COVID Derby Diaries

So this mad 1000km endurance race came up on my social media newsfeed a few weeks ago. I didn’t think much of it and scrolled on by as you do. Then it seemed to persist and I saw it a bit more frequently. Next, someone I actually know signed up. And then a few days later another friend actually sent me the direct link with the words: “Saw this and thought it sounded like exactly the kind of thing you’d want to do, so thought I’d pass it on if you hadn’t seen it! https://www.covidderby.com x”

So this time I actually clicked on the link and without giving it much thought - I mean what’s 1000km (nothing) I’d signed up. For the individual mixed effort (fear not, Chippy is not going to do 1000km in August). So riding, cycling, rowing and running count. But then a few days passed and it dawned on me just what a bloody long way 1000km is! 250km a week!

I’ve decided cycling is going to be where the quicker kms are at, shortly followed by rowing with running (conveniently) coming up last in terms of time taken vs kms achieved. As I work full time and have three horses to care for, time is going to be a majorly limiting factor.

I don’t actually own a road bike. In fact, I own a mountain bike that was given to the family second hand, its age is unknown. But by the amount of rust on it, I’d say it’s probably around as old as me, but we did invest in a memory foam seat about 10yr ago and I’m sure that’s going to be the defining feature between absolute indiscriminate agony and just plain pain.

The event is also fundraising for a really great charity called Cool Earth so if you want to donate please do 🙏

I decided it might be fun to capture the thrills and spills of the race so here goes! I’ll try to update it everyday and I’m sure the length of each contribution might reflect my level of tiredness at the time!

Day 1

So to track this race we have to use apps and garmin-type watches. We have to log every km we cover within 48hrs for it to count and there’s a portal on the COVID Derby website to do this. I decided it seemed to sensible to get Strava on my phone to track both my cycling and running activity so I quickly downloaded the app before setting out on my 40km bike ride from home.

I’m kind of planning to resurrect the Concrete Cows endurance ride and wanted to do a bit of a route reccy before making a firm commitment so this was a ‘kill two birds with one stone’ kind of ride. First of all cycling from my home and then into central MK to follow the route round. I cycled it backwards to the way the endurance ride normally runs and frustratingly took quite a few wrong turns, just the annoying little ones where you’re on the wrong side of the river or road or whatever and have to go back on yourself to get back on the right side.

The weather was fairly warm at 24C and when I’d been cycling for around 2hrs I came across an icecream van! But then was very cross with myself for not having any money to be able to stop and actually buy an icecream L This caused a Bella-level mini-meltdown because, well, I was starting to feel very much ‘over it’ and actually just wanted it to be done. I had a quick check of my phone and it said 20km. What? 20km?! I have cycled much further than this many times before, I should not be this tired. I also measured the route and surely I should have done further than 20km at this point! Urggh this is awful, worst idea I’ve ever had. Since I still needed to get home I had to get over my tantrum and just bloody well get on with it. So I cycled past the ice cream van sadly and focused on not making any more wrong turns, deciding that this must be what was slowing me down so much.

I finally made it home, a little over 3hrs later and stopped Strava to record my ride. 28km. Oh wait, no no, that miles – 28miles!! Now it makes sense, I hadn’t looked at the set up whether it was kms or miles! DUH! So actually nearly 47km covered, further than actually planned. So all the wrong turns did actually add on a few handy kms haha A positive start to day 1. And confirmed No.1 spot in the leaderboard for my category.

Day 2

A planned training run for Chip, in prep for his 160km in October. This was to be a ‘time in the saddle’ training though I admit I didn’t think it was going to take quite as much time as it did! My friend and fellow endurance rider Suzie Todd came along for the ride and we decided to do a linear 60km along the Three Shires Way with a half way stop/ fake vet gate and then pick up at the end by Suzie’s mum, Shelagh. I had ridden the route a few years ago and had obviously glamorised the route in my memory as having loads of lovely grassy bridleways.

I have a rule in training, and to a degree in competition too, that I just won’t go fast on bad ground. I’m really, really strict about not doing more than walk on hard or uneven awful ground because I just think the injury risk is far too high. The endurance challenge is enough without making it harder on yourself by choosing bad training conditions.

So we genuinely cantered everywhere we could (decent grass coverage – no ruts) and then had to walk everywhere else. There were sadly a lot of seriously rutted paths, stone tracks and even concreted bridlepaths! As well as a few gates, weirs and bridges to cross. This meant our average speed was just under 8kmph!!! I don’t think I’ve ever done anything so slowly – 8.5hrs in the saddle! I was so grateful for the half way re-fuel for rider and horse – it made all the difference on what turned out to be a very long day! We loaded up to come home at 6.45pm and got dropped off at the yard at 8pm! By the time I’d iced Chippy’s legs, given him a TENS treatment, chucked all my kit away and sorted the babies I wasn’t home until 9.30! Ate dinner and straight to bed!

