I looked at the training session scheduled by Dr Simon Jobson of the University of Winchester – it roughly translated into four hours of varying levels of efforts (mostly intense) up hills. I looked at the weather forecast: Heavy rain, winds SSW 30mph gusting 45mph. It was 5:30am. What I should have done was roll over and go back to sleep. What I did was head out into the storm.
The conditions were not great. My favourite climb had become a river. Underneath the water was a layer of flint rich gravel. There would be no reps on this hill today – onto the next one. Then things came to an abrupt stop. I could see in slow motion the bars ripped from my grasp and had enough time to think ‘this is going to hurt’. Hidden beneath the surface water was a deep pot hole that swallowed my front wheel catapulting me over the bars and crashing me down into the shallow water over grit strewn road. It hurt, it really hurt. As I managed to get up to assess the damage it was clear that despite the panic, nothing was broken. My clothing was soaked and shredded. My arm was sore and had started to balloon with swelling. My hip hurt more and had been sandpapered by the gravel. My helmet was cracked. I stood in pain, in the cold, wet, windy, dark gloom facing my moment of truth.
Ultra distance cycling has many lows – times when you want to give up, walk away and never see a bike again. These are the moments of truth. As you become more experienced you get better at stopping them becoming such deep lows, and pulling out of them faster. But they are difficult to train for. Until you’ve been to that dark place it’s difficult to know how to get out of it. Bizarre as it may seem – a crash is a training opportunity. It’s a moment of truth – you either get yourself back on the bike and carry on and rebuild your mind and regain your focus or you quit. A crash is a good excuse to stop. But you can’t excuse your way to success.
I straightened my bars, span the front wheel to assess how buckled it was, gave the frame and forks a once over, gently re-mounted and road the flooded roads to the next hill. I am always amazed about how the body is able to recover and perform if given just a little slack. Whilst things still hurt (and still do) I was able to finish my session. The prize was not the hill reps, but a little bit more self discovery about my mental reserves, reserves I can draw upon during the 50 hours of non-stop cycling in the record attempt.