Sunday, March 05, 2017

Getting out

In terms of things I am good at, multisport is up there. I am not the best but I am pretty good at doing a bit of diverse training then giving it my all and what comes out at the end is alright, particularly at regular, fast standard distance racing.  Once, just once, this has got me into team GB to race abroad where I did not finish last.

The fact that I id not make that position last year just validated how bloody hard I worked to get in the first time around.

My problem is though, the endurance bug won't go away for me and I am not very good at endurance tri. For a start I won't let myself do any of the big, expensive easier races where I can, potentially test myself against others and for seconds, I am clinically incapable of spending the necessary time in cold water. I love swimming outdoors but I just can't make it last.

I am not interested in spending the hours on long distance running so all my hopes get pinned, regularly, on the prospects of long-distance cycling again.

I am an avid reader of the Audax UK mag that regularly lands on the doorstep. Last year whilst fretting about Torino Nice I electronically followed Lee Craigee around the Highland Trail 550 and Emily Chappell around the Trans Continental Race and realized that this glorious form of racing exists which combines my other three favourite things: cycling, camping and eating.  TNR no longer seemed at all daunting.

We first heard of bike packing in 2014 when we were returning from a Celtman reccee and fell into a hostel on our way home through bad weather. A man in the bar in cycling kit, looking sorry for himself told us of his woes in this mysterious event which involved a dynamo on his mountain bike and many unsupported days in the highlands to complete a previously undisclosed route. TSK was vaguely interested. I was too consumed by Celtman to consider it at the time but something he said tempted me: not many women do it.

Now, like my friend Claire, I have usually been one to just get out there and do something - if I fancy it. I don't need talks from other women and self help books, training courses, presentations or classes but actually getting my ass in gear to try bike packing took more energy.

20 years ago the Polaris challenge existed and at the time I thought that was mental: a weekend in winter carrying all your kit on your bike with a mate. It was kind of a mountain marathon for bikes. Dan Loftus would totally have done it with me but it never crossed my mind to try... and goddamn it, 1997 was probably when I was most capable at the age of 23.

At that point in my life, travelling with bikes was conceived in the more traditional sense of panniers, racks and a comfortable tent and stove and nothing vaguely you'd want to take off-road. Though I did try once.

In my year out of uni when I had a little cash I had my boyfriend leave me in the Lakes after a climbing club weekend away. On the Monday, I packed my gear into a large rucsac and attempted to ride with it. I quickly realised that wasn't the way to do it and headed straight to the nearest town to buy a rack and panniers and post all non-essential gear - including the rucsac - back home.

From there I cycled to the nearest hill and tried to climb it with my new rig. After a few hours of pushing on High Stile I rolled into the posh campsite above Keswick and declared myself done with mountain bike touring and spent a few days doing road rides before ringing home to beg to be picked up.

So last year, Torino - Nice came and went and it was good and fun. The cyclo cross season passed without adventure and then there was the Barebones Church or Chapel with an equal emphasis on fun. Another flexible route with no particular start or finish.

In amongst my enthusiasm for Triathlon and what I am good at I continue to hanker after long and successive days in the saddle. Lee Craigee's book is published which only serves to encourage that sense of being 'at one' with my ride... and other cliches - that sense of there being nothing else to do but ride, sleep and eat.  I have been hounded by so many eloquent expressions of what this sport means to me.

I have an inkling that given the chance to bring some of the bike packing comfort and mentality to audax, I might manage some of the rides I once considered unattainable. Having sworn off overnight riding in 2010, I can't help but imagine what might be the outcome if I rode with my sleep mat, a lightweight sleeping bag and a bivi. The opportunity of a 30 minute power nap in a woodland over propping myself up in a stinking service station at 4am? Replacing a scout hut occupied by 75 snoring men with a grass verge and my luxury bivi? Makes long distance Audax all seem more possible.

Still, following a cyclocross season of short races and otherwise laziness followed by skiing, I was feeling pretty shit about my ability to ride a bike for any period of time. Shame, because I got up to 65 miles over Christmas and we did 65 very hard miles during Church or Chapel.

It was only 5 week's ago. Writing this, I am wondering what I am moaning about but sadly it really does feel like my endurance riding has decayed to nowt.

And so, with 6 weeks to go we have entered our next adventure and with the knowledge that every training journey has to start somewhere, I proudly set aside today's intended rest day from my triathlon schedule in favour of another ride.

Yesterday 25 miles (plus 15km running which counts towards mountain bike training too right?) 25 miles turned into 31. Today a short easy ride turned into another 20+ miles (missed logging a few) and it wasn't all flat either. The weather contributed extra brownie points by tipping it down on us and whilst my legs suffered from the previous days running my stomach suffered a bout of being a woman all the way from the end of our cake stop to home.

With substantial soggy clothing, cold hands and a good dose of industrial estate riding to get us home I can't claim it as one of my favourite rides but there wad an element of type ii fun to it and mostly I am proud. Proud of myself for getting off the sofa, proud of myself for making the first move, not just for bike packing but for Alpe d'Huez too and proud of myself for starting to be awesome again. Not just normal because maybe even the three sports of triathlon aren't enough. Maybe I need the excuse as to why I am not good at any one thing. From now on though,  I just want to get good at getting out and that will do for me.

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