This past bank holiday weekend I rode the ‘Tour of Wessex’ with a few friends. Essentially a three-day cycling indulgence covering 340 hilly miles, followed by barbecue, beer and camping in tents each evening. Day 1 was a romp across Somerset and Wiltshire taking in many of the roads I ride regularly. Differing fitness levels dictated that our group split into pairs and I rode every day with Mike, each of us taking it in turns to fight the wind and spur each other on.
Day 2 was a race to the South Coast and back. A whacking 120 miles that was thankfully the day of least climbing at ‘just’ 2000 metres. We managed to find a group of similar ability and rode in a pack of 12 for 20 miles maintaining an average speed above 20mph with seemingly minimal effort. Then the hills arrived and the group imploded, never to be seen again. However we still made it back to base camp having maintained a very healthy average speed of 19mph for the day. That evening we went out for a few beers in town before stopping for takeaway where we got chatting to two motor-bikers who told us they’d earned their dinner with a hard day in the saddle covering 100 miles. The look on their faces when we said we’d just cycled 120 miles was priceless.
However, after two great days of riding, Day 3 was unfortunately a day of slow torture. 110 miles of killer hills – 3000 metres of climbing in total, going up and down Exmoor several times in horrendous winds. I started the day with a bit of a hangover, the legs then refused to comply, we suffered a couple of punctures and then a niggly injury appeared giving me persistent grief. The result was that we set off at a pace I couldn’t really handle and I was left hanging on for the whole day. Walking a never-ending tightrope between wanting to quit and forcing myself to carry on. It was a day of pure suffering and completing the route was as much a mental as a physical challenge. It’s at times like these that you understand the toughness of endurance sports. I swear that a couple of times I was close to crying on climbs, but then suddenly you find yourself laughing at your own stupidity before gritting your teeth and pushing on.
In the end I relied on my mate to pull me around for most of the day and tried not to whinge too much. Back at base camp I just chucked everything in the boot of the car and headed straight home, calling my wife en-route to run me the hot bath I’d been fantasising about for the previous seven hours. Sinking into the hot bubbles was ecstasy. The sort of feeling that is only be experienced as a consequence of coming after such prolonged unpleasantness.
In hindsight I probably should have just ridden two of the days. Three days at my hardest pace was definitely a step too far. However, it’s only by pushing ourselves that we discover our abilities and our limits.