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Filtering by Tag: Bicycle

Hell of the Ashdown+.



Date: Saturday 27th June, 2015
Distance: 206.5km | Elevation: 2,661m
Start kms: 4,430.6km  | Finish kms: 4,537.1km | % complete: 42.7%

Destinations: New Cross – Knatts Valley – Turners Hill – Linfield – Ashdown Forest – Brasted – Crystal Palace – New Cross

I’m no endurance athlete. 

That’ll come as no surprise to anyone. 

However, my limited experience of doing any form of long-distance exercise is that there comes a point where the psychological endurance becomes as – if not more – important than physical fitness. 

With this in mind, and with the Rapha MCR-LDN ride now on the foreseeable horizon, it was about to take down a psychological milestone. 


Hendo and I formed a 2-man peleton for the day to take this on. My longest ride was sat at somewhere in the region of 180km. His was 160km. The route we’d planned for this was 206km. 

Speed was therefore absolutely not the key. Instead, it was simply a case of conquering the new distance and hopefully getting off at the other end without feeling as though we couldn’t possibly do any more. 

The foundation of our route was taken from the still fairly recently launched Strava Local, a great collection of cycling and running routes in and around some of the worlds major cities. However, with a full day at our disposal, we were able to add on an extra 70km or so by heading out a little further South East and taking in Knatts Valley for the third time in four weeks. 

Another habit we’d started a few months ago and were keen to keep up was covering more than 100km before the first rest stop. 

In the past, we’d generally taken our first break at the 50-60km mark, stopping for half an hour to take on some food and rest the legs. That makes sense when you’re calling it a day at 100km, but coming back to the psychological element in play over such distances, getting out of the saddle to rest less than a quarter of the way into a ride makes the whole thing feel a lot longer.

Now fully au fait with eating on the bike, we were able to pedal on through to 115km before dismounting for the first time. I can’t speak for Hendo, but after rolling through several towns that had nothing to offer in the way of eateries, I was incredibly happy to see the beckoning bench of a small deli in Lindfield. 

Over half the distance down and at our furthest point from home, post-lunch saw us making our way back up towards London though another new cycling realm: Ashdown Forest. A long and gentle incline would have made for more of a challenge were it not for the thrill of new surroundings and enjoyable scenery. 

The combination of the high, afternoon sun, the clear skies, the dry scrubland to the left and to the right of me, and the sheep and cows roaming the banks and roads came together to create the impression that we weren’t in East Sussex, but on a far-off Spanish island. 

We closed the first loop of our figure-of-eight route at just after 165km, joining already covered ground in Brasted. With minutes to spare, we were able to get our order in at Tarte, a cafe we’d ear-marked for the journey back. Operating on the principle that breakfast food is the best food, I chose granola with yoghurt and lemon curd to push me through the final 50km. 

And my god, I needed it. 

As I’ve mentioned before, our rest stops are always in fairly well-populated towns or villages. Towns and villages tend to be located close to water. These are, in turn, generally in a basin or valley. Consequently, more often than not, the first thing we’re faced with is a hill. 

In this case, that hill was not only present, but almost named correctly: Brasted Hill. 

More Bastard than Brasted, I was immediately calling on my granola to fuel me up as the gradient became steeper and steeper and I churned through gears until I had none left. Snaking from one side of the road to another and doing my best to stop my heart beating out of my chest and up to the top of the hill before me, I felt sorry for the car crawling up the hill behind me.

But not enough to even consider the possibility of stopping to let it past. That would have required energy I had no ability to draw upon at that point. 

Looking to learn as much as we could from ‘the longest ride to-date’, the greatest lesson came in the final stretch of the day: the need to communicate constantly. If there’s a car down, a pothole ahead, glass on the road, an obstacle in the road, it needs to be vocalised to everyone as audibly and obviously as possible. 

The first time this became apparent was on the final (relatively small) climb of the day, which took us up to Crystal Palace. Tired, sun-beaten and a little jaded, concentration was beginning to lapse. As Hendo and I approached a red light, he slipped from his pedal  and swerved into the back of a BMW. I heard the thud and crunch of something breaking and quickly turned around expecting to see him lying on the floor. 

