Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Knocked the Bastard Off - Indoor Festive 500

Sir Edmund Hillary's first words to lifelong friend George Lowe upon returning from the first successful summit of Mt Everest in the company of Tenzing Norgay were...
Well, George, we knocked the bastard off.

Later he expressed great regret to his mother for the embarrassment she felt as a result of his infamous declaration. Taking inspiration from his epic feat, I have found it a great way to announce the impending completion of some not-so-epic, but still a reasonable challenge. That said, I do try to be sparse with it, saving it for the end of truly hard rides like a 24 hour fleche or a double century on mountainous dirt roads. Usually, just as we are about to start the last leg, I'll suggest we "get on with it and knock the bastard off."

But after my latest challenge, the Rapha Festive 500 on my indoor trainer, I might just have to retire my use of that phrase in the future! But, by George, I knocked the bastard off!

In previous years the Festive 500 challenge has been a fun way for me to finish off the year, continuing to do the same thing I do pretty much year round - riding my bike every day. While I may have had the occasional added bonus of bitter cold or heavy rain, to be honest those last two years didn't truly qualify as a proper challenge, since it's pretty much what I'd be doing anyway. It may have been hard work, but it was a goal I knew that I could achieve.

One of the reasons I tell people that I don't do charity bike rides is I feel that to ask someone to pledge money for me to do something that is well within my comfort range just isn't in the spirit of the making a sacrifice that inspires folks to donate money. Those who truly know me would more likely offer to pledge money for me NOT to ride!

But I took part in the Festive 500 challenge the last two years anyway, trying in my own way to add some measure of excitement, like all the routes having a Redemption theme or doing as much extra mileage as I could fit in on studded snow tires on a fixed gear bike. Of course, I also made an effort to take lots of photos and blog every day, which did cut into my sleep and recovery time.

Well that was all prior to Sept 8, 2013, the day everything changed for me. 

As my regular readers know, I have not been on a (non-stationary) bicycle since that date. Back in November I acquired an indoor trainer and had tried out a few short sessions, but I just couldn't quite muster the motivation to do much more than 10km. Then, a few days before Christmas, my doctor told me I could finally remove my back brace, and that I could start doing some proper strengthening and such in PT, and much to my delight, that I could try to ride my bike. Of course the roads were still quite snowy and icy, and even the sidewalks were a challenge to navigate without yaktrax, so he suggested minimizing any risk by using an indoor trainer. To be honest, I'm still so freaked out about the idea of being hit from behind that I'm not yet ready to share the road with potentially inattentive truck drivers. It is not lost on me how close I came to losing my left leg, or in fact, my ability to move my legs at all.

But despite all this, I do know that I will return to riding outdoors someday. I simply will not let anyone take this away from me.

Given the clearance to cast aside the brace, and to bend and twist and again take part in more active pursuits, I thought a lot about how to commence my new found freedom as I walked the 5 miles home from the hospital. Walking has saved my sanity over the past 4 months. It's really been my only outlet for burning off excess energy. Walking has been my way to go outside and enjoy the sunshine and sights, and I've taken to walking as much as possible, including to and from my doctor visits. As I walked home, I thought about the upcoming Rapha Festive 500, and for a brief period thought I might make it a Festive 50, and do a bit of walking while various friends were out riding. But then I thought that the whole point of the Festive 500 was to give folks a kick in the rump to work off the overindulgence of the season, and to kickstart their riding for the next year.  

And to actually be a proper challenge and get one outside of their comfort zone...

So for me, there was the challenge of actually getting back on a bike after almost 4 months off, and also to spend close to 4 hours a day on my trainer. Aside from the boredom of pedaling away in the garage, and lack of company and interesting destinations, there was also a real physical challenge. While I've been walking almost everyday for the last month, and while I had tried out the trainer a couple of times while still wearing the brace, I haven't really done any proper cardiovascular exercise since the summer. Needless to say, I've lost a lot of fitness. My legs have not been spinning in circles for months, and much of my core strength has atrophied away while I was restricted by and dependent on that brace. Did I really think there was any chance that I could actually do this? Not so much!

Well, there you have it. It would be a proper challenge... because I didn't actually know if I could complete it! And in fact, I was pretty sure that I couldn't. But I'd give it a try anyway and see how far I'd get.

I set up my fluid trainer with my belt-drive fixie with my usual road gearing of 50X19. The resistance on the fluid trainer varies according to the speed of the wheel turning. So if I used the fixed gear, I would actually have a pretty consistent measure of effort throughout my rides. I put the Garmin rear wheel sensor on and measured my distance with my Garmin 500. I found a never-before-used heartrate monitor buried in a box somewhere and even looked at those numbers a few times. I won't ever turn into a HR junkie who looks at the numbers instead of the scenery, but it has been interesting to look at my level of fatigue as it has increased this week!

Now the rides were supposed to be done outside, so I labeled all my rides indoors and have made absolutely no secret of the fact that I did it all indoors. Hopefully the folks at Rapha and Strava won't DQ me and ban me from all future challenges for leaving the stationary trainer box unchecked, so I could track my progress!

I certainly don't want to win the grand prize, because while I absolutely plan to get back outside again, there's simply no way I'd be ready for Rapha Cent Cols Challenge in 2014. So no tempting me with that prize, OK Rapha!

But, without straining my shoulder too much, I am going to pat myself on the back. On the first day of the challenge, Christmas Eve, I rode two hours and watched two videos. I came upstairs exhausted and had lunch and a coffee, just like I would on a proper ride. I then headed back downstairs for two more videos and more trainer torture. That night I was exhausted and I ached and I wasn't sure if I would be able to walk down the stairs on Christmas morning to see if Santa had left me any shiny new bike parts.

But the next day I did haul my carcass down the stairs and I did manage to climb back on the trainer to knock off more kilometers. I continued doing this everyday until I reached the goal. I was certain after the second day that I'd never make it, but by the 5th day, my attitude had changed.

The power of positive thinking. This is my new mantra. I know I can, I know I can. So 2014 brings with it a whole new set of challenges, and I'm ready to take them on, in a large part thanks to the inspiration and motivation of the Festive 500, but also in part due to all the positive thoughts, comments, emails and other correspondence from readers, friends and family. Thanks to all of you for giving me the courage to come back and the encouragement to keep going.

September 8 will always be a significant part of my life, a day I will likely casually acknowledge every year, like a birthday or anniversary, but it will not define me, and I promise to stop referring to it in every post. Because as another famous quotation goes, "After all tomorrow is a another day!"



  1. Congratulations, Pamela! Your willpower and determination inspire awe. 500 kms on a fluid trainer is no small feat, as you well know. I like the way you describe the impact of your accident on your life in the last sentence. Best of luck to you in this regard. The Festive 500 was one of the initial milestones in my return to cycling after my roadside debacle as well. Cheers! Here's to blue skies and pain-free riding in 2014!

  2. Congratulations and Happy New Year Pamela. Your recent journey, your life and relationship with John, and your indomitable spirit and attitude are an inspiration to me. It is a pleasure and joy to know you, even if it is virtually. Here's to discovering and adjusting to your "new normal" in 2014.

  3. Well done, that must have been a tough 500.

    Hoping you are able to get back on the road soon.


  4. You are so very tough! Congrats! This will sound geeky, but try a bar end mirror for your first few rides.....the location is fairly unobtrusive. It has saved me a number of times and it might alleviate some of the tension of the early rides. Safe travels and good fortune on your return to cycling!