Time trials and tribulations

One of the less fun things about cycling is the early morning weekend starts. So, as my alarm went off at 6.30 am on Sunday, it was with great difficulty that I extricated myself from my bed and forced myself to eat a decent breakfast. A couple of weeks ago I signed up for a 25-mile time trial — so long ago that, presumably at the time, getting up at dawn on a Sunday seemed like a completely reasonable thing to do.

Time trialling is associated with a particular kind of masochism, and I can totally understand why some people hate it. I really enjoy it. I think. I mean I usually feel like I’m going to die at the end, but soon the pain fades into either joy or frustration depending on the result. I first got into it as a way to gauge how strong a rider I was; at the time I was riding a lot with a group of pretty strong guys and as the weakest rider I had no idea if I was actually any good or not. And this is what time trialling gives you — an extremely measurable benchmark, a number which you are then locked into an endless battle trying to beat. It’s quite a niche pursuit, which I also like. There’s something very British about it, turning up at some village hall at silly o’clock in the morning to go and ride up and down a bit of dual carriageway, while a very low-tech computer system churns out results on a dot-matrix printer. Oh, and obviously it’s a very valid reason for another bike.

I’d had a bit of a mixed week last week caused by the growing anxiety of having three months left to finish my PhD, coupled with the sad realization that I’m just not going to be able to ride as much as I’d like. I’m definitely not training as much as I was last year, so I didn’t have particularly high expectations for Sunday’s time trial. I rode in the same event last year and remember an awful headwind on the way out, and feeling like I just wanted it to be over. However, this is a pretty common time trialling sensation and a lack of it may be interpreted as not trying hard enough.

The morning of the event felt quite cool, and there was very little wind. I was pretending to myself that I didn’t care what time I got as I hadn’t been able to train properly, but at the same time thinking that it would be quite nice to beat last year’s time (1 hr 6 mins 6 secs).
As I set off down the slip road to the A420, 25 miles started to seem like a very long way. The course (H25/17) was straight out to a roundabout and back, so I focused on getting to that roundabout. For me it all starts to feel a bit better when I know I’m on the return leg, the psychological hill has been crested and I’m coming down the other side. Although this was also true in the literal sense as there was a very slight rise from around mile 8 to the roundabout, almost imperceptible unless you’re killing yourself trying to go as fast as possible. I didn’t think it could be that bad, that it must have been my legs, but flying back on the other side I was easily going at least 3 mph faster with no extra effort. I started to feel good, it was downhill (sort of) and I was past halfway, I settled into my rhythm and pushed on. I rarely look at my Garmin when time trialling as I prefer to go on feel and not get too distracted by it, but I allowed myself a quick check to see how far I’d gone. Only 18 miles! That meant another 7 to go! I felt awful, how could it still be that far? To make matters worse the last mile or two were also slightly uphill. Those last few miles felt horrendous, my body was not happy with me.

Strava data from the H25/17 time trial.

After finishing I cruised back to the HQ, deciding that I hated 25-mile time trials (I usually ride 10’s) and at least I would never have to do one again. I have a thing where I’m always a bit too nervous to check my time straightaway, so I only looked when someone asked me how I’d got on… One hour, 3 mins and 45 secs!! I’d smashed last year’s time and got myself a new PB!! Maybe I don’t hate 25’s after all…