What had actually happened was that he’d managed to accidentally force his handlebar through the brake light of the car, leaving it smashed. The driver was incredibly patient and understanding about the incident as the two swapped details to settle reimbursement. 

The next incident was a far closer call on the descent into East Dulwich. As we coasted past Dulwich Park, I swerved to my left to avoid a traffic barricade that sat across the road. 

Hendo saw me swerve. 

He then wondered why it was I had swerved. 

As he pondered this for almost too long, he made the final decision to follow suit, moments – metres – from clothes-lining himself from his saddle and likely a few broken ribs. 

Needless to say our final few kilometres – with the promise of a cold can of Irn-Bru and an even colder tub of Ben & Jerry’s awaiting – were filled with exaggerated hand signals and loud calls to guarantee we made it home to our indulgences. 

It was better to point out the obvious than for someone to fall victim to it. 

Lessons learnt, milestones surmounted and legs still capable of moving, the only major issue beyond weariness and its impact on reaction times was a sharp, burning sensation in the balls of our feet. 

The constant – and at times heavy – pressure being put through this specific point over and over again made itself known in a very physical way for the final 50-60km. 

No doubt Google will hold many helpful (and yet more unhelpful) solutions. 



Up in the highlands.



Date: Wednesday 27th May, 2015
Distance: 46.3km | Elevation: 459m
Destinations: Gleneagles – Muthill – Gleneagles

Start kms: 3,337.3km | Finish kms: 3,383.6km | % complete: 33.8%

Mid-way into a 10-day UK road trip, Ashley and I spent 2 nights in Gleneagles Hotel, where it turns out it’s not only possible to while away your day in spas, restaurants, bars between golf and shooting sessions, but also to hire Condor bikes and explore the surrounding roads of Auchterader. 

Gleneagles being the Mecca of all things golf, I naturally chose to body-swerve the greens and fairways entirely in favour of some Scottish roads. 

With the help of a couple of Garmins pre-loaded with several routes, Ashley and I set out to explore Strowan Road and its surroundings. 

The roads were as quiet as you’d expect given the fact that they surrounded an idyllic retreat and the undulations were as present as you’d assume them to be in an area named The Highlands. 

What I had failed to anticipate was the considerable contrast in temperature compared to London. A month of committing to attire consisting of bib shorts and jersey-only meant that I’d turned up woefully unprepared. My true colours as a soft, southern twat were at risk of being exposed, made immediately obvious to anyone that might care to gaze longer than a couple of seconds on my goosebump-covered, purple/red-coloured arms and chattering teeth.

Ashley had already laid claim to the only vaguely suitable cycling jumper I had, so I strictly adhered to Rule #5.

The Condor Italia RC bikes we’d hired were by no means top of the range – and I suppose a £2,500 frameset, one of Condor’s higher-spec numbers, is an unreasonable expectation for a morning jaunt – but they were comfortable runners. 

This comfort was made all the better by the addition of bar-mounted Garmin cycle computers. Whilst I’ve benefitted from the navigational prowess of the Garmin Edge in the past, I’d never used one first-hand and I was entirely sold on the merits of using it over a mounted iPhone – battery life, size and clarity and three of numerous realms it trumps the latter. 

The Scottish scenery had put on the most ominous, looming, moody outfit it could find for the morning. The clouds hung dark, grey and heavy over the surrounding hills and valleys. The threat of rain was constant. 

With so little in the way of weather protection, I was living dangerously, but it made for some truly phenomenal views and superb panoramic shots. I was willing to risk being battered by the rain for both. 

Thankfully, it did manage to hold off for the majority of the ride, with increasingly frequent droplets welcoming us back to the hotel before an all-out downpour. 

That was our cue to hit the spa. 



Eating away at miles and cake.



Date: Saturday 4th March, 2015
Distance: 9.7km  | Elevation: 86m
Destinations: New Cross – East Dulwich – New Cross

Start kms: 1,915.4km | Finish kms: 1,925.1km | % complete: 19.3%

The ride doesn’t always have to be long and it doesn’t always have to be challenging. 

It just has to be fun. 

I’ve been meaning to try out a newly opened bakery in nearby East Dulwich, Brickhouse, since it first opened. Mildly hungover and feeling somewhat lethargic, today felt like a good day to meander round with my fiancee, Ashley, and her sister Lauren. 

