The last weekend of June is traditionally a time to party. Pretty much every year since 2004, I’ve packed a selection of life’s essentials into a rucksack and made the pilgrimage down to Worthy Farm, Somerset for a week of bands, mud, occasional sunshine and lethal-strength pear cider. Yes, it’s Glastonbury time again. Health and fitness is pushed firmly to the back of my mind as I shovel in a “Pauline Fowler” Growler into my massive face, washed down with a bag of Country Manor before stumbling around in a daze from stage to stage then up to the stone circle to lie on the grass between the campfires, gazing down on 170,000 people without a care in the world. Daily structure goes out the window, the 9-5 suddenly a totally alien concept. Rolling back to my tent as dawn breaks, only to be (admittedly very rarely) woken up an hour later as it’s too hot to sleep. One (usually terrible) meal a day. A lack of any form of respectable hydration. Too much bloody cider. It is one of my favourite weekends of the year.
This year though, I am taking a very different approach to the weekend. Full of crushing disappointment at having to hand back my ticket through lack of funds due to Primavera Festival, which I ended up missing anyway because I am an idiot, I will be staying firmly put in Manchester. I’ve already had to turn BBC TV over several times as trailer after trailer for their “most interactive Glastonbury ever” pops up on my screen. I’ve banned myself from Facebook for a week as all my friends and family post updates from Pilton, or at least until Friday when all their batteries have gone flat. I’m trying to pretend the whole thing isn’t happening, and instead focus on the big job in hand: The Great Manchester Cycle. Look what you could have won.
I’ve spent the past six weeks pretty much crapping myself about the whole thing if I’m being brutally honest. 52 miles is a long way in anyone’s book. Yes, there are longer events (I originally entered the RideLondon-Surrey 100). Yes, many of you probably ride further than that on a weekend just for shits and giggles. And yes, I do tend to make a meal of everything I do just make it sound like it’s a massive deal. But really, come on. 52 miles? The equivalent of riding from here to North Wales? On a bike? A bloody bike?
As I’ve touched on before, I think I probably can do the distance. It’s surprising how easily you can rack up a relatively big mileage on a nice bit of road and a lovely, sleek racing machine. I’ve done over 200 miles this month, not including my daily commute, and that’s never felt like a huge effort. I’ve done a couple of 30-40 mile rides on the flat, and one or two 20 milers up some ridiculous hills (for me). Nothing has hurt as bad as some of the training I’ve put myself through for running events over the years, in fact a lot of it has been quite pleasant apart from the ascents up Swiss Hill, Cowlishaw Road and Blaze Hill in the midday sun. I did 38 miles last Sunday and still had energy to spare to sprint to the station for a train I was never going to make. 52 miles? Doable.
The worry though has always been the time limit. Three and a half hours to get round the four 13 mile laps is cutting it a bit fine for someone who has never even ridden the distance in one go before. An average of around 15mph for a solid 210 minutes, or else I’ll be hauled off the road in ignominy while the 26 mile crew set off on their pleasant mid-morning trundle. Not ideal.
Yesterday however, something changed. The goalposts shifted a few yards in my direction and a massive weight was suddenly lifted from my shoulders. A simple post from the official Great Manchester Cycle Twitter account alerted me to something I should have already known but just hadn’t stopped to think about.
It turns out that the three and a half hour limit only applies to the first three laps, not the whole thing. So long as I get to the start of the fourth and final lap by 11:30, I will be allowed to continue. All of a sudden, I only have to do 39 miles in the time limit rather than 52, plunging the average speed from nearly 15mph down to just over 11. Once I have got onto the final lap, I can roll along to my heart’s content and enjoy the scenery, showboating to any crowds and generally enjoying myself. Or trundle home aching and wheezing as my legs fall off and my arse goes numb on my rock hard racing saddle, while thoughts wander off to a muddy field in Somerset and a pint of pear cider. Either/or, I guess.
It was a nice feeling though reading that. It’s not even news, really. It’s readily available in the participant’s information, but for some reason I had got this 11:30 cutoff in my head for the full distance rather than the three quarter mark. I’ll still need to chip round in time to make it back to my flat for the British Grand Prix in the afternoon, but at least that’s my choice, my target, and not the decision of a marshall who has decided that I am such a pathetic waste of space that I need to stop instantly to avoid ruining it for everyone else.
The best thing about finding this out now is that I know I can hit that mark thanks to a 37.88 mile training effort last week, on a much more undulating course than this one, which I successfully got round in under two and a quarter hours and an average speed of 17mph. Sunday will almost definitely be slower than that as I pace myself better to last the extra 14 miles, as I get caught in congestion on the course, as I navigate the “tight technical sections” on the route and as I slow through the feed station. But I am pretty sure it won’t be an hour and a quarter longer, and then once I’m through the start / finish and onto the final lap it should be plain sailing all the way to the end. Well, as plain sailing as it can be when facing a half marathon distance with three times that already covered on the day, when I have never ridden over 40 miles in one go before. It’s the usual mix of apprehension, nervous energy and generally not knowing what to expect as I build up to an event, my début cycle race. And it’s straight in the deep end with my first ever half century, a double marathon on wheels.
I wish I was at Glastonbury.