Day 3

So I’m 107km in at this point and my legs are completely fine but I do feel tired. Even though Sunday’s ride wasn’t fast it was just a long time to be out and active and I feel generally all over a bit tired. Not muscle tired, just lacking energy. I’m sure you all know what I mean. Anyway, sitting in the no1. spot on Day 1 and Day 2 definitely gave me the motivation to try to maintain my lead.

At university I used to row competitively (in an 8, sat at 3 seat) and put in some miles back in the day. But that was three years ago, and despite a rowing machine in the house, I admit I really haven’t done a lot of rowing since then. Occasionally I’ll get back on and do a bit but it’s a full body workout, it’s very intense and I’d say on comparative factor to cycling or even riding it’s at least three times as hard. A 10km row feels way worse than a 30km cycle. But I’m quite committed to making sure I have a full coverage of sports to complete my 1000km even if it is only a few 10kms in here and there.

Nonetheless, I don’t want anyone to underestimate just how much that 10km killed me. Mentally much more than physically. I mean yes, I was a sweaty mess, but to sit in one place and crucify yourself for near on an hour is not fun let me tell you. When you row in a squad, you often train in a squad too. You have all the ergs (rowing machines) lined up side by side and you get in rhythm, you settle down on your split (pace) and you keep your eyes in front and you keep going. And when you start to get a little tired you look to your left or right and there’s your friend and team mate and they’re still keeping the rate and so you do too. You find that motivation to stay with them, stay in sync, keep the rate. It’s quite a different story when you’re alone.

It took some serious mental endurance to get that done. I mean really, really I wanted to stop. It’d hit the wall and I was only 4km in. My hands were starting to hurt. This isn’t because you grip, it’s not a muscle pain, it’s your skin – a blistery kind of feeling. This is because I don’t row regularly enough, the skin on my hands isn’t tough anymore and it’s certainly not prepared to take my full strength and process that power through my hands down the handle. At the half way point I focused on counting in 10s. 10 strokes should get me 100m. So 5k to go, only 50 sets of 10 to get the job done.

10, 10, 10, 10 – just keep counting. Keep the rate. Keep the split. 10, 10, 10. You can’t stop for a drink, you can’t stop to re-adjust your foot strap because your split will just drop off and you don’t want that, not when you’re so close to finishing. 2km to go, for sure I’ve got this – I can do that in an 8min sprint, so at my UT2 pace 10mins and the job will be done, 10, 10, 10. The final 1km I was confident I had it in the bag, 10, 10, 10, 500m to go, 250m to go. Finish. Wooo – absolute bloody elation. Again my body is fine, my legs are fine. There is blood on the handles where I have taken away several layers of skin off my hands – a bit gross I won’t lie. But I’d done it. Mentally I’d gone through the ‘wall’ in isolation. If there could be any better mental training for my first 160km I don’t know what.

Feeling rather chuffed that I’d not only rowed my first 10km in three years but I’d also completed in a very respectable 48mins, and my muscle were feeling all good I decided to not let my no1. position slip and cycle to the horses rather than drive.

I don’t have a cycle helmet and the roads feel somewhat dangerous to go without a hat so I took the ‘scenic’ route to get there. A little over 30mins so really not bad and again feeling fine. My friend Suzie suggested just using my riding hat so once I’d done the horses I picked up my riding hat and set off home on the road route. Only 20mins to get home! Woop! A few more hills though and feeling a little more tired. Home for 8.30pm, dinner by 9pm and I even managed to sit down for an hour before calling it a day.

Day 4

So I got in just after 10pm tonight finishing off my final kms but actually today hasn’t been too bad because I’ve split my kms up quite a bit.

I took my car to the garage at lunch to have the air conditioning re-gassed so I put my bike in the boot and used it as a good reason to cycle home - 11km. A nice 30mins over my lunch break so that worked really well. I did find the hills pretty hard going, and I’m still wishing I had a road bike that has more gears but my bike is holding out well so far!

This evening I then cycled to the yard, which was actually probably my toughest cycle of the day. It was pretty hot and I was having serious doubts as to why I was even taking part in this challenge - I’m still not entirely sure of the answer. The horses were wild when I got there and I’d forgotten to put fresh plasters on my hands so dealing with them was quite painful. I’m afraid to say they pretty much had the basics only - feet picked out, dinner, rug change - no extras from me.