The space is well worth a visit in itself – a vast, open space that is filled tastefully and simply with long wooden tables and chairs and well-placed wild flowers. With the cavernous space comes the potential for it to feel cold or sterile, but any such risk is immediately removed by the friendly staff, the constant whirring of the espresso machine and the buzz of the bakery itself. All of their sourdough bread and other cakes and pastries are made in their on-sote bakery and difficult to choose between. 

I can, however, highly recommend the chocolate sourdough and the rhubarb and almond tart. 

As I say, it wasn’t far, but it helped to clear away the cobwebs. 




Tour de March: Day 2.

Date: Sunday 15th March, 2015
Distance: 162.9km | Elevation: 1,403m
Destinations: Milton — Lavenham — Blo Norton — Thundenhall — Norfolk 

Start kms: 1,197.0km | Finish kms: 1,359.9km  | % complete: 13.6%

It may have been the excessively indulgent dinner of the previous night. It might have been the beige breakfast of colourless sausage, chewy french roll and butter. It may have just been general tiredness. 

Whatever it was, the first 60km of the day were, without a doubt, the most difficult for me. 

As my legs went through their familiar orbits around my chain ring, I stared at the back wheel of Sams bike and wondered why the sandwich that the pub staff had kindly made for us the night before and stowed in an old cracker tub with some ice packs refused to move anywhere close to below my diaphragm.
Having just described the storage methods, though, perhaps I have finally answered my own question. 

Today was the day that 4 became 3, as Hendo would be heading home for some much-needed rest after a fortnight of 18-hour working days that hadn’t relented until the Friday before we were due to leave. The fact that he found the energy and enthusiasm to still be involved, let alone hammer through the routes with ease, is beyond me. 

Before his departure, there were some serious flat and open roads for us to enjoy. Whilst we were headed directly into the wind blowing in from the east coast, we were also remaining dry — something none of us, and Gorrod in particular, expected to happen. You see, all of us get excited in the run-up to a ride like this and each of us expresses his excitement (or, more accurately, over-exictement) in different ways. I’ll take too may photos of my prep and throughout the ride. Sam, it would seem, bulk buys CLIF bars and aims to bring as many as he can with him. Hendo will remain level-headed, but the text messages will come through at a faster pace and in greater volumes than they would on a regular weekday, generally containing more exclamation marks than they would otherwise.

Meanwhile, Gorrod becomes our self-appointed weatherman. Providing daily updates, he not only gives us a current status, but how that has changed since the last time he checked (along with a screenshot of a grey cloud icon spitting our ominous drops of rain). For this ride, it was only getting worse the closer it came and, in some deeply sadistic way, he seemed to like that. I suppose that, in his defence, it did mean that we packed accordingly.

We’d never admit that to him prior to the event, though. It would only encourage him. 

Back on the road, as the chaps stopped to de-layer, I plodded on ahead, turning a sharp bend that took me into a fast-paced descent of a hill. As I began to climb my way out of this mini trough, Gorrod sprinted up alongside me to break the news that this wasn’t the right way — we were supposed to have taken a turn at the top of the hill. 

It’s only when you find yourself climbing an unnecessary hill that you realise you’ve been taking your route guides — Gorrod and his Garmin — for granted and how good a job they do on getting you from point to point. That said, it didn’t stop me cursing him under my breath as I continued to taste the grey, suspicious sausage from earlier that morning. 

As Hendo continued on to get the train back to London, we sat down for a restorative cup of coffee at The Lavenham Greyhound.

And then another. 

It’s amazing what a couple of cappuccinos can do. As we put our helmets back on and our feet back into our pedals, I felt comparatively unstoppable — that is until the effects of drinking somewhere in the region of a pint of warm, frothy milk kicked in.

Not that it mattered. By then, we’d formed a 3-man chain gang and were powering through the headwind, leaving Cambridgeshire well behind us. 

As I was sat between Gorrod and Sam, I felt good and capable of taking on the days 100-mile route. There are many benefits of finding yourself in the middle of a peloton (even if it is only made up of 3 people). There’s the decreased wind resistance, the reduced energy required to maintain a higher speed and the lack of responsibility for directing the group.

