bikebritain News June 13, 2015

Kilo To Go 'Essex Explorer' 2015 - The Long Ride

Kilo To Go’s ‘Essex Explorer’, 175km , 31st May 2015 Start/Finish North Weald Airfield

If I was to summarise this ride it would go something like this:-

2 punctures, 1 front, 1 rear.

An unrelenting easterly wind.

Rain. Plenty, at times.

Back pain – oh the pain!

Suffice to say, this was not the ride I had planned for, nor wished for. Indeed, standing over my bike at the 159 km mark, fixing my second puncture of the day, never before have I felt quite so dispirited at the thought of being on the cusp of 100 miles. Unusually for me, I did not care – the pain in my back was fair too prominent to be bothered by distance trivialities. Sure, I would look back at the @cyclemeter stats and review the day with interest, but now, here, it counted for nothing. All I wanted was to be back at North Weald airfield. Yes, it is fair to say, I did not enjoy this ride one little bit.

This is a real shame for a couple of reasons:-

  1. The route took in some quaint ‘picture postcard’ Essex villages
  2. The elevation was < 1000 meters, making it an ideal single speed route
  3. Given that the route was at worst ‘undulating’, it should have offered a good opportunity for a sub 6 hour 160 km ride
  4. Training had gone well.

I knew it was going to be a challenging day by the time I got within spitting distance of the first feed stop. At 37 km I felt the front wheel going quickly flat. This was only the second puncture of the year so I could not complain. However, it did nothing to lighten my mood. It was already raining, in fairly blustery conditions. At this point I was 3 minutes ahead of my schedule, but this time was quickly swallowed up with the inner tube change. Of greater concern was the state of my back. As mentioned in a previous article,, I had originally intended to ride on the Trek District. Due to technical issues, that was now not possible, so time to draft in the Superbike. However, the weather forecast was for rain......with the Specialized also temporarily out of action it fell to the Holdsworth to take up the challenge of the Explorer. Excellent, I have not ridden it for a while (this year?), what a great way to get reacquainted. Unfortunately though, a significant change in geometry was causing an increasingly amount of back pain. Like a good English sort I decided the best way to deal with this issue was ignore it, camel style, and hope that it was just a period of adjustment. It was not.

Puncture fixed at a mildly competent rate, I continued. My plan was to continue through and stop at the second feed station a tactic helped immensely by the sizeable full English I managed to put away beforehand. I think we can all agree that is the food of champions. It was becoming increasingly obvious was that my back was not right at all. I could not find any comfortable position and as such I had no rhythm to my cadence.  It was going to be a long ride. I adjusted my bottom, shook my back about, stood up on the pedals – it made no difference, so I sat down and ground it out. The rain fell in differing amounts, aided and abetted by the wind. I had overdressed by one layer but it was a tough one to call at the outset. I rolled through village after village gradually becoming obsessed with the pain/distance ratio spelled out before me on the Garmin. It crossed my mind a few times whether I should have a rethink and switch distances.  Judging by the relatively small number of cars in the car park, I think my fellow cyclists had either voted with their cleated feet (by not turning up), or had decided to down dial their distance. By the time the course split at the 64 km mark, there were very few cyclists within eye shot. This was the first of 3 cycling events that Emma had signed up to do over the next 4 weeks. Having not ridden since the wiggle ride at Huntingdon, she was dubious of her ability to finish the distance. I knew she would complete it, since she doesn’t know how to give up.

A sure fire indicator of a ride going poorly is when I start fixating on the rest stops. 75 km in I rolled into the second feed stop feeling as if I had finished. In truth I was less than half way through. If there were 6 other riders here I would be surprised – the place was deserted. I stretched. It felt glorious. I was delighted, no euphoric, to be off that pain machine – I mean bike! Enjoy these precious moments, I told myself. Half rolls scoffed, jelly beans eaten, water bottles refilled, I was ‘ready’. The rest stop offered me a 10 km respite before the back ache started up again, as relentless as before. I felt my positive mental attitude ebbing away. Stay focussed on the distance and keep turning the pedal, I thought.

I continued in this vein for the next 25 km as I first reached, then eclipsed the 100 km mark. I had lost all interest in my 32 km split times. So much for a fast 160 km ride – I would be happy to finish at this rate. I calculated my average speed and no matter which way I looked at it, I had another 3 hours in the saddle. I broke the remaining ride down into 10 km chunks to make it mentally more manageable. This worked in part.  However, as soon as I completed one ‘chunk’ the brain would play tricks on me and point out how far and how long I still had to go. Thanks brain.

The third and final feed stop came and went. I stretched and ate. It hurt less when I was off the bike – only problem was this was a bike ride – so deal with it! Suffice to say it was shear bloody mindedness that got me through the final part of the Explorer. Into the wind, I toiled and swore my way to the finish. Not before, I might add, I managed to pick up another puncture. Fair play and thanks to the motorcyclist and his passenger who stopped to see if I was ok (as I was thumping my saddle, well and truly hacked off with life at that fleeting moment). I had just about had it by then. A couple of folks who I had overtaken previously sailed by, but no-one was looking that happy.  With a re-inflated rear tyre I slowly caught them up and despite this not being the time for any heroics, I overtook them. Normally this would spur me on, but this time it meant I was a few more meters closer to the finish line.  

I eventually made it across the finish line in a time of 7 hours 19 minutes – about 1 ½ hours slower than anticipated. It had been a horrible ride for the most part – one of the worst I could remember. It was no fault of the route or the organisers – I had just had one of those days. To say I was happy getting out of the saddle and lying down on the sodden grass would be an underestimate of back ache breaking proportions.

I am pleased to report that Em had returned home about 2 hours earlier but had also found the headwind similarly heavy going. She seemed pretty chirpy on balance and she was good enough to get me a much needed cup of tea and our complimentary goodie bags at the end. She had completed a solid 54 miles, good training for her next ride, the French Revolution in mid-June. Would I do the Essex Explorer again? Not sure. I need a year to think about it.

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