So I guess I’m pretty much either going to have to get into shape or just die. You guys have consigned me to taking part in a marathon in 2018 to complete my athletics challenge. I will give a bit of thought as to which marathon I enter and also which cause I will try to support when doing it.
Speaking of tests of endurance and supporting a good cause leads me to my most immediate sporting challenge. This one doesn’t really belong to me and, thankfully, I will be part of a team whilst doing it. A group of us have signed up to riding from the west coast of England to the east coast in two days. This means cycling over 100k each day, from the Lake District to Masham and then to Whitby on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast on the following day.
“Why would anyone want to do this to themselves?” I hear you ask. In fact, I think that may have been my subconscious that I could hear asking. Or my legs. Well, actually it turns out quite a lot of people do, especially since the cycling revolution began here in the wake of global success at the highest level for Team GB and Team Sky, and increased investment in the infrastructure. Since the official C2C route was developed by Sustrans and opened in 1994 more and more cyclists have been completing the route, currently between 12,000 and 15,000 per year, and you only have to venture out of your front door on a weekend to find lycra-clad, helmet-headed Wiggins-wannabes making use of the cycle lanes that disrupted your commute for a year to put into place.
Now I am one of those people. And it feels pretty damn good. Or at least it does when you get into full flow. I hadn’t ridden a bike in earnest since I was 17 years old, riding my old Apollo up to Darwen Tower and back down again, amazingly not breaking any bones on the descent through the trees. It turns out that there has been certain advancements in cycling technology, especially if you intend to ride your bike a long way. The proper road cyclist uses “cleats” and “cycling shoes” and all manner of gadgets and gizmos to get from a b, usually via c,d and the rest of the alphabet. In all honesty, this can make it a prohibitive sport to get into, and certainly not one worth “dabbling” in if you are going to buy all of the necessary equipment yourself. It’s also not that easy to get started, as I discovered on training run #1…
Training Run #1 (or as I like to call it: The Cannonball Run)
I had a bike borrowed from a friend of a friend. I had bought cleats and shoes recommended by the (former) office cycling geek. I had them all sitting there for a good couple of weeks. There was always a convenient excuse, “Oh, I haven’t got a helmet”, “Oh, it has started to rain”, “Oh, there’s a baby that needs a nappy change”, you know, something important like that.
Finally though, the day before I was due to see both “the friend” and “the friend of a friend” who had donated the much vaunted carbon-framed bicycle to my cause, at a wedding, I thought I had to get out and try this cycling lark.
So obviously I went to go and put these cleats on the pedals. Only to find that they wouldn’t stay on there. A quick Google of “how do cleats…” soon informed me that actually they tend to screw onto your shoes. Ok. Excellent. Where’s my allen key?
Cleats attached I then put on my brand, spanking new WHITE cycling shoes. Size 44. A size which I believe I must have passed when I was 14 years old because man those shoes were tight. Note to self, always double check European sizing when buying shoes online.
Never mind. Shoes on, cleats on. Not easy to walk but fine. Get outside, it starts bloody raining. But I had already used that excuse once so on I go.
Now, people had told me, it’s difficult to get used to cycling in cleats. You WILL fall off. But how hard could it be? Well. I hadn’t done any preparation, including, but limited to, not adjusting the height of the seat (that would bite me in the ass later, literally) or working out how to clip in or out of the pedals. So I leaned against my car, then the wall, then a lamp-post trying to get my other foot in once I realised that you simply cannot pedal in cleats without being trapped in!
Once cycling I realised I didn’t know how the gears worked on the bike. My old Apollo had a handy little circle thing with an arrow that you clicked and it moved from 3 to 4. Here I was confronted with drop handlebars and brakes that I could squeeze but nothing else that I could see to click. So my cadence was impressively high along the flat main road running past Preston Park, but I was going nowhere fast. I had to stop.
Stopping was of course the biggest issue, not that I couldn’t stop, I just didn’t want to as this meant trying to get my feet out of these man made traps that I had volunteered them into. So, going about as fast as an elderly tortoise with a particularly debilitating hernia, I began to gently shake my right foot to break the hold that these pedals had on me. It didn’t work. Neither did shaking it more violently. Only the most most violent of twisting and shouting eventually did the trick, so I went straight in at violence for the left foot and eventually ran into a lamp-post to hold on for dear life to finally get the job done.
It was at this stage that I discovered there was a flicky switchy thing just next to my brake lever thing. This, it turns out, you just need to flick to change gear! Excellent. So I go on my merry way again, trying to avoid the nasty cars that may at any moment kill me. I’m in my high gear, cruising around the streets like Lance Armstrong post-blood transfusion, when I encounter a small, but steep, hill.
No problem, I think, I’ll just flick the lever the other way to switch down gears. It doesn’t move the other way. Balls.
For a good two minutes this beautiful two-wheeled chariot was making noises that hadn’t been heard since Forrest Gump started running out of his leg braces. The clicks and snaps as I attempted to power up this incline in a completely inappropriate gear were disturbing babies trying to get to sleep in Middlesbrough.
Turns out, as I discovered from Pete (the owner of the bike) the following day at the wedding, you need to move the whole brake lever to change down. Oh well. Now I know.
I still couldn’t get off the thing when I got home. Again using my tortoise speed I crawled up to the back gate, but for the first time ever in the two and a half years I have lived in Eaglescliffe there was someone right behind me as I was trying to get home via the back alley. I can only imagine the amusement of the driver watching this “cyclist” attempt to get off his bike using violence but clearly being unable to steer effectively at the same time.
I just went round the block again to avoid the embarrassment of stacking it. Acted all natural as if that’s what I had meant to do anyway, but I don’t think I got away with it.
The main thing
But to answer my above question, why would anyone do this to themselves? Well, in this case we have a very important cause to do it. There are a group of us, mainly non-cyclists like myself, trying to raise money for a wonderful charity called 4Louis, who supply memory boxes to hospitals to support bereaved parents. It’s not my place on my blog to discuss the reasons as to why this charity is so personal to us all, but please, please, please click on the following link, read Dom’s story, and if you feel as though you can give anything at all to our cause then we would be absolutely thrilled to receive any donation.
It would make all the effort worthwhile to know that we are helping other parents in their time of most need.