Festive 500 while unfit? Anything is possible.

It’s the 31st of December, the sun is out, and I’m in bed. Because I’ve done it.

Last year, I accepted defeat early on. In mountainous Mid Wales, cycling 500km in 8 festive days is a massive challenge. In the previous three years, I hadn’t managed it. I posted about my failure here.

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The nice weather that year didn’t last long.

This year, a combination of hospital appointments and other factors kept me in the London area. So, I thought I’d have a go in a less-mountainous area.

However, I’ve been off the bike a lot this year. A lot. I’ve had a fair few mechanicals, both physical and bike-related:

My left hip has been a problem for years – I’ve had three operations and I can just about manage it. Due to the damage, I still can’t sit upright on my left side, and have to be careful to not set the teeth-grinding pain off. At the tail end of last year, the right side started to play up too.

One minute it would be fine, then a shaft of agonising pain would take both my breath and ability to walk away. That’s how impingement works. One particular impingement walking down steps scared me. If I hadn’t had my bike to catch my fall, I would have face-planted and had scars to show for it. I was on my way out for a ride with my sister.

Spin, legs. Please spin.

I held back tears for all I was worth, and tried to avoid dwelling on it.

On a good day, the pain would slowly ebb. On a bad day, I had to wait hours for the pain to give me a break. I could go to bed and wake up with the pain still there, or ready to pounce.

I could feel myself slipping back mentally. So many reminders of the grim days of years ago. The crutches, the lack of faith in my own body. The fear that it could happen any time was destroying what little peace of mind I had.

I was also getting pain when on longer rides, the same rides which always help the left hip. My rides were getting shorter. My weight was creeping up. My head was going down.

So, I went to see the GP who referred me back to Bankes at Guy’s. I saw him. We agreed on the operation – an athroscopy and FAI correction. I joked about having a matching bikini-line scar, but he said this time it would all be done arthroscopically, through the same incisions.

I expected to wait for months for the operation, but within six weeks, at the end of June, I went under the knife. Apparently, the earlier the correction is carried out, the better the long-term results.

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During the operation, my hip was dislocated, so when I came around, I had to have the leg held back in the socket. The bottom of a hospital bed is good for this.

I was off the bike for just over two weeks, the hottest two weeks of summer.I lay in bed, staring out of the window at the clear blue skies. I have to thank friends who complained that it was too hot to ride – I didn’t feel that I was missing so much then!

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Ever feel like you were being left behind?

Getting back on a bike was a relief in itself. I should’ve used a turbo or stationary bike in my recovery, but instead, I just pootled around on Baby, my battered road bike. I tied the crutches to my backpack and cycled to meet friends.

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My backpack came in handy!

Three weeks after being discharged, I did a very slow, 50-mile Surrey Hills ride. I then had a bollocking from the registrar at Guy’s who told me I was overdoing things! I probably was, but it was hard to watch and feel my hard-won muscles withering away. I pinned back my mileage and effort a little, and continued to avoid the steeper climbs which put pressure on the healing tissues.

Fast forward a few weeks, and while I was visiting family in Wales, I managed to trap a nerve in my back. Fuck me, that was agony. I’d had warning twinges for the last few months, always meant to return to swimming to improve my upper body strength and flexibility, but with everything else going on, never got around to it. It took weeks for that to improve, and for me to be able to sleep properly again. It’s still not right now, months later. I’ve started a stretching and exercise regime, but I’ll also need to look at my bike fit and posture when riding to resolve it, long-term.

I started having menstruation problems, which left me feeling very rundown and tired. I assumed it was just ‘one of those things’.

I had some potentially-problematic skin lesions removed, leaving me with a 1-2 inch incision in my back, and other sore parts.

Next to hit were a variety of bike mechanicals. The forks on Buzz, the Racelight, were recalled. Baby’s wheels started making ominous noises and gears became awkward. I recognised the Tarmac was too big, and the aggressive position was probably contributing to my trapped nerve and painful neck.

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The Tarmac. Sadly, too big and aggressive for me. Anyone after a 49cm frameset?

November came along, and brought a cold with laryngitis. For the best part of the month, I sounded like a disastrous combination of Mariella Frostrup and Minnie Mouse.  I finally went to the GP about the menstruation. That’s still under investigation.

There’s been other stuff, and my head’s been all over the place at times. I’ve jumped through DWP hoops, and won a couple of tribunals. My novels were published, but they’ve not set the world alight, and sales haven’t exactly been outstanding.

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My racy rugby romance novels, in paperback! (Other formats are available…)

I’ve received critical praise for the novels and some of my other writing work, but it’s nowhere near being able to make it a profitable enterprise. Next year, I’ll have to make some tough decisions.


On to the 500.

I was just feeling better for December, and had confirmed I would stay here for Christmas, rather than joining family. I did a couple of quicker rides. I thought I was ready.

500 kilometres works out at just over 310 miles. In seven days (assuming a rest day), that works out at about 45 miles a day. Infinitely doable, especially with flatter routes than in Wales.

It didn’t start well. Christmas Eve was wet. Another cold had hit me – I had a sore throat and a cough. I rode to a friend’s house, and was soaked by the time I arrived. Total 11.6mi.

Christmas Day, rain was forecast again. But, we were up early and decided on a jaunt to Windsor. It started raining in Windsor. We got wet. I chose a terrible route. 45.6mi.

