Contrary to the evidence of the above picture, November is in fact rubbish. It’s an awful month: cold and dark and getting worse by the day, but without any of the compensations of the holiday period (not being in work, being allowed to get drunk every day etc). Last year I made a concerted attempt to head off the usual seasonal slump by getting up early and riding my bike as the sun dragged itself blearily into the sky, and I managed a few excursions like this before a root-canal abscess flared up and knocked me back onto the sofa for a couple of weeks. This year I decided not to jinx things by posting smugly about how much I’ve been doing until nearer the end of the month, hence the lack of updates. I have got quite a bit done though.
I’ve been going round and round in circles on the National Cycling Centre velodrome, which is interesting, and I’m hoping to progress through a few accreditation stages this winter. It’s a novel experience and the early coaching is as much about learning the various rules and conventions of track riding as it is getting physically used to the bike and boards. Great fun.
I took a month off riding outside following the Three Peaks CX, but dropped myself right back in at the deep end at the start of November with a forty mile MTB grind around Lancashire taking in visits to the three towers of Rivington, Darwen and Ramsbottom before a huge drag up Winter Hill. This windswept jaunt was the first serious outing for what is supposed to be training for the Strathpuffer, the 24-hour endurance race that takes place in the north of Scotland in January. I’m part of a four-man team, thankfully, so I’ll only have to weather six hours or so of riding in freezing mud and darkness, but even so I’m going to need to continue loading the miles into my legs to keep myself going in the middle of the night.
This loosely-organised training plan was also the reason for last Saturday night’s 60km slog over the Pennines with my ‘Puffer team-mate Kai. We set off from Hadfield at just before 9PM, and followed a good solid off-road loop all the way round the top corner of the Dark Peak via the moors above Saddleworth, Marsden, Holmfirth and the Woodhead Pass, through rain, fog and freezing sleet, all in the name of acclimatising ourselves to the sort of conditions we’ll be dealing with in January. We got pretty cold and wet but Kai kept us rolling along at a good fierce pace and we put the whole ride away inside five hours, which was a fair bit quicker than I expected. I enjoyed the outing and we didn’t encounter any serious problems, but I was fairly well chilled by the time I got back to the van. Hopefully the traditional strategy of taking every last bit of bike kit I own with me will avoid any hypothermia episodes in January.
It’s not all been grim, wet, muddy riding this month, though and I managed to get out on a lovely crisp autumnal day mid-month, following a short but enjoyable loop above Marsden where I saw a Short-eared Owl, a beautiful sunset, and almost no humans at all. The moors have died back to their winter colouring, all brown and yellow, very pretty in the low sun, and frost has killed off all the midges so you can stand and admire the views for as long as you like. The breeze had even dried off the rocks enough that there was plenty of grip in-between the muddy puddles, although inevitably I encountered a herd of grumpy old ramblers on the best bit of the final descent of the day, because where else would they be?
And last but not least, in terms of suffering at any rate, I have also been out running. Don’t tell anyone, ok? I always swore I’d never take up running, on account of it being horrible: it’s slower and much less fun than riding a bike, it’s much more painful, and it’s liable to knacker your knees. But in the name of cross-training this month I’ve run 70-odd kilometres, mostly on trails, and I have to say… it’s still horrible. Absolutely awful. It does have one virtue though (apart from getting you fit fast): when the weather is absolutely minging, it’s not actually any more horrible. Wind and rain and general normal November conditions can really spoil a bike ride, but with running it’s not really much different whether it’s chucking it down or not. When you’re squelching across some godforsaken boggy field, gritting your teeth up some disgustingly steep farm track, or galumphing down a perfectly good descent in a pair of pumps rather than zooming down it on a bike, the weather is pretty much irrelevant. I still hate running, but at least it gets me out of the house.
That pretty much sums up my November for this year, and I feel like I’ve landed a few solid hits on my least favourite month this time round. I’m a lot happier than usual and a big part of that has to be down to not just wallowing on the sofa and hiding from the world. Hopefully I’ve also started to set myself up reasonably well for surviving what might be a rather brutal start to next year’s bike antics at Strathpeffer, although of course it remains to be seen if I can carry the momentum over into December and through the holidays and keep the training going.