I opted not to ride today’s super fast mega-race in Tring. I have been ill and tired all week and didn’t know if i’d be able to really compete, so i put in an early DNS. My Mum came to visit and thought it was probably better to spend the afternoon with family, as opposed to chasing the fastest of fast times on a strip of road east of Oxford. Now that the 19s are rolling in left, right and centre, I’m not so sure, but that’s time trialling. Well done to Billy Oliver who went straight from a short 21 to a long 19. That’s quite a PB. I’m going to visit the course in August when hopefully I’ll be feeling right again and en forme. With any luck it will be hot and floaty.

My mum is quite the runner. In fact, she’s one of the keenest runners I’ve ever known. She has done the London Marathon twice. Apart from the endurance stuff, Mum is an eager participant in Park Run, a weekly shindig that takes place in a municipal park somewhere near you, every Saturday, rain or shine. The first one was in Bushy Park or Wimbledon in about 2007 or thereabouts. The Leeds event followed not long after. I think my Mum has done about 86 Park Runs. She has all sorts of special singlets to recognise her achievements. Today she wanted to do the Ashton Court Park Run, so I thought it might be fun to go along, and maybe even jog around the course. I ignored the fact that I haven’t so much as even run away from a bully in the past 20 years, I mean, what’s the worst that might happen? We rode there and back, and I even took a shower afterwards. All of which comes perilously close to some kind of vile urban triathlon.  At the very least, it’s a duathlon, the sickly brother of the triathlon for people who can’t really swim (unlike triathlon, which is for those can’t swim, run or ride).

I don’t mind running, it’s quite a noble sport and has echoes with the solipsism of cycling, as well as the social aspects of club life. It’s also a remarkably cheap sport. I like the Park Run; it’s free to all. The volunteers record the results and do all of the hard graft – often it’s university students and local clubs. They crunch the stats and provide lots of information. Park Run is also really democratic. it’s a Saturday morning blast round a park and welcomes absolutely all abilities. There were people with dogs and babies in strollers. In some ways it’s not dissimilar to a sportive; it’s a mass participation event with the emphasis on getting round and self-improvement. It doesn’t have a precipitous line between success and failure, unlike a road race or hill climb. I can see why this appeals to people. There is also no real equipment anxiety. if you have a set of trainers, shorts and a t shirt, you can run. not only that, it’s unlikely to really impede your progress. For an investment of about £100 you can probably take part in much more comfort. £100 in bike terms might get you a new bottle cage.

Despite all of this, I have one caveat. Running is unbearably hard. The course at Ashton Court is uphill for 2.5km and then straight back down for 2.5km. i was fine with the uphill bit, the downhill near enough killed me. My muscles were being torn apart with each heavy step on the tarmac; the feeling of pain on impact was unable to ignore. I got passed by about 7 people on the way back down. That was fine, my biggest fear was picking up a vanity injury that scuppered the next 3-6 months of bike racing. I backed off a little bit and tried to relax, without much success. For the rest of the day my tendons and ligaments felt taut and stretched. It’s not pleasant.

the loneliness of the short distance cyclist-turned-runner

I have no idea what constitutes a good time on this 5km circuit. I do know it was windy as chuff all the way out and the tailwind down the hill made things worse. I also know that I have the anaerobic capacity to run all day, but not the muscular capacity. I managed 20.39 and came 14th out of about 250 or something silly. If I’d been able to run downhill like I ran uphill then I might have bagged a top 7 place. I enjoyed it. My Mum did a 29.30 or thereabouts. She is a running machine.

I think I may go back and do another Park Run one day. Maybe when my injuries have healed. Currently I can’t even walk up the stairs; it’s disgusting.

A chaos of hard clay

Ashton Court is an old mansion estate on the edge of Bristol. It’s home to various things throughout the year, including the photogenic balloon festival and a large herd of small deer. It’s also been adopted by the local mountain bike community and there are several carefully constructed trails in the woods. I’ve done my best to ignore this aspect of the cycling world for about 36 years, but lately have been surreptitiously dipping a toe into the filthy primordial pondwater of mountain biking. I have assembled a bike for the carrying of the small person; it just so happens that it’s a retrotastic steel framed Orange P7 mountain bike and perfect for riding the sturdy and fast Nova trail in Ashton Court. Penelope has been taking a keen interest in all things cycling and is eagerly tracking the developments in the spring classics.

Well Dad, Boonen might be on the front at Driedaagse Van West-Vlaanderen but i’d wager he hasn’t got the form for a concerted and successful campaign. More milk please.

I’ve been over to Ashton Court twice this week to use it as my recovery ride. It’s a 4 mile circuit through the woods on a track built up and maintained by some ardent trail pixies. It has berms and banks and drops and all sorts of technical features. More importantly, it’s dry and free of the kind of slurry normally associated with this darkest and most vile of sports. I like it because it’s been deserted in the mornings and is a lively, technical ride requiring lots of decisions, a degree of focus but not too much out-and-out effort. It’s also a lot of fun. I learnt some interesting lessons: it’s best to let air out of tyres in order to go faster and gain a semblance of control. Not quite sure how Tim Wilkey of Das Rad Klub fame managed a fixie 120psi loop; courage.

the view from the Nova trail this morning at 10am

Today and last week I didn’t see another soul. On my way out, however, i saw an endless stream of men of a certain age in rather large and expensive looking cars with their large and very expensive mountain bikes in the back. It’s a minor gripe, but these chaps should really be riding to the trails. I’m sure there are a few excuses, but it didn’t look good. I nearly always see people unloading their bikes from the boots of huge cars in Leigh Woods and Clifton. It seems anomalous and not in keeping with the reasons why many people cycle.

That aside, the Nova Trail is the perfect introduction to the disgusting ‘off-road’ realm and I’d recommend it as an ideal workout for those new to such dark pursuits.

Last Rides

Autumn Sweater

I went out on the hill climb weapon this morning for a last session prior to Sunday’s race. It involved several repetitions of short and steep hills in and around Bristol. I did Constitution Hill 3 times and Clifton Vale/Hensmans Hill 3 times.

I then rode through Ashton Court which was still and quiet in the damp autumnal weather. There were some scary looking stags making horrible and angry noises in some kind of lascivious deersex way.

Deer noise

I’m going to give the Rake the once over on Saturday, but that’s it until the race on Sunday… only 3 minutes left.

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