Pain and peas… a miraculous cure

Map reference: Cobham into Sussex, via Quell Hill, 22%, 120k

Carbs and caffeine: sandwich, coffee and chocolate at Kirdford Village Stores, plus many painkillers

Any regular readers will know I’ve been struggling with a bad back. I’ve also been struggling with the knowledge that I do need to get in some longer rides. I think I’ve done well on the winter base, this should now be the fun bit. With this in mind, I snapped up Keith’s offer of a longer ride out into Sussex. Every cyclist needs a mappy friend like him, and if you can find one with a plethora of trivia about the countryside you are passing through, more’s the better.

Within half an hour of riding I was on my first round of paracetamol. Half an hour later I had to break my pledge not to take anti-inflamatories and hit the ibuprofen too. Nonetheless it was a beautiful day and Keith confidentally rode us to ‘a climber’s climb’ called Quell Hill. I shall resist the puns on Quell, suffice to say, it is a real challenge; kicking hard at the bottom, and winding up through trees leaving the top obscured. After the initial shock, I just settled into grinding up as best I could. It’s a mindset thing, basically it’s faster than walking unless you are reduced to the speed where you actually fall off. I was pleased to get to the top. And the descent was unbelievably beautiful, views across the Downs; stunning and well worth the pain.

But, that said, the pain was now becoming more of a problem. We rode on for about another 10k with a lump ominously swelling towards my right hip. At last we wheeled into Kirdford, an old-fashioned village store, with an old-fashioned welcome. If they thought it was strange I bought a packet of frozen peas with my sandwich and coffee, they were too polite to mention it.

I slid the peas down my bibs and we had a long stop to chat, which I was grateful for. I kept the peas where they were when we pushed off. Frankly with all the padded Lycra and stuffed back pockets, I don’t think a bag of peas in the shorts was very noticable. The trip back was worryingly painful. My companions talked of fetching cars, but I really felt I could make it, if we could knock off the speed a bit. Keith rode with me all the way back to my car and I gratefully swung myself off the bike.

As I drove around the school run I expected the pain to kick in as the painkillers wore off. It didn’t. In the evening, I expected the pain to kick in. No pain.

This morning I was sure I would wake up in agony. I didn’t. In fact I am more comfortable today than I have been in days. It’s a miracle. I can recommend the frozen peas and a long ride method for back pain to anyone.

And did I serve up the peas for tea? No, I am not that eccentric.

Note to Lucy: I’ve put my recipes on a page called Mussette munchies

The myth of the Dragon …

Map reference: to Box Hill and back, and home on the computer researching

Carbs and Caffeine: have reinvented the flapjack using apple sauce to sweeten. They’re actually really nice, low sugar and pretty much fat free. Will test on the family and report back

I’ve been having some back niggles and so have been off the bike for a couple of days, although I am happy to report that I’m on the mend now and even managed a gentle 80k ride yesterday.

Meanwhile, with my hills training plan (and my back) on ice, I have started thinking about my two summer challenges. Everyone keeps telling me that if I can do the Gran Fondo Dragon Ride I can do the Etape du Tour. Is this a myth? Do the numbers stack up?

The Dragon Ride is 226km with 2,905m elevation.

The Etape is 142km, with 4,100-4,600m elevation (depending on what you read)

So it’s easy to see that the Etape is shorter but much, much steeper. Except, that the climbs are very different. The Dragon’s Devil’s Elbow is 20% on a lot of the ascent, and 33% on the switchbacks. But it’s short, it should all be over in minutes.

In contrast the Col de la Croix de Fer in the Etape is 22.4km long at 6.9%. If my speed drops to 10k/h, I could be climbing for two hours, although I fear the broom wagon may be sweeping my way, if there is too much of that speed. But the descents are also longer. It’s hard to imagine enjoying a descent among so many people, but my speed is definitely increasing here, thanks to the confidence I have in my new Dura-Ace brakes. The closest I have come to riding this kind of terrain is at The Hill With No Name, in the Brecon Beacons (see my post March 14) where my average moving speed was just under 20k/h. However, I need to knock off some speed for altitude and heat. The science bit is now out of the window – the affect of these is unknowable – but I’m going to knock my average speed down to 16k/h. If this is anything like right, I should be finished in 8h50m.

Back to the Dragon ride, I did the shorter version last year at an average speed of 23.5k/h. It took me 6h43 and the Gran Fondo is 73k longer, so it’s going to take me three hours longer. I am going to assume the same speed as, although it is much longer, my bike is much better and I hope I am fitter. The weather was good last year (if you can ignore an hour’s deluge at the end) and this could make a huge difference, but I can’t worry about that. So this ride should take me 9h43mins. At this distance, I don’t think I’m going to be able to up my speed at all, and my intention to hold my speed may be ambitious.

Never mind my back, I now have a sore head. And do I have an answer? Well, if you just consider bum-on-seat time, the Dragon is all but an hour longer. In which case doing the Dragon six weeks before the Etape is perfect. So I think, on balance, the myth holds water; slay the Dragon and you can conquer the Alps.

Note to self: use that grid roller… then test the back on the turbo. Boring but safe.