One of my biggest achievements last year was the completion of Rapha’s Festive 500 Challenge. On paper, it looks reasonably easy to cycle 500kms in the 8 days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. But the reality of completing a 40 mile ride every day in all weathers with all the distractions of the holiday period is anything but simple. But those hard miles stood me well come the Spring and I’m keen to repeat the feat this week.
I’d arranged the first ride with Rob on Christmas Eve. It was a beautiful, mild winter’s day and I was hoping for a good distance. And it did indeed turn out to be a record-breaking ride. This was the heaviest I’ve ever been on a road bike (15st 2lbs). It turned out to be the slowest average ever (18.8kph), and my highest average heart rate (148bpm). I suffered like a dog. Useless.
Rob is a fair bit fitter than me and was keen to show me a new route, which in his words was ‘pleasant enough, not too much of a climb, just a bit of a clip, really’. I should have taken heed of the bad omen when we saw a young calf chasing herding sheep in a field near llandwrog. Such irregularities of nature are harbingers of the apocalypse.
The route took us ‘over the tops’ (the catch-all term for any high ground in north Wales) from Glynllifon down to Cricieth. The vista was spectacular as the traffic-free lanes and roads opened out with Snowdonia to our left and Yr Eifals to the right cascading down to Tremadog Bay. We plummetted down to Cricieth in vain search of a cafe.
I was already struggling, and slight inclines felt like mountains. The Dolan is heavy, but it would be churlish to blame the bike when I’m weighing in at over 15 stone. By the time we got to Tremadoc, I was dreading the hills of Snowdonia and considering a pootle home along the flat Lon Eifion cycle path. ‘You usually eat hills like this’, encouraged Rob. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hills that I’d been eating this Winter. I huffed my way through Beddgelert with creaking joints.
I crawled home after 5 hours riding with only 93km under my belt. I’d averaged less that 19kmh. My legs were in bits, and Strava considered the ride to be ‘epic’.
Christmas Day turned out lovely too, but I wasn’t able to get on the road until about 1.30pm. Still, I managed a quick 90 minutes spin, and sneaked in a bonus extra 20 miles along the Foryd, a beautiful quiet bird sanctuary along the coast from Caernarfon Castle. My legs were still hurting and I spent twenty minutes sitting in a cold bath while listening to a podcast which examined the mindset of elite cyclists. i felt very elite sat on my fat arse in that bath with a yellow base layer clinging seductively across my expanding belly.
Boxing Day was horrible. It started off badly when the scaled showed a new record of 15st 6lbs. Honestly, that’s really heavy to be riding a road bike. I can rarely get out of the grannie ring on my triple chainsetted winter machine. I move like an old rusty tugboat. The day itself was gloomy, dark and glowering.
In Welsh, we sometimes say this sort of weather is ‘ugly’, or ‘spiteful’. Our word for that is ‘hyll’ and when you say it, by putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth and blowing from the back of your throat, you sound like an angry cat. This was angry cat weather. In weather like this, I always aim for the Lon Las and Lon Eifion cycle tracks from Caernarfon to Penygroes and south to Bryncir.
The wind was south-Easterly, which is a real novelty in our area. The effect of this was that when I reached Penygroes, I noticed with amusement that the icy rain was now lashing fiercely onto my left cheek when ordinarily, it would be driven painfully onto the right, westerly side of my face. It was about this time that I approached the seventh set of couples taking boxing day strolls with their beloved pets. Six of them had seen me coming and grabbed their dogs collar, for which I offered a smile and a hearty ‘Diolch!’. The seventh, however, caught me at a bad moment.
The weather was at its worst, down to 1 degree centrigrade and the icy, horizontal rain was attacking me pitilessly as I rode into the wind. I saw the happy couple approaching on the shared use cycle path with three lolloping hounds. Every cyclist will know the drill – a dog approaches, and you look him right in the eye. One quick move and he is coming for you and you could be on your arse with irksome injuries for your trouble.
So my eyes didn’t leave this big furry dark-eyed beast as he made his way towards me. And when his owner grabbed his tail to stop him coming closer, I kept my eyes fixed firmly on the animal as I crept past. That’s when I heard the sarcastic comment – the heavy ‘thank you’ from the dogs’ owner. Well I’m sorry I didn’t stop to thank you for not allowing your hound to butcher me, but I was a bit pre-occupied.
During the week after the tragic death of Rhodri Hughes-Jones, an unknown activist travelled the cycle paths of Gwynedd, painting warning notices in advance of bollards left dangerously in the middle of several cycle paths in the area. If you look at the photo below, you can see one of these warnings sprayed onto the path where a collapsed bollard has been left dangerously horizontal in the middle of the path near Groeslon.
I don’t often turn back in the middle of a ride but this was very nasty weather, really ‘hyll’. I cut short my ride and got home after 2 1/2 hours with only another 45km towards my 500km target. That leaves me 5 more days to complete another 330km. It’s possible, if I can just avoid the cold, the wind, the rain, the hangovers, and the dogs. The real question, is whether or not I can be arsed.