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Back in the saddle.

Date: Sunday 15th February 2015
Distance: 106.8km | Elevation: 992m
Destinations: New Cross — Richmond Park — Brockley — Bromley — New Cross

Start kms: 184.4km | Finish kms: 291.2km | % complete: 2.9%

As I mentioned, the Festive 500 took its toll on my legs a little.

Prolonged cycling over 6 days, coupled with riding a bike that wasn’t set-up for me, highlighted and compounded 26 years of neglecting to stretch beyond the odd tokenistic toe-touch.

The result was a a severe limp coupled with a sharp, constant pain across my knee and the remedy was (and continues to be) weekly physio sessions. Surprisingly, the problem area is not the knee itself, but an enormous build-up of tension and knots in my thighs.

I subsequently doubled-down on stretching for the whole of January, focusing primarily on the problem areas. In doing so, I quickly gained my greatest ally and worst enemy in the recovery process: a rock-solid hockey ball that I spend upwards of 30 minutes a day rolling my thighs back and forth on, sadistically seeking pressure points and knots that I consciously (although not pleasurably) choose to anger.

It brought fourth pain, excessive swearing and the odd tear, but it also quickly brought permission to get back on the bike and see how it felt. My 17km round-commute was a prefect distance for stress testing over the course of a week and the results were positive overall.

I was nowhere near 100% — there would certainly be no sprint finishes or hill attacks — but I could certainly start to comfortably take down some kilometres.

With 184km absorbed, I arranged for my first decent-distance ride. Accompanied for part of it by a friend, Luke, we started by venturing out to Richmond Park for a couple of laps. That meant mostly flat roads (albeit with a bit of traffic for the first 15-20km) and a couple of manageable hills.

It felt good to be outside again.

We rolled along, we caught up with one another. We talked about plans for the year(s) ahead. We absorbed the countryside oasis of the park that made us feel as though we were somewhere in middle-England, rather than a couple of minutes from the A3. We also questioned the effectiveness of the parks annual deer cull — there were droves and droves of them, but we weren’t complaining.

By the second lap, I was beginning to salivate at the sight of the deer, which suggested I was probably starting to get hungry. Parting ways with Luke in Streatham, I made a b-line for Browns of Brockley, a fantastic cafe that’s painfully close to home.

However, I’d forgotten my keys, my fiancee wasn’t home and, even after stringing out two cappuccinos and a bagel for the best part of an hour, there looked to be no immediate way of gaining access.

Onwards, then.

With no one else with me, I was less worried about being direct in my route and I meandered up to Honor Oak, into Forrest Hill and around Crystal Palace. They’re all great locations for some short, sharp hill climbs that don’t require a visit out to Kent or Surrey.

It was whilst tackling one of these hills on my way up towards Crystal Palace that I spotted a sign towards Bromley. I have a couple of friends that live out that way, so on a whim I decided I’d see if I could find my way to their house from where I was to say hello (and probably pilfer a cup of tea).

One of the many beauties of cycling is that you can make snap decisions like this, but can just as easily do an about-turn the moment you realise your original idea was ridiculous.

I found it and was suitably smug and my face emitted the fact as I knocked on the door once. Twice. Thrice.  

No answer.

No tea.

No matter.

It was time to head home, though, and I tried to do that in the most direct and efficient way possible. However, my sense of direction can be somewhat unreliable and there was definitely something about the roads around Forest Hill that was toying with it. That meant I kept heading back towards Crystal Palace (and the hills that come with it) rather than New Cross. Caught in a one-way-system-style loop, I probably did a few kilometres more than I needed or wanted to before finally making it home.

But I’d broken the 100km mark for the first time in 2015 and it felt great. Add to that a little less than 1,000m of climbing and I was ready for the next milestone.

First, though, the hockey ball…