Tuesday night is training night, but the need for discipline is becoming apparent. I’d had a lousy day at work, we’d had heavy rain and hail, and more threatened, and it was gusting about a force 5 or 6. Staying in was an attractive option, but we Cokeurs are made of sterner stuff.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to develop a standard training route, so that I can measure my progress. I ride fast for a timed hour and then check how far I’ve gone. Then I tend to do a few ‘warm down’ miles and include some more interesting/technical sections.
I start at a place called Trent Fields, next to the River Trent, and almost within sight of Trent Bridge Cricket Ground. I ride a couple of miles by the river, then a short section of road, and then I get to the National Water Sports Centre. Then it’s about 4 laps of the main rowing lake. A typical fast hour is somewhere around 12 miles.
Tonight, everything was against me - mental attitude, weather, and mental attitude - and I decided NOT to make a serious attempt on my personal best (12.44 miles in an hour). I set off across the fields at a steady pace. To my left was the skate board/BMX half pipe. For the first time in my life, I saw a skateboarder land a trick!
As I rode past, one of the kids shouted in an off-hand way (if this is possible) “Oh look… it’s the unicycle.”
Read that again: the unicycle. I’m part of the scenery now, worthy of remark - like a beautiful sunset - but not surprising or weird. And no abuse! A few weeks ago, kids on the same half pipe were pouring scorn and abuse on me as I rode past. This is progress of a sort.
(I lied, of course: I am both surprising and weird, but the unicycle now acts as a decoy and the kids don’t notice.)
It was well windy. At the National Water Sports Centre, the wind always blows straight down the lake, except when it blows straight up the lake. I know this - I’ve lived near it for many years. Imagine, then, my surprise to find the wind gusting ACROSS the lake. Here’s me hammering down the side of the lake on a Coker, leaning sideways into the wind at a crazy angle - most uncomfortable.
The strange thing about the Coker, if you ride it hard enough and fast enough on a flat surface, every road leads you to the little Scottish hamlet of Crochnumbness.
One nice thing about training around the lake is that you tend to meet the same people who are running or cycling in the opposite direction. Most of them are friendly; some are encouraging; a few are patronising (“Oh, well done, you’re doing well.” - this from a jogger wobblebottoming around the lake at [walking pace + 10%] while I’m doing 14mph on my third lap on a 36 inch unicycle).
Today, there were three old blokes jogging around the lake. They were clearly serious runners, and were making good time. The second time I met them, they were strung across the road, so I moved to within about 2 inches of the grass at the left of the road, then put out my left arm to indicate that was the way I was going. two of the joggers nodded in acknowledgement and drifted to their left (my right), but the third moved straight into my path, made eye contact and kept running towards me. What was going through his head? In a minute, it would be a Viscount seat!
Having tried the polite method, I tried this: I ducked my head down to break eye contact, and accelerated towards him. I looked up, and there were arms and legs everywhere, and the jogger was sporting the largest pair of eyes I’d ever seen.
I thought I’d pushed it too far, because I wasn’t sure which way he would dive. I guessed correctly, swerved, and as he span in my wake, I shouted, “Well, I did signal!”
To his credit, on the next two laps, he was very friendly.
Another confrontation: the lake is home to numerous Canada geese. I notice that all the goslings tend to be gathered into one place, and a couple of the geese sort of act as nannies, while the rest of the geese relax and think goosey thoughts.
It had been a sunny but cold day, so the warmest place for the goslings was the tarmac road surface. On my first lap, the geese left it to the very last moment to move, despite me clapping my hands and shouting a friendly warning. One cute but foolish gosling ran the wrong way. The Coker went left, the gosling went left; the Coker went right the gosling went right. Had I not been a bunny hugging vegetarian, this would have been an ideal supper opportunity.
As I swerved one last time to miss the desperate gosling, one of the ganders decided it was time to wade in, and suddenly I was confronted with the full wings out and hissing beak routine. I can picture the scene tonight in the Duck and Grouse public bar as he tells the tale of how he faced down a 40 mile an hour penny farthing all on his own.
I had not set out for a ‘personal best time’, but as I got nearer to the end of the hour, I got my head down a bit and upped the pace. At the hour, I’d done 11.44 miles - a mile (or 8%) less than my personal best, but given the strong wind, not too bad. Most satisfying of all was that I’d put in a reasonable time (3rd best ever) and ended with lots left in reserve.
In my warm down lap, I usually ride over the tops of the grassy banks at the side of the lake, as well as following some of the rough tracks by the river, and around the other lakes. The grassy banks are great, because they offer a reasonably predictable surface (mown grass) and a range of options. Some of the hills are quite steep, and there are summits, saddles, and all manner of challenging topographical features. I like the challenge of what I’d call ‘tactical hill climbing’ - picking the best route to get to the top, rather than just slogging my way up.
One part of my favourite route takes me to a top, then along a ridge, down into a bit of a saddle, then up onto a sort of grassy dome. The top of the dome is only a few yards across, and the sides are pretty steep. My plan was to ride to the top of the dome, make a sharp 90 degree turn to the left and drop down the short but steep slope onto an easy grassy run off. The alternative was to go straight on down a slope to steep for me to ride on the Coker, with no run off; or to turn right and do a long steep descent, wasting all my gravity karma.
So, I rode to the top of the dome and did a sharp left as the pedal went down… then a huge gust of wind caught the wheel and blew it straight again, as if I were perched on a massive weather vane. So I turned left with the next pedal stroke, and it happened again! Eek! One more pedal stroke and I was 3.14 yards closer to the near vertical drop than I had intended. My next attempt was desperate and I turned just more than 90 degrees, and you’ve guessed it - I weathervaned the other way! This was a new and challenging aspect of Cokering.
By the end of the ride, I’d done 19.56 miles in 1:54.02 (riding time, not elapsed time) and, bizarrely, my maximum speed was showing as 23mph.
This was clearly wrong, as at the end of the fast section, as always, it was showing 14mph. This freak reading has happened once before (I think it was 20 mph last time) but I can’t work out why. I know it’s nothing to do with idling, because (a) I always place the magnet carefully when I set up a computer, so it isn’t in position when I idle on my strong side; and (b) I didn’t idle.