05 October 2013

Conquering the Poor Student Perm

Nearly a year ago, on a cold October day, we set out on the Permanent version of the Poor Student 200km audax from Oxford. It started out well, but eventually unravelled due to the cold temperatures -- I had not developed a system for keeping my feet warm. We made it around in time, but the last segment was certainly one of the most miserable times on a bike for me. I really did not want to be out in the cold any longer, and I made the decision at that point not to ride another 200 until the weather improved.

My audax career hasn't been particularly illustrious since then. We DNF'd the Dartmoor Devil in October and then the Shaftesbury Spring 200 in March (as temperatures remained wintry until April). Since then, I've spent time in the audax community helping out on various rides, but haven't actually managed to complete one myself. The prospect of finishing the audax season without a single point to my name seemed unacceptable, so I was happy to register myself along with Alberto to try again to enjoy the Poor Student Perm, this time hopefully in slightly better weather.

Early morning mist heading out of Oxford
We caught a 6:20am train from London to ensure maximum daylight riding time. It hurt to wake up that early, but it was the right decision as it also meant we got to enjoy quiet roads on our way out of Oxford. We rode the route in reverse, meaning that a stop at the Peartree service station, start- and end-point for many an audax in the area, was required. We got a receipt at the cashpoint and were headed out of the station when lo and behold, Justin from AC Hackney was pulling in!

He was coming off of a double header of the Dean 300, having bivvied in a field nearby the night before! Only in the audax world could a random service station be a bustling meeting place!

After a brief chat we were off again on our way to Chipping Norton. It was a lovely, misty morning and I was really enjoying being on the road bike, which I really haven't spent much time on this year. We were making pretty good time, and enjoyed a quick snack from a french bakery in Chipping Norton. The owner warned that rain was coming--he could tell because his bread was very soft--and sure enough just a few minutes after departing we starte getting some light rain. Fortunately it didn't last long; we didn't have to put on our waterproofs.

Cotswolds beauty
The section between Chipping Norton and Malmsebury (through the Cotswolds) has the only hills of the route. They're not outrageous, but Alberto reminded me that I had walked two of them last time around. Personally I have no memories of last year's attempt apart from the fact that my feet were cold. Anyway, this time I didn't have to walk any, although some were definitely tough, but I guess all that fully-loaded touring has made more of an impact on my fitness than I thought.

We made it to Malmesbury at around 2:30 and decided to have a proper rest in a cafe there. We had courgette soup and a hot drink, which really hit the spot. It wasn't cold out, but it was too chilly to stop for very long without adding extra layers - so it was nice to sit inside.

My legs had started to feel tired just as we approached Malmesbury, but after a rest they had pretty much recovered their full strength. We headed off on the final stretch still with a good amount of daylight left and still in good spirits. What a change from last time.

Snack break as the light starts to fade
There was a section after Malmesbury which was very unpleasant with heavy traffic. I'm not sure if it was the time of day, the road itself, or something else, but it was stressful and we were very glad to eventually turn off of it. Although my legs were now feeling fine, my back and neck muscles were not used to the road bike position and had started to bother me quite a bit after so many hours in the saddle. Similarly, for some reason my butt was hurting much more than it normally does.

This had the effect of making me look forward to the finish, but at the same time I was not unhappy. I did not experience  an emotional low at any point during the ride, something which is common for me on rides where I push myself a bit out of my comfort zone. I ended the ride feeling very spent, like I had worked hard, but I hadn't suffered. It's been a long time since I've hit that perfect balance and it felt great.

1 comment:

  1. I cycled this perm earlier this year, a great ride but not a particularly easy 200. Well done!