Never too old to learn!

It’s funny how you learn things throughout your life. We, as a species, seem to have a thirst for knowing more which never leaves us whilst our minds are still healthy. Today I learned a few things on my mountain bike ride, some good and some less appealing!

We’ve had showers since Monday afternoon but I could tell when I walked the dog this morning that the trails would have only surface moisture, not mud. I thought it would be interesting to do something I haven’t done for, I think, 8 years, which is to ride 5 laps of Healey Nab red graded route at a continuous fast pace. I’d probably have put more effort in if I’d been competing against other riders but I wondered if I could keep the pace up for 5 laps at 57 years old.

I think it was in 2011 on my previous Whyte JW4 that I rode 5 laps in 57 minutes 58 seconds. The first lap was slowest at 11 minutes 48 and the last was quickest at 11 minutes 17. Yes, I have a quite ridiculous and rarely useful memory for such trivia, especially if it involves numbers. I knew I wouldn’t be able to match these times but that’s not the point. The exercise would be good for fitness and tell me something about my current level and how 8 years might have slowed me down. I thought I’d ride the Boardman FS Pro which I believe to be at least 15 seconds slower per lap than my Whytes but I told myself that this was not important in any way.

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I rode to the Nab and started my first lap from the gate where I’d met a herd of cows 2 rides ago. Strava wouldn’t be timing me from this point but if I rode to the top of the hill I’d have needed to do 6 laps to get 5 timed full laps because that’s where the Strava segment starts. I would use a stopwatch to time the laps and, of course, remember the lap times! I started the lap on the main climb and made sure I didn’t put any massive efforts in to overcome obstacles. The ideal way to ride would be to put in the same power all the way around the laps, gradually getting more tired as the ride went on. If I’d reached exhaustion just as I crossed the finish that would give me my best possible time. This would be hard enough to do on an indoor velodrome and is surely impossible on a mountain bike since the ever changing surface and gradient mean that you have to vary your effort to keep your momentum and some obstacles are just plain hard to get over. There are plenty of shortcuts on the circuit but I decided on a definite route on lap 1 which I maintained to the end.

The climb went smoothly with no drama or feeling like it was hard work. Up to the trail head and down to the back gate where the Strava segment starts and I just kept spinning the pedals as best I could. It was half way down the descent that I learned my first real lesson. I approached a newly modified stretch with several tighter corners. I thought I could take a straighter, quicker line by ignoring the banked right had corner and cutting across the off camber inside. The front wheel slid viciously and I fought hard to avoid flying over the left hand berm which followed. I somehow stayed upright, lost some speed and got through. Close one!

The next lesson came at the end of my first lap when I tried to check the lap time on my watch. Without stopping to concentrate it was just a blur. 8 years ago I was just on the brink of needing reading glasses but now it was going to be very hard to check lap times with any accuracy. Subsequently I must have fumbled with the buttons on the watch and managed to zero it. I still had Strava to rely on, fortunately. I noticed the increased effort as the laps progressed and had a couple more small slides where my enthusiasm got the better of me. For the last lap I thought it would be sensible to keep the effort fairly constant but until I crossed the finish line I found it hard to restrain myself! I gave it a good bit more effort on the final climb but didn’t completely drain the tank.

The Strava record is interesting. Because I started half way round the lap I have 4 results for a full lap, 12 min 40, 12 min 43, 12 min 48 and 12 min 34. This shows that my extra effort on the last climb gained me time and made my last full lap the fastest. My downhill times, meanwhile for all 5 descents were 2 min 8, 2 min 3, 2 m in 12, 2 min 11 and 2 min 14. The second lap was quickest whilst the last was slowest but the margins, considering the shorter time for the downhill, are more significant. The total time was 62 minutes 40 seconds compared to 57 minutes 56 seconds 8 years ago. In totally dry conditions and especially if I rode on of my Whyte bikes I could get closer to the old time but I’ve learned that I can still do 5 laps without slowing at the end. I can still really enjoy the experience and finally, I could do with a coupe of days to recover!

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