One of the more alarming aspects of my midlife crisis is my recent agreement to enter the Red Bull race. Time for some training!
So, as a gesture of good intent, I bought a stop watch. Today’s plan was to ride flat out for an hour, and see how far I could go. That’s an hour ‘real time’, rather than an hour ‘riding time’ as recorded by my trip computer.
First, choose your easy trail. The towpath of the Grantham Canal - a level compacted surface, a few short hills, and a few obstacles.
All ready, set, go! Two failed mounts because I was on a slight hill, and overconfident. usually I’m 100% on freemounting the Coker. I decide it’s ‘only fair’ to reset the stop watch - a task which takes several minutes because it’s way too complicated, and keeps telling me it’s Wednesday and the alarm’s set for Friday tea time.
The first few miles are OK - just tozzing along at a comfortably fast pace. There’s no sense in sprinting and falling off. I’ve got to pace myself for the distance anyway. There’s a gate every mile or so, which means dismounting and walking across roads. It is cold and I’m riding into a headwind, and for the first mile or two, a nagging little demon says, ‘Go home and read a book.’ But I strive on, regardless.
Then shock! Horror! Dash it all! In a country which can’t afford toilet paper for front line troops, and refuses to fund electric cattle prods for primary teachers, someone has decided to invest scarce financial resources in signs which say the towpath is closed. They’ve even hired a few diggers and bulldozers to park nearby to give a cheery appearance of work in progress.
So I decide to ride along a rough bit of farm track which looks like it might rejoin the towpath. And it is my good fortune to meet an honest son of the soil - a merry yeoman farmer who fancies himself as an ironist. ‘Are you looking for me?’ he inquires.
‘No, I’m looking for the towpath,’ I reply, with a winning smile.
‘Well, as you can see, it’s closed to members of the public. You shouldn’t be here.’
Well, gee, thanks. I’m finally able to get advice about an alternative route by road. On my way back to the road, I become complacent, stop reading the surface, and have my first UPD of the day. The farmer’s dog barks sardonically.
So off through the village, where there are various comical interactions with reversing horse boxes and elderly drivers, and I hit the first of the hills. There follows about 4 or 5 miles of narrow lanes, with long medium-steep inclines. And soon I’m looking at the stop watch and it says 0:55 and I’m ready for that final burst of speed… and I come round the corner to the biggest hill of all. It looks about, ooooh, 5 minutes to the top!
Slog slog slog up the hill, stopwatch in hand, and I get to 0:59.45
and I hear a car grinding up the hill behind me. Intuitive calculus tells me that the car will be overtaking at exactly the hour, when I’m planning to dismount. I’m right, and in the last second or two, I pull onto the level grass verge and get ready to do a rear dismount, as the car growls nearer.
Now, I always dismount with my right hand on the front of the seat… and I have a right-handed stopwatch… and I haven’t practised this… and somehow, in my attempt to compromise between these conflicting demands on my bodily extremities, I find myself with both feet off the pedals, coasting onto the verge, with neither hand touching the seat, and the car about 3 feet behind me.
With regretable lack of grace, I land full length on my back on what the song calls, ‘Yielding grassy sod.’ The Coker sets off on a frolic of its own, landing some 10 yards away, with the rear seat bumper nicely garnished with a side salad of grass stems and hedge plants. The stopwatch says 1:00.00.09, so I’ve ridden for 9 hundredths of a second too long. I decide to ignore this recording error.
And I’ve done 10.44 miles in an hour, with a maximum speed of 14 miles. The computer shows 59:05 riding time, so just under a minute was lost talkng to the farmer. Time for a Snickers - the artist formerly known as Marathon.
The ride back to the car is mainly by road, and, on average, is downhill, because I ended the outward ride at the top of a big hill. I decide to take it steady. Suddenly, the seat which I had not previously noticed, except in the most general sense that it wasn’t missing, becomes uncomfortable.
At one stage I have to stop and wait whilst two horse riders gallop past - galloping on the public road. One of the horses almost slips over sideways. A car is trying to get past, and the riders are unaware, or doesn’t care. And people call me crazy.
I’ve made it almost back to the car and I’m back on the towpath of the canal. The surface is perfectly flat, I’m tired and complacent. I don’t notice the small outcrop of concrete and there’s UPD 3 of the day.
Soon I’m back at the car. The computer shows a riding time of
2:00.03. As near as dammit, 1 hour and 1 minute’s riding on the return leg, and a total distance of 20.10 miles - a return leg of 9.66 miles.
So comparing ‘riding time’:
Flat out and busting a gut, I did 10.44 miles in 59 minutes, averaging 10.61 mph.
Taking it steady, I did 9.66 miles in 61 minutes, averaging 9.5 mph.
The difference between flat out and steady was only about 11%, but the fatigue resulting was noticeably greater.
Of course, the climbing/descending and headwind/following wind, and the different surfaces made a difference. But I started the outward leg fresh, and I started the return leg tired.
There may be a lesson here about pacing myself. Still, 20 miles in 2 hours feels respectable.