I ended COVID self-isolation with a “celebratory” 10km run on Thursday morning. Probably not the wisest move, but after 10 days of home confinement and little exercise save for a stint on the turbo last Saturday, I felt I needed it.
Just for the record, I still hate running, even though Strava tells me I’ve done it 63 times this year already and racked up close to 350 begrudging kilometres. I’m still waiting for that light-switch moment, that grand epiphany everyone talks about of a “runners high” when the effort transcends being a quick and convenient form of exercise and actually becomes a joy. I’m not convinced it’ll every happen.
It also seems I’m not alone. In a 2020 Why We Run survey, Strava surveyed 25,000 athletes from all over the globe to find out what exactly motivates them and only 8% said they ran because they loved running. Conversely, 50% said they hate it, or merely tolerate it. I’m firmly entrenched in this camp, enduring what Strava dubbed the ‘runner’s paradox’ and even more closely aligned with the 63% of those who said the favourite part of a run was the finish line.
So, onto much, much more enjoyable forms of exercise and self-flagellation, with Saturday shaping up to be an absolute cracker, promising wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures upward of 25℃. About bloody time too!
I was up and out early, enjoying a warm start to the day and pure, unbroken blue skies, arriving at the meeting point ahead of schedule and wandering around the mean streets of Coxlodge for a while to fill in some time. I arrived to wave off the lepers of the Judean People’s Front, heading out to Bellingham. Again. I was surprised to see there were only 3 of them, as I thought the weather would be enticing hordes of cyclists out onto the roads today, but apparently not.
[Apologies to The Leprosy Mission who recently highlighted that leper is a pejorative term whose use has sadly proliferated in the media in connection with COVID-19!]
As the time approached 9:15 there were still only 22 of us gathered and I think we were all a little surprised by how few had ventured out. G-Dawg briefed in the route, which was essentially a tried and tested club run, but in reverse, with just one or two amends due to roadworks and road closures around Ponteland. He then suggested the first group get out and underway, but there was only half a dozen or so pushing off into the road. I hung back a bit, but the numbers weren’t working and we were in danger of having a couple of lop-sided groups, or splintering into three. So, after a moment’s hesitation, I pushed off too and then Aether and a late arriving Plumose Pappus joined to help balance out the numbers.
The pace was fast as I slotted in alongside Spry and we pushed through Dinnington and up Berwick Hill. From there we took over on the front and kept the speed up even as we ground into a surprisingly strong and persistent headwind. Leading, we took the group past Kirkley, through Ogle and out to Belsay, maybe 10-15km at the end of which my legs were heavy and beginning to feel empty and I was looking forward to dropping to the back for shelter and a little bit of recovery.
Except it wasn’t going to happen. As the road started to rise toward Wallridge crossroads, Spry rode off the front, going solo (I’m surprised he’d stayed with us mere mortals so long) and it was like a testosterone bomb had been denoted in the middle of our group. The pace went up exponentially as the front engaged in a forlorn chase and I slipped backwards, left exposed and battering upwards into the the wind, trying to keep the gap manageable. So much for taking a moment to try and recover. Even worse off was Aether who was left so far behind I couldn’t even see him when I turned to look back whenever the road straightened.
I finally ground my way to the top and swung left traversing the rolling terrain as I plugged on alone up to the crossroads, where the group were waiting to reform. I pulled over and unclipped, finally able to get a drink and try and rest up a little while we waited for the estranged Aether.
Foolishly, I thought things would calm down after that, but within 400 metres of restarting Aether was of out the back again and I was hanging on. We turned down the Quarry, the pace relentless and being driven up even on the downhill stretches. We seemed to have become overtaken by some kind of grand dick-swinging contest and looked to be winding up for the café-sprint already, less than half-way around the route.
By the time we hit the T-junction at the bottom of the Quarry road I was detached again, once more grinding alone and uphill into the wind. At the village of Ryal, I took the left hand turn, glad to be out of the wind and finally finding the front of the group pulled over and waiting in the shade of a few sparse trees. Channelling my inner-OGL (well, over a decade listening to him bellyache and complain has to have some benefits eventually) I suggested to them it was utterly pointless waiting for people if they were immediately going to piss off again. My pronouncement raised a few chuckles, but sadly little in the way of introspection. I guess that was probably too much to hope for. I didn’t bother stopping and rode straight through the group and continued down the road.
They caught me and Goose pulled up alongside to suggest the pace was a lot more comfortable now, but finding me uncommunicative, he drifted away again. Dave from Cumbria eventually pushed forward alongside me on the front as we passed through Matfen. Then, a mile or so further down the road I wondered what the hell I was doing working on the front again with everyone sheltering, camped out on on my rear wheel. I deliberately dropped back and slotted in behind Dave from Cumbria, expecting someone else would push forward and take my place on the front, but apparently we weren’t doing that anymore.