I’ve been in the lead everyday so far but day 3 saw my lead narrowing quite dramatically to only 7km ahead of no2 spot. Not that I’m competitive or anything, and I certainly didn’t set out on this challenge to win, but it does seem silly to let that position slide now, not so early on when there’s still plenty of fuel in the legs and capacity in the mind.

So whilst I had, like others, been thinking I’ll aim for 30km a day, I knew I needed to the up the anti a little tonight to hopefully extend, or at least maintain my lead. Enter 40km evening ride, including chicken shop stop . Basically I just took a really long route to my dinner for 9pm and then cycled it off to get home! I made sure to keep this one steady and just focus on the kms rather than getting it over and done with. I took a scenic route and enjoyed going somewhere new!

So as I lay in bed writing this up I’m in a really good head space. I don’t feel half as weary as I did early today, my hands are slowly recuperating and my legs are still feeling perfect! So positive feelings at the end of day 4!

Day 5

Splitting up the kms is absolutely the way to go. Today has been the easiest day by far, perhaps I'm becoming resigned to my fate! My new rule is to only use the car when I absolutely have to and if I don't then cycle it is. Luckily, I'm working from home due to COVID anyway so really it's just going to the horses twice a day and if I need to go to the shops or anything - which could constitute a necessary car journey I reckon!

So anyway, I started the day with a nice 13km to collect the car from the garage - air con all happily working again. A 23km during my lunch break to Halfords to get some lights for my bike - it's such a spoilt bike I know! It's quite possibly the first time it's ever been graced with an accessory.

And then a 14km to the yard and back tonight! Still not home until 9pm though (got to use my new lights) because our wonderful physio, Kate Scothorne, was visiting tonight to give Chippy a post-long training treatment. Interestingly a few different niggles to his normal but all cleared and good to continue training. Well, actually he's got the week off because I do like to commit to the 1 day per 10km off rule so I'll perhaps ride him out on Monday. Anyway, he's looking super and Kate is really happy with him and confident for the upwards trajectory of training for his 160km. Of course, no treatment for me though hahah

So 50km completed today and it really was/is totally okay! That means I'm over 230km done now. I am genuinely impressed with my legs, I didn't realise I had the endurance in me and I know it's early days, I've not even completed 1/4 of the distance yet, but I'm close and ahead of schedule too. 11 seasons of endurance riding, working as a full time rider for two seasons and rowing pretty intensly at uni must have given me more stamina than I'd accounted for!

Day 6

So as sad as it is, every morning when I wake up the first thing I do is check the leaderboard. Mostly to see where I’m at, make sure I’ve tracked it all properly and obviously check I’m still in no1 spot. Imagine my dismay to find, for the first time in this race, that I’m now 90km behind! No3 competitor jumped up with a 200km contribution!!

Having had an almost enjoyable day 5 I’d gone to bed the night before full of hope that completion was within an easy grasp and if I could just maintain 50km everyday I should have it in the bag. Well, one should clearly never rest on their laurels.

A quick Facebook stalk revealed that this Yankee is an ultra marathon cyclist. I don’t know what this means but it sounds impressive and I imagine it means she normally cycles a very long way. Pictured on Facebook with her very nice road bike too.

So a mild panic this morning. I’d at least want to get back to even and hopefully a little over to take back no1 spot. But what if she also puts some kms in today and widens the gap further. Nothing else to do but plan how I can possibly cycle at least 90km alongside a full days work!

Thankfully I woke up early so I was able to get a couple of hours of work done before cycling to the yard this morning. As I’m sure you’ve all read by now, the route to the yard is 7km, so a 14km round trip. However, since I’d got to make up some kms today I plotted out on the map how to extend my route to produce a 28km round trip ride. To think that before this mad venture, I’d never even cycled to the yard before and here I am planning ways to make that cycle further!!

So anyway apparently I eat 20miles for breakfast these days 🤣

Now for the lunchtime ride. Again I’ve only got a lunch hour but with flexible working I knew I could stretch that to an hour and half lunch break and make up the 30mins in the evening. Again I plotted my route, 36km on the road. I decided I could do that in 1.5hrs if I kicked on.

A very tough ride it proved to be. Far, far hillier than expected and an awful head wind (look at me knowing some technical cycling terminology). Added to which, not one, but two road closures which took some big smiles, hair flicks and fluttery eyelashes to negotiate my way through on my designated route. Having now completed 65km my body was starting to show signs of the many, many kms it’s been subjected to over the last few days. My left hip which is my notoriously dodgy one and my left knee starting to ache a lot and my right quad feeling like it might detach at any moment. Both glutes now not very happy at all either.

