Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags...
So began my first day of training at 6.30 this morning. It was an unplanned start too, the remnants of a vicious bout of catarrh putting paid to my slumber. All I intend doing today is fitting a training tyre to the rear wheel of my bike. It'll be a start and not before time.
On 3 July 2010, I hope to be taking my place among seven thousand other hardy souls at the start line of La Marmotte, a 'sportive' renowned the world over as being one of the toughest around. It involves scaling, on a bike, four infamous alpine mountain passes - the Cols du Glandon, Télégraphe and Galibier and, just for good measure, the 21-hairpin Alpe d'Huez. To give you some idea of how hard it is, you need a doctor's note to enter.
For a reasonably fit, regular cyclist, La Marmotte poses a significant challenge. For an irregular commuter by bike who's occasionally ridden the odd 60+ mile charity ride, it's essentially asking for trouble. In fact, it's so alien to my usual cycle - New Cross Gate to Southwark along the flat Old Kent Road - I can barely even comprehend the challenge ahead. The nearest I can get to a mountain is the mercifully brief ascent to Crystal Palace via the Sydenham Hill route.
So why? Why bother with this madness? I suppose there are a number of reasons. Mid-life crisis clearly has a part to play, along with a desire to win what's threatening to become a losing battle with middle-aged spread. But there is more to it than that. Around 15 years ago, my dad died after a relatively short battle with cancer. More recently, this year in fact, my uncle passed away following a marginally longer but equally unsuccessful struggle with the disease. I don't want to go the same way. I figure taking on such a ludicrous race will finally give me the impetus to kick the habit of smoking the odd cigar or cigarette when out drinking. For a start, I'll rarely be able to go out for the next six months as most of my training will have to be done in the early hours of the morning. And if I think I can carry on smoking and cycle up mountains, I'm kidding nobody but myself. So I had my last social smoke last week and now it's time to say no more.
But it's not all about me. For every pound I lose suffering up the local hills, I hope to gain the same and more in sterling for two causes close to my heart. Macmillan Cancer Support looked after my dad and uncle during their illness, so they'll be the main recipient of my fund-raising efforts. I'll also be channelling some cash towards Coral Cay Conservation, a charity into which my uncle put a lot of time and effort. Quite how I'll raise this money is anyone's guess, but I expect Justgiving or somesuch will assist. I'll keep you posted.
My first test is to get this trainer tyre on to the back wheel. Racing bike tyres are notoriously tricky to get on and off, but the Continental Ultra Sport Home Trainer Tyre takes things to a completely different level. I swear it's got a smaller circumference than the wheel. The only few times I've tried to put one on, I've had to practically jemmy it into place, leading to an instant puncture. Funny thing is, I took it to a local bike shop and the guy there did it with his bare hands.
There's a lesson in there somewhere about leaving things to the experts.