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In Windsor, just before it peed down…note the tinsel necklace. #festive

After a shower, when I discovered how cold the drizzle had made me, we popped to the New Inn for some ‘recovery cider and peanuts’.

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Ideal Christmas Day fare.

That evening, after cooking a full Christmas dinner for four, I felt dreadful. Shivery, and sweating. My nose began running like a tap. I dug out a thermometer.

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I went to bed early, with a cold compress to work on the fever. At that moment, I assumed completing the 500 wasn’t going to happen. Friends told me to take days off. I said I’d see how I felt in the morning.

I slept. A lot. Until late afternoon on Boxing Day. All my friends were out riding, I was in bed coughing and sneezing and feeling like crap. That evening, to make me feel productive, I decided to fit the Portland Design Works mudguards to Buzz. They’d been sitting in a box for six months, while I dithered. They went on smooth as silk, the only problem being the brake pads rubbing on the tyres, not rims. I solved that by removing the caliper’s washer.

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Lovely, lovely mudguards and new fork on Buzz

The following, drizzly day, I was feeling better and cautiously optimistic. I didn’t have much in my legs, but neither did my riding partners. A hilly and wet 45.8mi.

That took me past 125km, a quarter of the way. Still a way to go. I was like a zombie when I got home. So tired that, after washing my face, I placed the liquid facial wash back on the counter, flip cap open and nozzle down. I discovered soap had run everywhere the next day…

Monday 28th, more sleep and recovery, and my legs felt good. Seven of us cycled around the sunny Chobham lanes and Ripley. Despite the sun, I was grateful for the mudguards as the roads were still mucky. And for the relatively-flat route. A chunk of 70.4mi completed.

Past halfway. I could do this.

15.2mi meeting some Wheeler friends for a few post-Christmas drinks that evening, which gave me less than 200km to go.

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I love presents from cycling friends. Mine is the Park Tools spork, thanks Matt!

On my ‘pub bike’, Baby, I managed to get soaked to the skin by the time I got home, from head to foot. This getting wet thing was getting old.

A more challenging Three Witches route to Windsor on the 29th. I was dropped on the hills after working on the front. But, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 61.6mi more in the bank.

I was feeling so good, I added 13mi to that, to cycle to a friend’s place for a bit of Chinese. I’d forgotten about the headwind, which turned what should have been an easy ride to a battle against the deteriorating conditions.

Fifty mile-an-hour winds whistled around the house the next day. The planned club ride was cancelled, but we still ventured out, to the Surrey Hills. My legs felt like jelly – Elz dropped me repeatedly on any type of climb, but thankfully sheltered me and my tired legs from a lot of the wind. 32.3 hard-fought miles.

On getting back to hers, I worked out that I only needed 15 miles to complete the challenge. So I cycled home, in a meandering way, circling the slickening neighbourhood until the magic 15 had ticked over.

I plugged my Garmin in with trepidation. For the last few days, I had been recording the rides on both of my Garmins (a 500 and a backup 800), and was glad I had as a couple of rides had lost miles – user error with bulky gloves or random blip. I only hoped that I wouldn’t have to venture out into the increasingly-heavy rain.


I did it, with one day in hand.

I breathed a sigh of relief. So did my knees. I went to bed and slept until later that evening, missing several calls and messages from friends.

Should I have gone out the next day? Probably, but I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove, and the lingering cold was still a problem. To be honest, my legs were tired, I knew there was nothing in them, and I didn’t want to hold a ride back. As I said at the start, I wasn’t terribly fit.

I’ve cycled over 6,000 miles this year. It’s not as much as previous years when I’ve clocked over 10k, but I’m happy with that. Plus, to end the year, I’ve achieved something, despite my body letting me down at times.

And others have had to cope with far worse than I have.

I have to thank my cycling friends who’ve led or followed me around this last year, listened to my moans, kept me entertained and joined me for cake or a few beverages. They’ve kept me sane, and from withdrawing too much into myself when things have been going wrong.

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Sunnier times, with some of those who have the patience to follow this crock around the Surrey Hills

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Drinks after Wednesday night laps of the Park with a few club friends

This year ahead, I’ve been thinking about my goals.

1. Sort out the Bike Room upstairs and sell/give away anything I don’t need. Reduce my n number from 7 to 5.
2. Aim for two long rides a week to keep my hips happy (but not castigate myself if I don’t make it out).
3. Work on the strength and flexibility of my core & upper body by hitting the Gym (also the Bike Room!) at least three times a week. I do not want another trapped nerve!
4. Get fit enough again to keep up comfortably on a KW K3 club ride, or an Ystwyth 10am ride.
5. Lose enough weight that I feel comfortable in my cycling clothes (but not ultra-skinny).


I thought of several more goals, like competing in my first Crit, doing a minimum amount of laps in the Park on Wednesday nights, updating this blog more regularly, and cutting down my cider consumption :wink: …but I’ll leave it at that.

I don’t want to pressurise myself to achieve what may be a strain, and deal with an associated failure, however pragmatically. My hips still aren’t great, and Bankes has offered me a replacement for the left. I’ll think about it. I’ve had enough of hospitals for now, and I still have to sort out my back/neck, and the ‘women’s problems’.

I finally completed the 500. That’s enough for me, for now.




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