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Festive 500

Thursday, December 31, 2020

4 minutes

When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.
— Arthur Conan Doyle

Ordinarily I’d be spending the time around Christmas and New Year enjoying some time off, travelling to see family or generally catching up with friends and inevitably nursing a hangover or two. This year, being this year, things were always going to be somewhat different.

Along with a couple of hundred thousand others around the world, assuming either single or those with long-suffering - but understanding - partners, I’d decided to attempt the Rapha Festive 500 for the first time. For the uninitiated, this event simply challenges you to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Given I’ve barely clocked up 800km all year, hitting 500km in about a week was going to be a bit of a struggle in itself; I’d need some kind of strategy to compensate for my lack of general fitness, the limited hours of daylight available and the toe-numbing temperatures forecast.

I decided on a few things

Accordingly, I mapped out a rough 16km loop with options to extend or vary in places and set out to make as big a dent in the kilometres as I could on Christmas Eve. As most of the circuit was on shared paths I wasn’t going fast; I’d given myself the chance to stretch the legs a bit with a sprint along Princes Street and the drop down to Canonmills. During my brief forays into town I did notice just how quiet things were on the roads but there were still quite big (socially distanced) queues at the various fishmongers and butchers that I passed. It had been cold overnight so I was glad to see that Edinburgh Council had apparently invested in new equipment that actually distrubuted the grit salt across the path rather than dumping it in a thin line.

On Christmas Day, my decision to stay close to home paid off as I punctured before even reaching 5km. While I changed my inner tube I was more than a little taken aback my the number of people who stopped to offer some help. Not just fellow cyclists but joggers and those out for a walk while the turkey was cooking asked if I was okay or if I had everything I needed; the Christmas spirit was clearly running high. Repairs made, I rode home to pick up another spare and pump up the pressure properly with my track pump while having a coffee.

After a rest on Boxing Day, I had a couple of smaller solo rides before heading out east with a friend where we investigated the Haddington Railway Walk and had a play on the Musselburgh BMX track on the way home.

With two days to go and 177km left, I woke up to a blanket of snow outside. I swapped over to Sealskinz socks for the day and pushed back my start to let things warm up a bit before taking a look at the state of the paths and discovering that the Council had reverted to type; the snow and ice on the untreated surfaces made any progress pretty trecherous. The roads, of course, had been cleared so I changed surfaces and headed out of town as initially planned, finding that the snow had completed disappeared within a very short distance.

On the final day I had 86km to cover and largely repeated the ride of the previous day (without venturing on to the paths) - keeping to the flat, popular and well-travelled route out to North Berwick and back. I came home to more falling snow which seemed appropriate for the season but also made me glad that I’d achieved my goal with a day to spare.

As a consequence of these past several days, two things moved up my wishlist: an indoor trainer and a pair of winter cycling boots.