Monday 3 January 2022

Rapha Festive 500 resumé - a damp, grey vintage

This is the look of relief and satisfaction at finally completing the Rapha Festive 500 at the end of last year. It was a bit of a frustrating affair, with plans having to be amended and tinkered with along the way as weather conditions changed, and I also wanted to include other activities. 

Normally when I do the Rapha Festive I have a theme, and I focus 110% on bike riding. Last year the theme was around London Waterways. Previously I have done rail trails, parks and the spokes of a wheel.

This year, for once there was no theme. There had been a vague idea around "A Tale of Two Cities" - riding around London and then riding around Paris. But Emmanuel Macron decided to close the French borders to British people in attempt to protect the French from Covid - I'm not sure how well his cunning plan worked. In any case as the Covid Omicron variant had become extremely rampant all around Europe, I didn't feel keen to travel too far from home.

I decided I would do just "a tale of one city" - London. Also, I would not pass on the opportunity to do other activities or social activities during that week. It was going to be a case of being very organised about how I would fit in the 500k, or roughly 70km per day for eight days.

The main way to do it would be to allow flexibility on where I ride, which bike I use and potentially mixing in the commuting miles associated with when I do a non-cycling activiy. It would probably mean a less interesting Festive 500, but I was still sure I'd get in those all-important kilometres nevertheless.

My day 1 ride, on Christmas Eve was all about getting in a good slice of mileage. It's always good to get in a healthy number of kilometres on the first. Psychologically it puts you on a positive footing. My ride was to Box Hill - why not start with somewhere well-known and with a feelgood factor. Maybe I'd even doo two or three circuits of the famous ZigZag.

In fact during the ride I realised I had become a bit overambitious with my goal. My route to the Surrey Hills had involved going over a couple of hills South of Croydon and going over Farthing Down and Reigate first. But when I had only done about 20 miles I was already starting to look at my watch and I had that "Are we there yet?" feeling. My legs were also beginning to grumble and, while riding along the rolling road between Reigate and Dorking I wondered if I would even be able to do one ascension of the Zig Zag. I was already pooped. 

Mentally filing through my mental records of the bike training I had done, I realised that not only had I missed a good week of cycling, it had also been a good month since I'd ridden my bike anything longer than 25 miles! So here I was effectively reaching my limit. I was only able to ride up the Zig Zag once, and even that was more like a crawl up the 2km climb. By the time I got there cake shop was closed, and the place was deserted. So much for "the most popular hill in the South of England"! 

My ride back to South London was a sorry affair, where every little rise in the road hurt my legs and I really had to will myself along to keep turning the pedals. Instead of doing the planned 100km, I just about managed 65km. So I resigned myself to doing around that - each day and the odd 70 or 80km in order to get through the challenge.

Christmas Day was an equally challenging affair - made worse by the fact that I did the Park Run in Richmond Park that morning. During the 12-mile ride back home I stopped two or three times for a snack. My legs felt hollow.

I must say I was glad I didn't do the Tale of Two Cities Ride. One city was clearly more than enough for me.

Weatherwise, both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day had been pretty grey morose looking days, with a bit of drizzle thrown in. Boxing Day was pretty wet. I told myself I would just cycle around Hyde Park and Regents Park and go home. They seemed pretty doable rides and when the ride is just going into Central London I get a sense that it is quite doable - it's local, familiar. What could possibly go wrong. Things seemed to be going swimmingly, as I began to get used to the rain, when I felt a softening of the rear tyre indicating I had a puncture - damn!

Fortunately, it happened near the Serpentine Gallery, so I was able to find a mini shelter and change the inner tube. Unfortunately, my bike pump wasn't up to the job, and after straining every sinew in my body to pump up the tyres I think I still had only about 35PSI instead of the usual 100PSI that I run on. As it was Boxing Day there were no trains to get me home, so I did a slow, gentle ride home. I only managed 50km that day, but was determined to get in a big day for Day 4 as I was beginning to get my energy levels back - it's amazing what a bit of turkey can do for your legs, and your motivation.

Holy Moly, it was manic Monday and I only got as far as Vauxhall when pssst I got that sinking feeling. A puncture again! This time I wasn't going to take up time stopping at the side ofcth road to repair it, but instead got on a train back to Crystal Palace. Then to salvage the day, and before the rain turned heavy I got out my cyclocross bike and dìd a few laps of Cator Park, followed by a few laps of Dulwich Park. It was only 25 miles recorded, and a frustating few miles at that, but that's all part of the fun of the Festive 500.

From Tuesday onwards I resolved to use my cyclocross bike, given that the weather had made the roads grubby with débris and therefore prone to causing punctures when on a road bike. I felt a bit self-consciouson the bike as it was a swanky by my standards - A lovely pimped up Specialized Crux. On top of that, my race number for the London Cyclocross League needed to stay on my bike to the end of the season. So aside from the unease that I was potentially flattening the surface of the nobbly tyres, I also began to feel a sense of 'imposter syndrome'. I don't usually suffer from this, but those feelings were definitely real given that the bike was beyond my pootle pace! But I was ready to withstand those symptoms if it meant I could get through the challenge.

On one day I used my commuting cyclocross bike to clock up about 30 miles as I cycled to Sadlers Wells theatre to see The Nutcracker. That was the best day of the Festive 500 - not just because it's an entertaining way to spend the day over the Christmas period, but also because the sun actually shone.

If Wednesday was the most pleasant day, Thursday was the longest. Rather than leave London, I made my trip about exploring South and North London, including a visit to the other transmitter at Alexandra Palace. On that day I actually managed 100km and felt fine afterwards, and the weather was on my side, even if the day was a bit grey. You have to take what you can get at this time of year. 

For my final day normal service resumed with drizzle and rain. Thankfully I only needed to do 25 miles, so that came in the form of a whizz around my local South London neighbourhood - nothing special. With that, there were no photos to show. So the above picture is the only one that was worth taking - just the one to tick the box and give a nod to Rapha, the sponsors of the event. And I must say, the jacket was pretty warm and dry.

It was a relief to have done the 500 km. There was perhaps more to celebrate than just getting the distance. 2021, like 2020 was hit by the fall-out from coronavirus. So that had meant plans having twists and turns. This 500km had been a reflection of that. Therefore a willingness to adapt to the changing situation is a good skill to have and makes me feel reassured.

Here's hoping for a straightforward 2022.

Related posts

Why I like the Festive 500

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