So for the next mile or so we rode in this strange formation with the front two riders single file and everyone else stacked up behind. That lasted until we were approaching Fenwick when some poor bloke, out for a bit of quiet, solo training on his TT-bike, had the temerity to try and pass us and immediately found a bunch of ill-mannered Yahoo’s swarming all over his back wheel and trying to prove they were faster than he was.
I doubt I could have held onto the group much longer anyway, but I was completely embarrassed by our antics now, so just sat up and let the gap go out. By the time I’d negotiated on-coming traffic while trying to pass a removal van and then got held up for an interminable amount of time by roadworks just outside Stamfordham, I knew there was no chance of catching the group again, even if I’d wanted to.
Not convinced I knew the planned route I started to plot my own course to the cafe, down Limestone Lane and through Ponteland, hoping to find a way through the road closures G-Dawg had outlined.
I found the joy of being out in such fine and novel weather starting to return and somewhere along the way I passed and saluted Taffy Steve riding carefree and solo in the opposite direction. Just past Dalton, hundreds of crows silently lifted out of the field on my left, looped overhead and settled straight down into the field on my right, while I rode under an arch of their beating black wings, starkly silhouetted against the bright blue sky. Gifted the perfect ear-worm for the rest of my ride courtesy of one Roberta Joan Anderson, I pressed on.
The way around the road closures in Ponteland proved simplicity itself and I was soon turning into the café at Kirkley, surprised yet again at how few cyclists seemed to be out in this damn fine weather. The place was relatively quiet and the queues waiting to be served almost non-existent.
I was delighted to find Zardoz holding court at a table having semi-returned from his broken-collar bone and smashed up ribs. I greeted the old rascal by, well by calling him out as an old rascal. It seemed appropriate.
In conversation with G-Dawg later, Zardoz confirmed his collar bone hadn’t quite healed, but his family found him a pain to live with whenever he missed a ride, so the compromise was to let him out, but only under the careful supervision and strict chaperoning of one of his daughters. A thankless task for her and a great sacrifice, but I’m sure the ends justified the means and it helped restore some form of familial harmony.
Comparing recent wounds and treatments, like hoary old fishermen about to tangle with a Great White, G-Dawg and Zardoz reached the conclusion that they are both past the age when the NHS are going to do anything beyond the bare minimum to help with their recovery – so no plate for Zardoz’s collar bone, or pins for G-Dawg’s broken leg. The message is harsh and clear: we’re no longer worth the effort, fuss and expense.
It was a 2 cans of Coke type of day for Brassneck, a measure of just how hot it was. He downed the first in short order and sitting back contentedly, surveyed the vast array of bike porn on offer around him, a shiny selection of the best and newest bits from the catalogues of Trek, Specialized, Bianchi, Canyon, Cervélo and the like.
I hated to think just how much all these shiny machines were collectively worth, while G-Dawg found great irony in people dropping £4-£5,000 on a bike just so they could ride to a café and complain about the price of coffee and cake.
Our musings were interrupted by a very brief cameo from OGL, apparently missing from the start this morning due to a serious hangover, but now recovered enough to subject us to a quick drive-by bitching.
A few moments after he’d left a contemporary rolled in, took the table next to us and mentioned he’d just past OGL, but had managed to ignore him, before he was ignored. I think he was implying he’d got his retaliation in first.
“I knew it was him,” he added, “I could see the scowl from 400 yards away.”
“And that,” I suggested, “Was when approaching him from behind, too.”
Last to arrive from our starting group was Homeboy who’d been doing some shepherding, looking after an FNG who’d rocked up in trainers, full-length leggings, football shorts and a long-sleeved, micro-fleece. He’d made it to Belsay before seriously over-heating and only recovered after downing several bottles of water. We left them seeking further hydration opportunities and squabbling over who would pay and I joined a small group of Brassneck, Princess Fiona and Spoons, heading home via Berwick Hill. Others were planning a slightly longer route via Saltwick, but I’d already covered more than 50 miles and, fun as it was, my legs were now pretty much shot.
I managed a good chat with Brassneck about American indie-alt band Throwing Muses along the way, before I was left to pick my way home alone. It was 1:30 and possibly the hottest part of the day as I started up the final drag of the Heinous Hill with over 70 miles under my wheels and for the first time it was starting to get uncomfortable. Still, I’ll take that over the cold and rain any day and I’m not going to complain because we all know it isn’t going to last. In fact, I’m off for a family holiday next week, so an end to the good weather is almost guaranteed.
|Riding Distance:||116km/72 miles with 946m of climbing|
|Riding Time:||4 hours 30 minutes|
|Group Size:||22 riders, 1 FNG|
|Weather in a word or two:||Scorchio!|
|Year to date:||2,512km/1,561 miles with 26,465m of climbing|