Chasing the Dragon.

I hadn’t ridden my mountain bike for 5 days and it was all my own fault. When I was 17 years old I had salmonella food poisoning from an unknown source and when it seemed to be over I developed rheumatoid arthritis. It was seriously debilitating but faded after about 6 months, only to return far more stubbornly about 7 or 8 years later. My prayers were answered in the form of a book about diet and arthritis. I needed to eliminate highly acidic foods, black pepper, chocolate and I later discovered mushrooms as another irritant. I was soon able to return to sport and build some fitness. Later I seemed less sensitive to the irritants and might occasionally indulge myself. I last rode on Wednesday, then on Thursday I was tempted my some Belgian chocolates which were left on the dining room table. I’d eaten a couple the previous weekend with no ill effects so I ate a dark chocolate with a truffle centre. Delicious! I couldn’t resist a second which was a less chocolatey strawberry cream. I thought no more about it until I woke up on Friday morning and a dragon had stuck a knife in my right knee.

The sharp pain persisted even with Ibuprofen for relief and by Saturday I could feel inflammation all around the joint and a painful stiffness. By Sunday the problem had gone but I chose to wait another day for fear of irritating the condition before I rode again. I wanted to ride for around 2 hours to make up for lost time and decided to ride to the top of Great Hill for the fabulous and long downhill which I’d previously ridden in 13 minutes and 20 seconds. I felt good as I set off from home and as an added bonus the ground was bone dry everywhere. I had no particular plan for the ride other than to ride the route but maintained a good speed to White Coppice and onwards to Brinscall Woods to start the big climb. I continued to feel fresh and reached the top at 1,250 feet in an hour and 10 minutes, which I think is fairly fast.

A link to my ride on the app. Strava

I’d chased the dragon of arthritis away but now I had another dragon to deal with in the form of a long and serpentine trail. It isn’t continuously downhill but falls by around 750 feet in 2.5 miles. I started from the top and eased into it, unsure how fast I was going to try to go. As so often when I’ve clicked the stopwatch I kept concentrating on my pace and built up the effort as I descended. It begins with a sinuous moorland part then after an unavoidable stile becomes rockier with a danger of pinch punctures, which I’ve suffered from many times. I still run inner tubes but really should look into a tubeless setup, at least for my Boardman FS Pro which I was riding today.

Next comes a pedally gravel road for a couple of minutes where it’s important to keep the pressure on for a good time. Turning off is a real highlight, back onto an exciting moorland drop to the top of the woods. 46 seconds was my third fastest time here and only 3 seconds outside my best. I battled along the undulating top edge of the woodland but made a mistake over a rocky hump and ground to a halt. The descent of the woods which follows is the best trail I know, taking around 3 minutes. It really was a thrill in perfect conditions and the final minute is called “Better than going straight down” on Strava. I managed to match my fastest time ever at 55 seconds but was still a little disappointed since last year I held the King of the Mountains title which was beaten by a single second last September. I think I definitely have a 2 second improvement in me to grab the title back, especially since today wasn’t just a sprint on a segment of less than a minute. I kept working along the bottom of the woods to the finish point and clicked my stopwatch.

My time of 13 minutes 23 was only 3 seconds outside my best from last year. If only I hadn’t made the mistake over the rocky hump or perhaps if I’d known how close I was going to be I could have pushed myself harder on the last part but it hardly matters, I was thrilled with my result. I didn’t realise until I set off again just how much I’d put into the descent. My legs were trying desperately to recover whilst I was demanding enough energy to climb over the final hill of Healey Nab. I noticed on the descent of the purpose built trail that my technique had gone absent without leave. I was riding like a beginner, having to think about every yard rather than it flowing naturally. It was a truly good ride and perhaps the most surprising thing was my consistency with previous rides. Not only did I make the whole descent in an almost identical time but Strava revealed that I’d exactly matched my previous fastest time from the top of the hill to the bottom of the woods at 11 minutes and 5 seconds. In addition I’d exactly matched my time on the last part of the woodland descent. I’m convinced that consistency is a sign that I’m riding as well as ever. I’d covered 15.39 miles with 1,387 feet of ascent.

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