I had previously heard about Rapha’s #Festive500 challenge but never gave it a second thought. It involves riding 500km on your bike between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, i.e. within 8 days.
When I started triathlon training I managed to break my elbow at the start of Dec 2014, so I couldn’t ride on the road during that time anyway and wasn’t fit enough yet. Christmas and NYE 2015 was spent in Germany/Austria without even a bike around, so that wasn’t an option either. But somehow, this year I thought ‘why not?’
I have a talent for filling any free time, i.e. holidays, with something triathlon related so that by the end of it my brain had a holiday but my body is a bit exhausted. And so I decided to give it a go.
First I had to get a few clothing supplies, though, because my running tights and running gloves were not going to be suitable for riding 62.5km on average for 8 days in a row.
Here is what I used for riding in sub-zero temperatures:
Always double socks, double gloves, a wind-breaker thermal full length cycling bib and a water-proof jacket, a face mask, overshoes and a high-vis jacket… And I took along a backpack with all the necessary supplies for keeping myself fed and watered, and my bike maintained…
My goal was to smash as many kilometres early on as possible, because I wanted to run the local New Year’s Eve run on the 31st and be done with cycling the day before. In the following day-by-day I’ll tell you how it all unfolded…
24 December – Day 1, Ride #1
The forecast was for rain but at around 5 degrees above zero the temperatures were pretty mild. I started my ride just before 7am with the goal of reaching Coburg as a turnaround point, about 45km north of Bamberg. It’s a perfectly flat ride and reasonably scenic.
It was wet and miserable and my jacket’s waterproof-ness couldn’t withstand the onslaught of rain any longer after a couple of hours on the road. I made it to Coburg, took a photo (for Strava, duh!) and turned around.
On the way home my feet were so cold and wet (the overshoes hadn’t arrived at this time yet) and 10km from Bamberg I got a flat tyre. I was so over it by then and knew dad was out shopping for Christmas. Plus, my brother was soon going to arrive with his family, so I called dad to pick me up and got my miserable self into the car with 86km done. Not quite the 100km I was aiming for, but close enough.
25 December – Day 2, ride #2
Following a lovely Christmas (on Christmas Eve here in Germany) with my husband, parents and my brother with his family, I set out at 8am on Christmas Day for ride number two. This time I wanted to ride south, a route I had taken during my commute in summer many times. Flat again. Perfect!
The forecast was for rain and mild, above zero temperatures again. This time I had face mask and overshoes and warm, dry feet all the way. Success! I aimed for around 70km, keeping myself well above the daily average while ensuring I get home in time for family stuff.
The ride was pretty straight-forward and I felt really good. I noticed that riding in these temperatures wasn’t nearly as fast as my summer training, but that didn’t matter. I had headwind on the way out, but tailwind all the way home. Score! Another 71km done…
26 December – Day 3
Am I still alive? Waking up at 8am I felt like I had been hit by a bus. My darling nephews had passed on more than presents over Christmas and Paul and I had come down with some sort of virus. Every part of my body was achy and in pain, my brain was foggy and I felt sick the entire day. I just lay motionless in bed, forcing myself to drink small amounts of water and finding even the thought of getting up to get my laptop too much to bear. It was Monday but MakeoverMonday was not going to happen that day. I have never felt sicker in my life.
In hindsight it’s like Boxing Day 2016 didn’t even exist, and I do feel cheated and robbed.
Apparently it was a beautiful and sunny day, would have been perfect for riding.
Did I even want to attempt this cycling challenge? Did I have any chance? I felt like I never wanted to eat or move ever again, so I gave up on the idea.
27 December – Day 4
Yes, I am still alive. Weak and a bit tired, but still alive. I managed to get up, was able to eat something after not doing so for 40 hours and cranked out my MakeoverMonday viz.
But I decided against any riding, because I didn’t have the strength and probably should take a bit of time to recover. And I had given up on the idea anyway, right? So instead, my brother and dad and I did some DIY projects around the house…
28 December – Day 5, ride #3
I could just ride for a bit and see how I go. I don’t have to complete the full 500km. It’s not about the badge or the glory (yeah right…), so I can have my own rules. Maybe I could even ride indoors (which doesn’t count for the official challenge) if I can’t be bothered riding around outside.
So at 4pm I set off on an afternoon ride after more DIY fun with my brother and dad. I figured I could just do a couple of hours and see how I go. So I did. And clocked another 43km.
29 December – Day 6, rides #4 and #5
I’m gonna give this a shot. Maybe I can finish it after all?
I started at 6am with a 2 hour ride. It was dark and really cold, with around -3 degrees C and lots of fog. But I can handle that for 41km. This was the first ride where the drink in my bottle actually froze and turned into a slushy. So yes, it was certainly getting colder. But thankfully there was no rain. Done.
