Bejaysus but I nearly fell at the first hurdle in this year's Metric Century Challenge. Today was the last day I could realistically expect to finish a 100k ride in November but when I woke at 7am it was dark, windy and raining. I was feeling slightly hungover, still full of last night's curry, and not quite sure if I was quite over my recent illness (sore throat, no energy, bit shivery).
If it hadn't been for the MCC I would almost certainly have knocked the idea on the head. This would have extended my slack-arsed period into its third week. Who knows how that would have affected things? With nothing to train for at the moment, it would have been so easy just to let it slide for a little longer. Then the Christmas period would have snuck up on me. Then I might have been put off by January's bad weather. Meanwhile my fitness would have been fading faster and faster, making it just that little bit harder to get out there and put some miles in...
It may sound a bit melodramatic, but I honestly believe that lives change on such small decisions - especially for people of my age (47). It's so easy to let the demons of inactivity creep in and take over. It gets harder and harder to regain fitness, so why not just give yourself a break and kick back a little? Before you know it you're 60, fat and beyond redemption.
So yes, I was pleased to get out today. After an inauspicious start, ploughing into some really quite unpleasant wind and rain along the coast to Shoreham, I turned inland and took the country lanes to Steyning. The sun came out just as I was passing Lancing College, and the Downs cut off the wind. Suddenly I was smiling.
The smile was still there as I reached the beautifully dappled autumnal twists of Spithandle Lane, which was followed by a big horseshoe loop through Ashington, Thakeham and Storrington, before shadowing the undulating Downs west to Amberley. Over the bridge to slog up the hill out of Houghton and then down that gorgeous descent to Arundel. Dodging the lunatics on the A27 I headed towards Ford and Climping (I've always loved the Ford Climping signpost - it sounds like the star of a 1950s b-movie).
After a ludicrously long pause at the level crossing (why-oh-why do they close the gates when the train is still 10 minutes away?) I passed Ford Open Prison, where the white collar crims serve their time, then crossed the A259 and took the backroads into Littlehampton.
From here on it was a breeze thanks to that strong westerly at my back. My average crept up as I hammered through Littlehampton, along the Worthing Road into Goring and then Worthing itself. Then it was back to the coast road for the sprint home through Lancing, Shoreham and Port Slade (well, I say 'sprint' - given the strength of the wind at my back I should probably have been in the high 20s all the way. But I wasn't).
I was still a bit short of the magic ton when I passed my turning on Hove seafront, so I went down to the Marina and back to make up the distance. Just before I turned to come back into the wind I overtook a fellow MAMIL, who spotted my Enigma and turned to his riding companion to say in awed tones: "Now there's a bike." I wonder if, one of these days, someone might spot me going by and say: "Now there's a cyclist".