However, it also comes with some inherent risks. There’s a chance you could lose concentration for a moment and find yourself brushing wheels with the bike in front before meeting the tarmac quickly after. There’s also the possibility you pay for the mistake of the person in front as they break to hard or swerve too late. 

But there is a risk that is far, far greater. It involves the habit that is prevalent amongst numerous cyclists known as snot rocketing. As disgusting as the name might suggest, it involves the removal of nasal mucus build-up (i.e. bogies) from the nostril through an aggressive exhalation and the strategic placement of an index finger. Whilst I choose not to partake, the same cannot be said to Gorrod.

As still-warm beads of his snot hit me square in the face, I informed him his technique required practice and lacked basic etiquette (although those may not have been the exact words I used). 

Continually wiping at my face, knowing full well it wouldn’t be properly clean until I’d bathed it in scalding hot water, we stopped for some much-needed lunch. Whilst The Dutch Barn sounds like a questionable club somewhere in the middle of Amsterdams red light district, it is in fact a garden centre in the middle of nowhere that has a cafe attached. As well as a purveyor of warm toasties and cake, it also boasts one of the more bizarre selection of clientele I’ve come into contact with recently. 

We watched with morbid fascination as a father and son sat silently at a table. They stared at it until their drinks were placed in front of them, at which point they started staring at those. Their silence was broken by only two things. The first was the sound of the elder of the two stirring his tea so aggressively that the tea spoon bounced loudly from one side of the porcelain cup to the other. The second was a request for the bill. 

It was a bleak thing to observe, but watching Gorrods reaction as the last slice of his desired cake being ordered by someone else helped take the edge of. So did watching him eat his second-rate option. 


As we ventured further into deepest, darkest Norfolk, where every which way you turned it felt as though you were looking at a Turner painting (one of his moodier-skied ones), I did something I rarely do unless climbing a hill: I slipped out of my chains big ring. I didn’t look back for the rest of the day (or for the rest of the trip, for that matter). 

Our plan was to take one more stop before Norwich, in the superbly named Thundenhall. Upon getting there though, we decided to power on through to the finish — partly because it was nowhere near being the Bond villain-type lair of a town we imagine it to be, but partly because we were all still feeling half-decent. 

Waiting at the end of what is my furthest ride to-date were a cold Adnams beer, an egg custard and an Indian takeaway menu. Same grandparents had really delivered and these spoils lasted little to no time whatsoever (excluding the takeaway menu. Here, I practiced a level of self control and chose not to consume it). 

After what was not just a reviving, but a life-affirming shower and donning what was either Sams mum or dads rather fetching fleece, I was ready to forget everything I’d learnt the previous evening and eat far too much food. Through the enabling of Sam — who not was not only kind enough to drive us all to pick up our dinner, but left some of his on his plate for Gorrod and I to divide between us — I felt the same stitch creeping up on me as I ploughed through what remained in the tub of Daim ice cream. 

The whisky digestif didn’t seem to help, either. 

Still, it was a solid and fantastic day of cycling and, overall, we all seemed in pretty good shape. 




Burning Holiday: Day 2.

Date: Thursday 5th March, 2015
Distance: 150.0 km | Elevation: 1,803m
Destinations: Virginia Water – Lingfield – Royal Tunbridge Wells – New Cross 

Start kms: 772.1km | Finish kms: 992.1km | % complete: 9.2% 

The second day saw an earlier start. 

On rides like this, I tend to like taking down a few kilometres before I stop for a proper meal. So, with a packet of nuts in my jersey pocket (just in case) I was on my way towards Royal Tunbridge Wells on another glorious day. 

It was a fairly flat, and therefore pleasant, start to the day. With a little more distance to cover than the previous day, I held back a little and stayed in a relatively light gear to warm the legs back up whilst ticking off the towns and villages I’d never heard of and would likely never pass through again: Horne, Newchapel, Lingfield, Dormansland. 

I was fairly quickly off the main roads and into back roads and green lanes. This made for a great and relaxing ride, not having to worry about hugging the side of the road to accommodate overtaking cars, being able to sit up in the saddle and take my hands off the handlebars for brief periods knowing I wouldn’t have to immediately and unexpectedly reach for my breaks. 

What it also meant, though, was that I was 60km in and still hadn’t eaten as I’d not passed anywhere that looked remotely open. I was getting hungry (something I don’t cope well with off the bike, let alone on it) and there was no feasible rest stop/purveyor of sustenance in sight. 

