The last three days encapsulate the reasons why I love endurance sport so much: variety, camaraderie and competition.
On Saturday, I raced in the track 5000m for my club, the Cheltenham Harriers in the Midland League Athletics meet. It was a home fixture for us, held at the Prince of Wales Stadium, the home of the Harriers and the location for our Tuesday night smash fests.
There was a great buzz in the stadium as the sprint races and several different field events took place before us. Or was it just me buzzing having stopped at the Coffee Dispensary café on the way in?! No, there really was a lot of excited chat which was then replaced by the customary pessimism about the wind, sore legs and various other spurious excuses as we took our first strides of the warm up. Why can’t we just turn up and say, ‘I’m up for this. Let’s smash it!’?! I vow to do that next time.
We then talked tactics because having looked at the start list, we knew that my team mate, Phil Beastall was going to run away with it and that Oli Mott and I would be 2nd and 3rd. Oli is in better shape than me but because it was windy and he was not in clear PB shape he decided to settle in and pace me for my 12.5 laps of pain, hopefully leading me to a new PB despite the slow conditions.
The gun went and after a bit of the usual jostling and elbowing, we settled in and then as expected after a few laps, Phil pulled away with infuriating effortlessness and I tucked in behind Oli in a bit of a grump. We were soon on our own and even with Oli battling most of the wind for me it was hard work as we knocked out 73 second laps.
My wife and children were in the stadium cheering me on which gave me huge motivation and took my mind off the number of remaining laps as the legs and lungs started to burn a bit. With two laps to go I knew the PB was going to be touch and go and tried to find another gear. I didn’t, and missed my PB by 1.2 seconds, clocking 15.24.2. I was a little disappointed because despite the poor conditions, I am better shape than when I ran 15.23 so was confident of bettering it. However, realistically, it’s not a bad result for me and shows I’ve got decent enough fitness. As well as that, it was a real buzz following Motty round, he’s a training partner and good friend and 5 years ago I would never have imagined that I would improve enough to actually run alongside him (or just behind in fact) in a race.
The jog afterwards was brilliant, the pressure of the race had gone and the endorphins were pumping. The postrace warm down is always enjoyable, probably the best bit of the whole day! On reflection, it was a great day and I’m confident that there’s a sub 15minute 5K in me if the training goes well and the race works out. Onwards and upwards.
On Sunday morning, I found myself chatting to a couple of mates outside the local shop at 6.30am. They were off for a lovely ride in the Cotswolds and asked me what I was up to. I told them I was driving to Alcester to spend an hour time-trialling up and down the A46 in considerable amounts of pain. Their looks spoke a thousand words. What was I thinking?! I should be pottering along with them in the picturesque local hills to a coffee shop somewhere. However, I’d paid the money and drunk so much coffee that there was no turning back.
Forty minutes later, I turned up to race HQ at the village hall car park to find the usual time trialling scene: men and women of varying age in very tight skinsuits warming up on their turbo trainers. The locals must have been wondering what that weird whirring noise was, a giant swarm of bees outside the window?
I picked up my race number from the hall then soon found myself bending over in front of some random fellow competitor in the car park who tried to pin my race number to my suit without touching my arse, an impossible job given the tightfitting nature of it.
This is yet another ritual that is completely normal for a time trialist, but completely odd to anyone else in the world that has no reason to wear a tight-fitting skin suit i.e. 99.9% of the global population.
After a reluctant and rather half-hearted twenty-minute warm up, I found myself on the start line with an overly jolly marshal chatting away to me. She was obviously delighted not to be taking part herself and somewhat revelling in the upcoming pain of those she was releasing onto the bypass.
There was a considerable headwind for the first half of the course and my legs were not feeling too fresh after the pounding on the track from the previous afternoon. In other words, it was hurting. It was a battle to keep spinning the legs and stay in aero. I must say, you do question yourself at moments like this. Why? Why? Why? However, I was committed and the harder I pushed the sooner it would be over.
Yes, it was very tempting to sit up and cruise in for a ‘cycle thru’ at the tantalisingly close Macdonald’s for a McMuffin, but I was committed and the wattage was OK and despite an increasing heart rate, the legs were beginning to feel better as the TT went on. I tried to wind it up at the end – emphasis on tried – finishing with a solid 57.57: not bad for me in windy conditions on tired legs on a not particularly fast course. Or so I kept telling myself. It was certainly a really good workout and – bike geek alert – provided solid FTP data to use in future training and racing efforts. I returned my number to HQ, grabbed a homemade cake from a desk in the hall, had a cup of juice and headed home to a hero’s welcome from the kids. Oh no, they didn’t even ask me where I’d been. In fact, I’m not sure they noticed I wasn’t there. Fair enough. They wouldn’t understand anyway. Not many people do.
Monday was another welcome contrast; an easy ‘recovery’ day. I love these! I met my good friend Dan Geislar – a fellow teacher gloating on holiday – who had also done the 5k on Saturday and the TT on Sunday. We cycled really easy in the warm sunshine to a café in Broadway, had a relaxed coffee in the sun then spun our way back.
It was so good to ignore the heart rate monitor and power meter: simply enjoying the scenery, the sun on our backs whilst chatting about the races we had just done and future aspirations. Having said good bye to Dan I cycled home and then did a nice easy 10mile run, the last two miles of which I was joined by my 7 year old son, Barney, on his bike. It was the first time he’s done that and marks the start of things to come, it won’t be long till he’s giving me a good beating!
It’s funny, I was proud of my achievements over the weekend but they did not come close to the feeling of pride I had as people saw me running around the fields with my boy on his bike alongside me. I know he is just cycling, and people probably didn’t even notice, but as a parent you cherish these shared moments and feel pride for the smallest things. Your kids definitely keep things in perspective.
Once the kids had gone to bed, I headed off for my final multisport experience of the three days, an easy ride with two friends to the local 10mile TT course to watch them do a 2up time trial on their road bikes. It was awesome watching others put themselves through the pain for a change. Hats off to them for deciding to put themselves through that on a Monday evening! I filmed a fair bit of it on the GoPro and found myself playing the part of the starter for my time trial, revelling in their anguish and being far too jolly for the situation. I need to work on my empathy. On the way home, I led Jon out for a tilt at a local Strava segment, which he took by 1 second. Pretending to be Renshaw and Cav was the final act in what was three days of amazing endurance sport fun.
It’s impossible to pick out a favourite moment. You’ve just got to enjoy the rich variety of experiences that these sports provide us with.
Written by Ben Price. You can follow Ben’s adventures over on Twitter.