In the afternoon after saying bye to my brother and his family, who returned back home, I set out for ride number 2 of the day because I had some serious catching up to do if I wanted to complete 500km by the end of the year.
The sun had come out and it was an absolute stunner of a day. Sunshine, temperatures around zero degrees and flat and empty roads ahead of me…
After 3 hours of riding I had completed another 65km and felt rather pleased with myself. I managed to get another flat tyre just before arriving at home. Never mind…
30 December – Day 7, ride #6
So far I had ridden 307km, so there were 193km to go. In 2 days. With sub-zero temperatures and sunny days forecast for the rest of the week it was always going to be a challenge, but I was quietly confident I could make this happen. Maybe even push for 120km today?
I can be very
stubborn strong-willed and when I commit to something I get it done, no matter what. I’m not a quitter.
At least that’s what I thought until I was 15km into ride number 6. Sunrise was just about to happen and I had suffered from the cold, wet fog that I had been riding through until then. At this point I was ready to quit. I was cold, tired and cranky…
I decided to push on until the 25km mark before turning around and to at least enjoy the sunrise that was about to happen. So I kept riding and as soon as that sun hit my face, my whole world changed…
I just kept riding. I wanted Erlangen to be my turnaround point, because the centre of town is exactly 40km from my home. When I got there and did a little lap of the inner city, I turned around and decided it was time for a treat. So pretzel and coffee it was…
This was perfect! I warmed up a little while standing in the bakery, looking suspiciously at anyone who glanced at my bike for too long. I gathered new strength and the determination to finish those 500km.
On my way back home I was treated to this stunning winter wonderland – one thing that is good about the morning fog…
I added a little extra lap when I got back to Bamberg to at least reach 100km, because I didn’t have 120km in me… So after wanting to give up 15km into the ride, I ended up with 104km done by early afternoon and a well-deserved rest.
31 December – Day 8, ride #7
So the last day of the year had arrived. There were 89km left to do. That should be possible, right? I have done many rides that were much longer than 89km. Heck, I had done twice that distance in July after swimming 4km in a canal beforehand.
-6 degrees C and the sun was just starting to come up at the horizon.
I decided to set out in daylight in the hope of avoiding the worst of the fog. It was a beautiful morning and I chose a route I had previously ridden. The scenery along the river is beautiful and the entire route is pretty much dead-flat.
18km into the ride, just outside a service/gas station, I heard a ‘pffffff’ and of course, I had another flat… Always the back tyre. Admittedly the tyre has a few small cuts and I should probably have replaced it before attempting this whole thing, but I didn’t get around to buying one… So I spent the next 20min changing my tyre. The tube part isn’t time consuming and I have become very quick at it, but I spent ages picking out little stones and salt crystals (which they put on the road to melt the ice) out of various cuts to ensure I wouldn’t have another flat straight away. Checking and double checking my tyre inside and out and running my fingers over the rim tape with slight paranoia took a while…
But then I was off again and tried my best to avoid any crunchy parts of the road. Which is pretty much impossible in winter. Roads, bike lanes and foot paths (sidewalks) are covered in salt, sand and fine gravel to give everyone some grip below their shoes and tyres.
I enjoyed the scenery and rode and rode until I reached Haßfurt, a place I have never been to and only heard boring stuff about in the past. It turned out to be quite pretty and once again I was in luck, finding a friendly service station which let me use their washrooms. Also got an approving nod from a car driver who enquired about my kilometre goal for the day. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel satisfying to surprise people ;-).
This last ride was the most enjoyable of them all, probably because I knew it was the last push to my goal. I treated myself to another pretzel stick, took photos when the mood was right and enjoyed my river lap.
When I arrived at home with 90km done on this last day of 2016 I was pumped. After feeling so sick on Boxing Day and never wanting to move again, I was lucky to recover quickly and actually managed to do this.
I have never before trained seriously in such a cold climate. My pre-down under life here in Germany wasn’t exactly that of an athlete (I was pretty lazy…). And in Sydney I was able to train all year round because it never gets too cold.
Riding in sub-zero temperatures for 4-5 hours at a time, all by myself with no support crew was an interesting experience. It’s not that I don’t have friends, they just don’t ride bikes. At least not the way I do…
The results are in
And because I’ve been collecting all this cycling data with my GPS watch, I just had to build a dashboard to look at the numbers. (click on the image to go to the interactive version)
And with that, my Rapha #Festive500 challenge was truly completed.
Yes, I am proud. Also a little tired. My legs have carried me far this year and especially over the last 8 days. So I’ll be spending today, the first day of 2017, resting up and not moving much. I’m sure it won’t derail my ambitious plans for the coming 12 months…