The nuts were broken into and very quickly decimated. 

Thankfully, not long after said decimation I spied what looked like an open cafe. Lou Lou Jane of Lingfield sorted me out with a restorative ham sandwich and hot cross bun. That did the job. 

One of my main concerns about this 2-day ride was doing this distance solo. I’d been out on rides on my own before, but they tended to be around 50km or 60km, which only equates to a few hours in the saddle. Even the ride from London to Virginia Water was only just over 4 and a half hours of moving time. Today, though, was circa 150km to get back home, so a solid 6 or so hours on the bike. Accounting for rest stops and I was looking at a full day. Whilst I don’t mind my own company, having nobody to bounce off or drive you forward at those more difficult times was a worry.

But with the weather on my side, I free-wheeled into Royal Turnbridge Wells feeling great and pulled up for a spot of launch at what was my favourite stop of the weekend. 

The Vélo House is a large, open space of a cafe and a visual ode I to the sport of cycling. The walls are adorned with signed jerseys and prints, the TV was showing historic races and the shelves were stocked with an exceptionally covetable range of helmets, kit and bikes. It was also pretty popular with mums and buggies, which was the first sign that, despite the focused theme of The Vélo House, it had mass appeal. 

One of the key reasons for that may well have been their macaroni cheese with sausage. That was phenomenal. 

Whilst I’d planned and checked my routes for both days, I’d only done so to ensure I was sticking to tarmac roads (whilst I don’t mind attending to a puncture, I don’t actively seek them out either). I hadn’t laboriously tracked elevation and route stats and, upon leaving Royal Tunbridge Wells, I was glad I hadn’t. It may have been my legs tiring, but it felt like all 1,800m on climbing for the day had been back-loaded onto the final 60km home — ignorance had certainly been bliss up to this point. 

Each and every time I took another hill down, another would rear its sheer, steep and ugly head. This happened what felt to be continuously all the way to Orpington. I’d find myself over the handlebars and allowing my wheels to spin unaided as I descended a hill, but was almost entirely unable to enjoy it. 

Instead, I gritted my teeth and winced expectantly at what was round the next bend. Sure enough, there it would be; another incline to suck the momentum from below my tyres, bring me from my saddle and force me to snake my way towards its top as I desperately attempted to take any level of gradient out of the climb. I’m not sure how many time this happened, but I do know there were 7 categorised climbs across the course of the day. 

I’m not sure how many times this has ever been said, but with my lunch well and truly evaporated and my body running on vapours, I was irrationally happy to find myself in Croydon.

It meant London. 

It meant flat. 

It meant less than 20km from home. 

I’d been hoping to break the 100 mile (160km) barrier, but as I drew closer to my road, I didn’t have it in me to push on past my house to finish off the extra 10km lap. I instead chose to settle for the 150km. 

Still, that was two Strava Challenges complete in as many days. It also saw me more than meet the weekly average (207km) I need to be hitting to stay on-track for 10,000km this year. 

And I now know where to take myself if I want to do a bit more hill training…




Burning Holiday: Day 1.

Date: Wednesday 4th March, 2015
Distance: 105.1km | Elevation: 1,047m
Destinations: New Cross – Box Hill – Reigate – Esher – Virginia Water

Start kms: 667km | Finish kms: 772.1km | % complete: 7.7%

As the end of my working year comes to an end, I’ve found myself with a few holidays left and little to do with them. Ashley, my fiancée, has long-used all of hers and my friends aren’t far from doing the same. Any form of long-distance travel was therefore off the cards unless I wanted to take it on solo (and I didn’t).

There was another option, though. 

Ashley often finds herself working a little outside of London for weeks at a time and we’ve long talked about the possibility of me heading out mid-week to visit. Unfortunately, dates and times have never quite aligned — until now.

With her based in Wentworth for a fortnight, I got to planning a 2-day route that would take me out of London and back and allow me to spend a bit more time with her. 

A quick aside on route planning. Whereas once it was an involved and time-consuming process involving physical maps, pencils and, potentially, some form of measuring device, it’s now a sinch. A few minutes with Google Maps, some choice destinations and a quick reccy via street view and all that’s left to do is attach my iPhone to my handlebars and I’m set.

