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It's the wheezing mamils who are really pushing limits

As I snuck under the Metric Century Challenge February deadline on the last day possible, labouring hopelessly at no more than a brisk walking pace up the gentle hill from the seafront to my house after an agonizing 68-miler, it struck me that these are the rides that make the Challenge challenging.

It’s all very well popping out three times a week for casual tons, barely breaking into a sweat until 30 or 40 miles have been covered. We could all do that if we had the time. I certainly did two years ago when I was woefully, blissfully under-employed and fixated on training for a quick Lejog. Back then, rides shorter than 50 miles seemed hardly worth bothering with. The big challenge was finding enough new routes to keep the constant pedaling interesting. In May alone of that glorious year I clocked up 17 100km-plus rides. Seventeen!

But now I’m a stone and a half heavier, with perhaps four hours a week to devote to cycling if I’m lucky, thanks to new work responsibilities and – horror of horrors! – my first ever commute. Every day as my train goes over the Balcombe Viaduct I stare out of the window at the glorious Sussex countryside criss-crossed with the lanes I love so much and wish I was cycling along them, glancing up at the passing train.

Now my weekends are the only time I get to spend with my family. Every hour seems so precious; every moment spent idling so extravagant. All of a sudden I’m time-poor. And when the opportunities do arise, of course I take them like a shot – but there’s also an undercurrent of mild anxiety about how much this one’s going to hurt; how much fresh evidence I’ll gather this time to reinforce the inescapable truth of my sliding fitness.

It will change of course. Something will happen to shift the balance back again one day, sooner or later, and before you know it I’ll be moaning about not having enough work and taking long bike rides for granted again. The fitness will climb again; then I’ll start climbing again too, rather than avoiding the hills as I do now.

But for now I’ll take my comfort where I can. I’ll rejoice in the knowledge that I’ve not yet failed in the Metric Century Challenge, not since that March two years ago when I first discovered it. I’ll take a perverse pride in the pain involved in a 100k ride these days. I’ll do my best to ignore the effortless ease with which club riders overtake me.

And when I’m fit again I’ll remember how tough it feels now. When I pass pink-faced, sweat-drenched mamils labouring up gentle hills I will ruthlessly suppress any part of me that is tempted to feel superior, because I will know that what I’m doing is easy. They – we – are the ones who are really pushing limits.

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine (www.simpsonmagazine.cc). 

17 comments

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mad_scot_rider [581 posts] 4 years ago
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Quote:

Every day as my train goes over the Balcombe Viaduct I stare out of the window at the glorious Sussex countryside criss-crossed with the lanes I love so much and wish I was cycling along them, glancing up at the passing train.

So why aren't you? Even if the total distance is clearly un-cycleable, is there nowhere you can safely park a bike at a station near home and at least cycle the last 5, 10 or 15 miles?

Sorry - but this sounds like an exercise in self-pity - many "mamils" get their ass out there on a regular basis and just make the time to cycle by slightly re-arranging their day to fit it in - and we'd all love to see more doing so.

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Martin Thomas [381 posts] 4 years ago
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Self-pity? Hmmm. I obviously didn't write this very well because I'm definitely not feeling sorry for myself. In fact I'm rather chuffed to be earning decent money for a change. I'll admit to a bit of regret about not getting out more on the bike, perhaps, but there's definitely no self-pity here.

Your bike-train-bike idea doesn't really work for me (I'd miss seeing my kids in the evening, don't want to risk having my bike nicked etc etc) but don't you go worrying too much because I'm getting my 'ass' to the gym a couple of times a week and once the evenings get lighter I'll be back on the bike as often as I can.

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mad_scot_rider [581 posts] 4 years ago
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Nice

I see a number of friends/family who *really* need to get some more exercise time making excuses and it slightly annoys as I have to just think "then make it happen"

And yeah - once you've got a commute going on you're definitely missing time with the kids already - especially young ones with an earlier bed-time

Hope you get more miles in over the Spring/Summer then

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pj [147 posts] 4 years ago
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I like this post. The level of suffering is generally the same. If you ride faster you suffer for less time, but that's about it. The hardest rides, mentally and physically, are always the ones when I don't have the legs. Thankfully its only when I'm tired. If I didn't have the legs all the time I'd be in a dark place.

Nb I tend to not ride much further than 25 miles at a time, so there's hope for you yet in your time-starved world.

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therevokid [953 posts] 4 years ago
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+1 kindred spirit time, especially the "avoiding hills" bit  1

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fennesz [139 posts] 4 years ago
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In the last 5 months, I've gone from being a French club rider (3x90-100km week) to getting out once a week, if the weather isn't to sh*t & I'm not too badly hungover. I remember when I could pull the pack, maintain 35kmph for long stints and climb hills. Oh well. I'll enjoy the memories... and yes, I'm full of self-pity.

Great article.

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workhard [397 posts] 4 years ago
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I'm a smug git on the upside of the pendulum swing. The trick is to get a job in cycle commuting distance of home.

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notfastenough [3709 posts] 4 years ago
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@Martin - I've been using winter gym time to attend spinning classes - they have definitely helped my fitness on the bike. There are also many weight training/core strength exercises that are appropriate for improving bike fitness.

Clearly there's nothing quite as good as simply putting the miles in, but still...

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Martin Thomas [381 posts] 4 years ago
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Thanks notfastenough, I actually did my first spin class a week or two back and loved it. Very intense! Need to get a bit more focused in the gym, specially on the core strengthening stuff. I agree, it's not the same, but as you say, still...

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mad_scot_rider [581 posts] 4 years ago
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workhard wrote:

I'm a smug git on the upside of the pendulum swing. The trick is to get a job in cycle commuting distance of home.

Yeah - probably describes me too - I commute a bit over 125 miles a week on some pretty hilly Scottish roads ...*smug git* is a good description

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OldnSlo [135 posts] 4 years ago
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Another alternative is a turbo trainer with either a spinervals
dvd or use the turbo workouts from steve trews triathlon training
guide or some other such tombe. This combined with a hrm and
cadence computer should keep anybody honest. Being time
crunched is a bitch but learning to juggle helps  3

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davebinks [152 posts] 4 years ago
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"As I snuck under..." PLEASE - it's "As I sneaked under..."

No such word as "snuck".

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Martin Thomas [381 posts] 4 years ago
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My Shorter Oxford English Dictionary disagrees with you.

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jugster [40 posts] 4 years ago
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Where is the 'like' button? Fab piece (IMHO).  1

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Martin Thomas [381 posts] 4 years ago
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How kind  1 thanks jugster

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mrpt5 [63 posts] 4 years ago
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Stick at it.

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ianj [20 posts] 4 years ago
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There is always the good old turbo which you can do at home in the hallway perhaps ? When my kids were young i used to get up at the crack of dawn and get the miles in then. By the time i came home everyone was just getting up. Tough to get up early on the weekend i know but i just used to go to bed earlier !!!