Exhaustion and recovery.

On my last ride I became concerned that I might exhaust myself at an early stage if I put too much effort in on a big climb. It seems to be too tough a gradient for me to have a chance of riding the whole of without stopping at my current age, though 25 years ago there was no part of it which was unrideable. Back then I’d often use absolutely all my effort during any stage of a ride to overcome the toughest sections so it got me wondering if I could still do this and recover enough to ride the rest of my route without having to drop my pace to a crawl. There’s only one way to find out and that is to try it. My plan for today’s ride was to push myself very hard on some difficult sections, particularly climbs, and see how I felt afterwards. I’d take the steep climb up Healey Nab, ride down the back and go to Brinscall Woods with it’s steep fire road. At least I’d be rewarded for my efforts with my favourite downhill before going back over Healey Nab towards home.

After 2 warm days we’re now back to wetter weather. An English summer has been described as 2 sunny days and a thunderstorm and that’s exactly what we’ve had! Freddie, my dog, has been petrified by the rumbling thunder. I rode to the climb up Healey Nab which crosses a grassy area with 2 very steep sections. I was already warmed up and breathing deep and rhythmically before my climb. To be honest I didn’t expect to be as quick up the climb as I was a short while ago because of the now damp ground. I worked hard and felt the effort in my breathing rather than my muscles. Despite panting at the top my legs still felt fresh. The climb wasn’t over. I had another 200 feet of woodland to ascend so I kept the pace up. It wasn’t until I got home later that I found that I had, in fact, beaten my previous fastest time on the first section despite the wetter ground. I was obviously working hard yet my legs weren’t yet suffering. On top I took some photos.

The view across to Winter Hill.
Chorley at the bottom of the hill. The town I’ve called home for over 30 years.

I rode down the back of the hill, a mountain bike specific trail at first, then a dirt road with water bars which make excellent, high speed jumps. After a short tarmac section I used a dirt trail to the village of White Coppice where I chose the harder, technical side of the river because I expected there to be lots of walkers along the other bank. Then it was time to commit to another hard climb where I really put some work in. I still wasn’t hurting in the legs but my breathing was up towards the limit. Again the app. Strava told me that I was faster than I’d ever climbed before. I kept going at a good pace to the top of the woods for the superb, long, flowing downhill. It was quite wet and made me realise that this trail, whilst a delight for summer riding, won’t be such a good prospect for much of the year. In today’s conditions it didn’t flow as well as recently because of slippery mud and tree roots, which made it much less predictable. I rode back along the easier side of the straightened river and it was busy with walkers. This has been a perhaps unexpected effect of the Coronavirus we are currently enduring, walking for all kinds of people has become very popular. Apparently cycle shops are selling out and importers and manufacturers can’t keep up with demand.

I rode back to Healey Nab and after taking it a little easier on the flatter sections my legs felt quite recovered from the earlier, big efforts. I climbed to the top of the hill about as quickly as I’ve ever managed before and enjoyed my final, long downhill towards town. The ride has given me confidence that I can recover from hard efforts just as I could many years ago. It seems that my legs suffer from long endurance but much less from shorter, hard periods of activity. If I repeated my last ride I would be far less willing to accept defeat on the very hard climb for fear of exhausting myself.

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