In the past, defaulting to laps of Richmond or Regents Park took any major thought or and this kind of involved, time-consuming planning out of a ride – better the devil you know than the devil that leaves you stranded at the side of the road with a puncture with the day closing in and struggling with a hard-copy map in a headwind. Now, it’s easier than ever to just head out and see new places and explore new routes, safe in the knowledge you’ll make it where you’re going or back to where you started.

Setting out mid-morning on day one, my first rest stop was Reigate via the iconic Box Hill. 

Despite its legendary status amongst cyclists, I’ve only ever had two experiences with the eponymous climb. The first was part of a 110-mile sportive that 2 friends and I naively signed-up to 2 and a half years ago. Over-excited amateurs that we were, we opted for the epic route. 

In for a penny, in for a pound. 

What we failed to do was prepare in any way. Turning up on the day, one of us was on a hybrid commuter bike that was some good 4 inches too small for him and none of us had an inner tube or bike tool between us. Unsurprisingly, only one of us (yours truly) managed to make it through to the end — whether that’s incredibly lucky or woefully unfortunate depends on how well you’re able to drag yourself up a lot of testing hills solo. 

I thought it woefully unfortunate and that was without completing the full course. Box Hill eventually alluded me (or I it) as daylight disappeared and, from the train journey back to London onwards, I subsequently began thinking of it as an Everest-like summit that would likely destroy me were I ever likely to encounter it. 

And for the record, we’re still over-excited amateurs, but these days we’re ones that turn up somewhat prepared. 

My second visit involved descending it on the way to Eastleigh — definitely the easier direction to take on Box Hill if you’re planning a visit. 

On this basis, the climb was either going to be a one of gargantuan proportions or it was going to be a walk in the park. 

The reality turned out to be somewhere in between. 

Box Hill does not demand that you bring yourself immediately out of the saddle and, red-faced and breathing out of your arse, hunch yourself over your handlebars. Instead, its the kind of climb that allows you to plant yourself firmly into your saddle, hands on the straight of your handlebars and methodically inch your way up each segment. It may have been the effects of the one of the warmest days of the year so far, but it it was actually incredibly enjoyable. The smooth roads give way to depths of trees. Hairpin bends break the climb into chunks that make you feel you’re completing a level at each turn. The words of encouragement sprayed onto the tarmac — “Go Froome Go!”, “Allez!” and, my favourite,“Where’s Cav?” — make you feel like a little bit like a pro. That is until you remind yourself you’re in your lowest possible gear. 

The views from the top aren’t half bad, either. 

Down into Reigate, my first stop was at 1 of 2 well-known cycling cafes I’d decided to design my route around: Maison du Velo. As much as I hate to admit it, my reliance on my iPhone to get me to my final destination of the day meant I had become that person. Whilst I placed my order, I fumbled around in my jersey pocket for my iPhone charger and, before I’d even handed over my credit card to pay, was asking to be pointed towards the nearest power outlet. Yup — that guy. No one likes that guy. 

Hopefully the copious amounts of coffee, eggs and cake I consumed went some way to forming an implicit apology. 

My device and I adequately recharged, it was back the way I’d come until veering off at Leatherhead and into an area I found myself to recognise: Esher.
It was only a few months back I’d ridden out to Esher and back as part of a Strava challenge that involved a free mug (it doesn’t take much). A 60-70km round-trip from central London is G!RO Cafe, which makes for a well-located halfway point and serves what must be the best cup of coffee for a fair few miles around. I’d not planned to visit again, and it had only been about 30km since my last stop, but it would’ve been rude not to stop in briefly and enjoy their wares.


The weather having been so good, the sun was setting fairly spectacularly as I passed through Hersham and Chertsey and weaved my through the lanes and roads of Wentworth Club. I’d envisaged a grand entrance and perhaps a long, manor-style drive, but did not think I would be navigating an entire estate of mansions and well-kept gardens. It was only now that I understood why Ashley had insisted she pack a shirt and jacket for me to wear to dinner — this place was unlikely to be lycra friendly. 

I soon found the right road and the hotel itself, where I knew a comfortable bed, a warm shower, a 3-course meal and Ashley were waiting for me — along with a glass of delicious dessert wine. 




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…