50 Mile Time Trials (and how not to ride them)

I rode a 50 today in deepest darkest Somerset; the fascination of the abomination. it rapidly (or not so rapidly) became an epic journey into the heart of darkness, the only thing missing was a man trying to put out a fire with a bucket of water with a hole in it, and some faceless natives lobbing spears from the jungle at the side of the road.  this may or may not be due to my hubris-inducing decision to ride to the start at 5.30am, thus adding on 25 hilly miles there and 25 back, but i’m not sure. at least the 50 was predominantly flat.

i also chose to use my spangly new garmin 500, which offers up all sorts of data, some of which i understand (think ‘current speed’ and ‘time and date’ and you’ve defined the limits of my knowledge) and some of which boggles my tiny mind. it provides heart rate info, including percentage of maximum, with some sort of ‘zonal’ thing that seems to suggest you shouldn’t be riding at a certain level otherwise the world will end. i did not make my typical mistake, this time i planned to go off slowly and build up to a regular, metronomic pace, crushing in its even tempo and voracious in the way it would consume and destroy my hapless minuteman. the key word here is ‘planned’, i managed the very first bit – going off slowly.

at the fourth roundabout on the outskirts of a nondescript somerset shithole, there were no signs, anywhere, and i got scared so i stopped and waited for the next rider so i could check and see if i was going the right way. this was not the best idea, for all sorts of reasons, some of them obvious (lets ignore those, the ones relating to ‘stopping in a race’). he was a huge fellow, his nickname is ‘cruncher’ and he was riding a 64 cm pursuit frame with a 115″ gear. he scared the living shit out of me, tearing past, but looking incredibly smooth. i rode on, and let him get up the road a bit, but then sought to keep him in sight, presuming arrogantly that he probably wasn’t as quick as me, so i could bide my time then swoop past and make up time. i ignored the fact that he was probably already inside the minute by the time he swept me up, but you know, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

you may notice arrogance, or hubris, or complacency is a theme of this post. not in an ugly way, but in an ‘i’ll be quick in a 50 because i’m quick in a ten and also i done some hilly stuff and i’m a bit of a legend amongst the bristol souths’ sort of way. the sport of timetrialling per se had the answer to this and it kicked me really hard in the ass.

so, back to ‘cruncher’, i soon discovered he was as quick as me, and my attempts to stay with him were fine for a while, but then something odd happened at one of the turns – back into the wind. at this stage it seemed to be going according to plan – i’d overtaken and dropped him on a slight climb then left him, i thought, for good. turning back into the wind i suddenly began to really struggle, more than i usually do with a headwind, and considerably more than i did on the first circuit. my speed and head dropped, i began to chew stem and fretfully worry about the looming beast behind gaining in speed – and confidence, because there’s nothing quite so confidence-building as seeing someone else having a really shit time on the bike. even with friends, it’s great fun to tear their legs off up and down the mendips, all cyclists will admit to this.

he overtook in full flight, a wagnerian valkyrie. it was crushing. i was crushed by cruncher and knew this time it was terminal, there would be no more ding-dong or silly-sallying, he was off into the sunset and i was left wrestling with a set of legs devoid of all feeling, beyond a horrid and ossifying lactate build-up.

i swiftly fell into an exercise in damage limitation; luckily there was a tailwind and i really thought i could ride it out, in time i would settle back into a rhythm, and it was going to be ok. i felt depressed that I couldn’t really soar with the tailwind, instead i could just about maintain a regular pace. but this wasn’t all, some coarse, unrefined rock salt was poured liberally onto already saline wounds – two other people i had already passed loomed behind and charged around the outside, treating me to the sound of the disc wheel as tie-fighter (stay on target). whilst in the depths of suffering, a surreal question entered my head, ‘what would ray booty do?’ as though it might fortify me and guide me to the line, but the answer bounced around my cranium like a metal lump hammer on brick, ‘he’d ride a course record hundred miler on the A1 using an 84″ gear on a Raleigh Record Ace, and he’d damn well get the pacing right and he wouldn’t be using no alien weaponry nor techno-widgets’. it was not really relevant to my predicament. i had to cling on, knowing that one of them was the minuteman and if i kept him to a minute it would be the smallest of pyhrric victories. i somehow managed this.

i have been looking at the heart rate data and it seems to suggest that i was riding perilously close to the red-zone for at least 20 miles early in the race. at the 25 mile mark i just exploded, utterly cracked. this may be why. blowing up is nothing like the knock, it’s a wholly different experience. i was wearing yellow-tinted glasses for low light, at one point my vision was strobing at the edges so i took them off. it continued. i had an energy gel and nearly vomited, it tasted revolting. it seemed to help, marginally. i may even have at one point hoped silently for a mechanical – nearer the HQ though, not one that left me with an 18 mile walk.

i rode to a 2.1.33, a brave effort that speaks of an elemental battle with human failings and hubris,  at the least, it’s a new PB and something to beat in two weeks time, when i repeat this leap into purgatory. i may lessen my cakes/ale intake in the intervening period though. it was chastening, but for some reason that i simply can’t fathom, i really enjoyed it. and when all is said and done, i rode home, a further 25 miles, making a round 100 for the day, 50 of which were done in 2 hours.  i am now curled up on the sofa in the foetal position, waiting for the goddamn french tennis douchebags to get the hell off my tv and be replaced with the Giro.

and for comedy value, here is some sort of graph or something which suggests  what went wrong:

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