Sunday 11 December 2016

60 Centuries – Some Reflections

It’s just over a week since I completed my 60th Century ride and I’ve been thinking quite a lot about them. During the rides lots of people asked me lots of questions about the rides so I thought instead of writing a reflective piece about them I would cover some of my answers in the form of a fake interview. And I hope readers, you don’t think I’m being too self-indulgent here!

Why did you decide to ride 60 Centuries Mark?
At the start of the year I set out to ride one century a month. Although I’ve ridden a century in every month of the year I’m not sure that I’ve ever ridden a century in every month of the same year. Sometime around the end of March, when I think I was in the pub with a few mates, I decided to ‘celebrate’ my forthcoming 60th birthday by riding 60 centuries. I can’t remember if the idea was mine or, more likely, it came out of our banter!

So after a quarter of the year had already passed you then decided to start the challenge?
Yes, that’s right. But I was relaxed about it as I never said I would complete the series by my birthday (31 December). It was much more important to me to enjoy each ride than to chase a target. If I ended up doing a few after my birthday, then that would still be part of the ‘celebration’.

Did it ever become a target?
Absolutely not! Most people assumed that I meant completion by my birthday and every time I explained the aim it sounded a bit like I was giving myself a get-out. But enjoying each ride was the only consideration for me. As I got closer to the end I could feel the boy-racer in me fighting to get out. I had to work quite hard to keep him in his box!

Did you enjoy all the rides?
Oh yes! Although some rides were more challenging than others I can honestly say that at the end of each one I never had any thoughts of giving up. And I like to think that as I crossed each finishing line I had a big smile on my face. I really enjoy looking at the countryside I’m riding through – the scenery and landscape and the villages and towns and their history. That’s what rewards the riding effort. And I love learning more about the places I’ve been.

You wrote a blog about the rides.
Yes. I had started blogging before I rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2015 and have become quite addicted to it. The writing was originally intended to be an alternative to writing up my diary. I never thought much about other readers. Along the way I seem to have picked up quite a lot of followers and readers which doesn’t hurt the ego. I’ve also found that my approach to writing the blog has evolved as well. It’s become quite a good catalyst for some post ride ‘research’ to learn a bit more about some of the places I’ve ridden through. It’s also helped me to learn a lot more about Suffolk and East Anglia generally.

Which was your favourite ride?
That’s something I’ve thought a lot about. I’ve got two special favourites. The Tour de Môn (Anglesey) (C#33, 21 August) as outstanding. As a Welshman I’ve always enjoyed riding in North Wales and usually ride the Etape Eryri in northern Snowdonia each year. To ring the changes, I decided to ride around Anglesey this year. My other favourite ride was the one I did in the Chilterns (C#31, 14 August). This is where I first started riding seriously when I was in my early teens and was where I did my first century. It was great to go back and immerse myself in a day of nostalgia. I also get a real buzz from completing a century with someone who’s never done one before.

How do you cope with the mental dimension of long rides?
Over the years I’ve taught myself not to think about the distances in negative terms. If you start off thinking that 100 miles is a long way to go, or how long it’s going to take, then you’re already on a slippery slope. Instead I try to focus on the places and the countryside I’m going to ride through and look forward to seeing them. I also break the rides down into bite sized chunks. For example, when I think of the last 30 miles I think of it as an after‑work ride on a summer evening. And to be starting an ‘after work’ ride at 2 o’clock in the afternoon is a pretty good feeling!

Which was the toughest ride?
Probably the day I spent in the Fens (C#26, 29 July). A combination of strong headwinds and long straight roads crossing flat, unchanging countryside certainly strained my mental strengths as well as my legs!

Any Regrets?
None! Well that’s not quite true. I had planned to ride in southern Snowdonia the day after riding the Tour de Môn. Sadly, the weather was against me – it was so wet and foggy that it was too dangerous to ride. I went to Porthmadoc in my car, following part of the intended route and the road was submerged under nearly a foot of water. I also regret not doing a ride from Edinburgh into either Fife or the Borders. I lived there in the 1980’s. I did ride through Edinburgh in 2015 though when I rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Why Bianchi?
At the simplest level for most people a bike is an inanimate object - a machine for getting around on. If you’re a keen rider then the chances are that you will have a love/hate relationship with your bike. For me though, Bianchi take things to a totally different level. They have character and personalities. It’s something that not many people ‘get’. But when you do get it ……. WOW! My love affair with Bianchi started when I was less than 10 years old and saw a visiting Italian team riding celeste fixed wheel track bikes in the early 1960’s at an event in Trinidad. From that moment on I was smitten. If I’m going to spend so much time in the saddle I want to share it with a friend who enjoys it as much as I do. I know some people will think this is a load of tosh and I don’t really care. But look at a group of Bianchi riders. You’ll hear the usual chatter and banter. But then look more closely at them. There’s another level of (unspoken) communication going on too. It’s love, but not love as we know it. It’s Passione Celeste!

What do you plan to do next?
Well, I’ve asked Santa for a USA Road Atlas – just for looking at and dreaming about of course …..!

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