwind. I got chatting to a nice guy named Marcus, which helped pass the time. And I felt strong, even when I was crawling up Kirkstone Pass in the dark and the rain at 11.30 at night!
But on Thursday 25th May I will be having abdominal surgery. I don’t know how this will go or yet what they will find (I’ve been told it’s more likely to be benign but cancer also has to be considered and I won’t find out for sure until three weeks after the operation). I will have 9 and a bit weeks between having a large abdominal incision and one of my organs removed and hoping to be on the start line in Loughton.
It’s probably not enough time to recover, of course. I know that. Not only will I be recovering from surgery but the four to six weeks that I’ll be completely off the bike would have been my most intense training period.
Nevertheless, I am determined to do whatever I can to get to the start line. This weekend, my last before the surgery, I’m attempting a DIY 600km. This will be the test of how fit I am, as well as being an opportunity to actually ride some of the LEL course. I’ve mapped a route from Manchester across the the Humber Bridge, and then down through the Lincolnshire wolds, following the LEL route. All being well, I’ll grab a few hours’ sleep in Peterborough before heading back across through Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, up past Stoke-on-Trent and through Cheshire.
If I succeed, I know I am at least going into the op as prepared as I can be. And then I will wait until after the surgery for the good or bad news. After that it’ll just be a case of getting back on the bike and seeing how I feel. Fingers crossed!