Thursday 31 December 2009

Into the Dark Valley

What does someone do after achieving the awesome goal of the South Downs Double? It took a while for the reality of the achievement to sink in and the realisation that I had accomplished something so magnificent. I was never good at sport when I was young, and only took up cycling 7 years ago. This makes it all the more remarkable.

When you reach the peak of a mountain, the usual way back is down. Some people walk down while others jump off, I tumbled into a valley that was so deep I wondered how I would ever be able to climb back up to ground level. Everything went downhill from my physical fitness to my health and my emotional state. At the end of October, I seriously doubted whether I would be able to race at all in 2010.

In late July the South Downs Way beckoned again for the second BHF ride. It was only one way and just 100 miles, I didn’t really prepare for it and sailed along the first 50 miles with ease. The next 50 miles were more difficult. Repairing a second puncture and having to mix my own drinks caused delays in the sweltering heat. The sun blazed down on the white chalk and I had no support crew to hand out my sunglasses. Finishing the ride in a reasonable time, I was able to recover relatively quickly.

The next race on the calendar was the Brighton Big Dog. To cut a long story short, I was all syked up for a great race, fighting off most of the other 300 riders on the start line making excellent progress on the first lap. Part way round the course laid a wasp’s nest. At some stage it got disturbed where a swarm of angry bullets attacked anything or anyone in sight. I was one of the many casualties getting stung 3 times with one strike to the head. Knowing I react badly to stings, I completed the lap, arriving 5th in my category, and headed for the medical tent. The paramedics were brilliant with a doctor on site who injected me with piriton to reduce the swelling. Half of my face ballooned up creating a numbness that was both physical and mental. It was game over for me as I resided on the side lines watching the other riders go by. One of the advantages of not riding was that I could meet some of the other South Downs Doublers and introduce myself as the outsider who has entered their elite arena.

In early September a glass cereal jar shattered in my right hand, cutting deeply into the base of my thumb and forefinger. Gripping the handlebars was difficult if not risky as it could open up the wounds. Two weeks were therefore spent off the bike.

With my fitness depleting and recovering from a cold, I muster my energy for the MaXx Exposure night ride along the SDW. Passing a few words with Rory Hitchens (Exposure Lights) and meeting Matt Page (Wiggle) were the highlights of the weekend. The first two hours of the ride went well making excellent progress. Then disaster stuck and my stomach felt as though it had been opened up and hung out to dry. I felt very sick and very weak. Mustering on a bit further, I then paused for a break to see if the situation improved. The eerie silence in the pitch dark on the top of the hill with no one around, provided no sympathy for my situation. I push on a bit, and then I puncture. It takes a very long 15 minutes to change the tube were I barely have the energy to inflate the tyre. Descending to Saddlescombe, I grab some water from a tap (it pays to know where the taps are on the SDW). A few moments later I was sick but nothing came out. This made all the difference as now I had the energy to move on. Overtaking riders, I reach Truleigh Hill for the second check point. Despite feeling better, I’d made my decision to bail out grabbing a lift back to the QE2 Park.

Arriving at the QE2 Park, it was really cold (5) where I grabbed some sleep in the car. In the morning I collected my bike to return home. Frustratingly I forgot to collect my Mid-Point bag. The bag was not recovered were I lost the Specialized top I'd printed for my South Downs Double ride and the battery pack for my lights, amongst other odds & ends.

This is where I hit rock bottom. The success of the Double had evaporated, subsequent races were disasters, I’d lost some kit, work was really boring, and my left arm was in a sling with a frozen shoulder so I couldn’t ride.
Gradually over the summer, extreme movements in my left shoulder became more restricted. I think this was triggered by a fall many months ago where the joint was aggravated. Moving the arm caused it to inflame internally, resting it created adhesions. I could no longer reach my back left pocket on my cycling jersey and my rucksack had to go on my left arm first. I underwent an operation at the end of October to release the frozen shoulder.

The operation was a complete success where I felt as though I had reached and crossed the river at the bottom of the valley. I now had the steady climb on the other side to conquer the crest of the next mountain where ever it may be. My left arm was so weak it could not hold its own weight when outstretched. Derren, my Physioterrorist put me through immense pain that really helped me gain the full range of movement back into my left arm. Extensive exercises progressively built up its strength to attain my target of 20 press-ups by Christmas day.