Decisions, decisions for the evening ride. Do I just do 25km and get to 90km to put me hopefully back to even Stevens or do I try to claw back some margin?

Kinesiology tape to the rescue! Both knees strapped up. Extra support into the right quad. Left hip crossed around pelvis. Both glutes fully taped. Forearms also tapped for protection. A huge pasta for lunch and a protein shake I’m prepared to at least get 25km done.

On my bike for the third time today, I was like a new woman. Kinesiology tape does miracles or maybe it’s pseudo, I don’t care if it is, I felt no pain. I was however feeling like my concentration, balance and energy levels were a bit low so whilst as the yard I dug out one of my SIS gels that I use on rides. Again this made a massive, massive difference and stopped me feeling sick as well.

So onwards I carried and managed 57km tonight (with a stop for dinner along the way). Cycling home in the dark made for a slow finish but amazingly I’ve managed to do a huge 122km in total. Again, before this challenge, the furthest I’ve ever cycled in a day or even at one time was 30km!

I’m really hoping that’s enough to put me back into the lead and I can have day 7 as a more gentle day, especially with such high temperatures forecast!

Day 7

Woke up to not good news. Still in no.2 spot. I’ve closed the gap and am now only 70km behind rather than 90km but my mad 122km just wasn’t enough. No.1 lady did 104km yesterday. I’ve closing but still a long way to go and frustratingly I think that gap will widen further this weekend as I’m committed to an actual endurance ride. You know the kind we’ve all been pinning for – for months – well’s endurance is finally resuming in the UK after COVID but I’m only doing 40km Saturday and helping Sunday. The ride is in Surrey, so a good 4hrs each day will be wasted in the car rather than on my bike haah.

Added to this, here in England it’s forecast to exceed 30C every day for the next 5 days or so…. and I am so not good in the heat. I burn like something else so I have to wear long sleeves for protection and lots of suncream on my face. I’m going to do my best and see what I can physically achieve today but having made it home no earlier than 9pm every night this week, it might be joyous to get home at a reasonable hour ahead of an early start to Tilford tomorrow.

More later.

Day 31

So sorry for not blogging - however I kind of crashed out of the race - literally. Day 8-10 ramped up the distances in the a big way. On Day 10, I was 88km into my planned 120km day when I got knocked off my bike. On the road. Landing on my head. I ended up in A&E with concussion and a reasonably damaged body with bruises, scrapes and a damaged rotator cuff and bicep. EEK.

So after two weeks off exercise, a week off work and also driving I'm slowly getting back to normal. My body has healed at a far greater rate than my head though.

Some of you may be surprised, or indeed not at all surprised depending on how well you know me, that I thought I might actually quite like to finish this race. Albeit not taking a placing anymore, but just to get it done.

I only had 300 + kms left to do and I knew that I could knock that out in 4 days. I totally have the miles in my legs.

So I did try. I genuinely did. I rode a planned 70km training ride on Chippy on the 23rd and was actually okay all day. But the next day had such a horrific headache I was mostly useless.

I took a while to get back onto the bike. Firstly I had to buy a new helmet - because mine was damaged in the crash. I had one with MIPS (a patented brain protection technology) and my concussion was pretty bad so I hate to think how much worse it could have been without this. So I went out and bought the same one again. But I have to admit I put it off for a bit.

I weirdly felt apprehensive, tentative and probably go as far to say nervous to get back on. Again, depending on how well you know me, these are words that don't really describe me very often. I'm the kind of person that jumps into everything with two feet. I don't really ever hesitate. I'm a yes girl. I go for everything. And when I do anything I give it my all. I don't do anything by half measures. So it was really pretty weird for me to get back on the bike and feel so nervous! I kept on having little flashbacks and was so worried that my front wheel was going to go from underneath me! I cycled SO slowly.

Anyway, I started off easily and just did a 29km bike ride. I know, I know, this is far for most people but it's really not very far on a bike and with my new found perspective of cycling this was a gentle re-start. Anyway, I slowly regained my confidence during the bike ride and thought I actually did have a chance of getting my kms done. However, disaster struck the next day when I woke up with the headache from hell. URGH.

So another rest day and try again. I only managed 15km before another headache set in. I turned for home early and did just a 25km bike ride. I admit defeat. I just can't do it. My head won't tolerate it.

I've actually had a doctor's appointment and been told I still need more rest. The headaches are my brain's way of telling me to do just that.

I have a big endurance race planned in 3 weeks time and I need to get myself right for that. Resting now is the best chance I have of being good for that. So therefore I have to bow out of the Derby.

A big congrats to everyone that finished and placed! I'll perhaps try next year - to not get knocked off my bike - and to finish this thing!

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