A while ago, I wrote about the perils of bonking and yet, this very weekend I found myself in a dark corner under a bridge over the Ashton Canal bonking my brains out with wild abandon.
Now, we all know the importance of eating well, not drinking too much and getting plenty of exercise so I won’t bore you with the usual holier-than-thou-go-for-the-burn-and-eat-a-granola-bar nonsense but I would like to share a cautionary tale with you, if you don’t mind.
As part of the whole me becoming a grown up extravaganza, I’m now looking at buying my first house and finally getting a foot on that shaky rung of the property ladder. Of course, there is a list of things the house must have (minumum 2 bedrooms, minimum distance from nearest council estate, maximum distance from nearest pub etc. etc.), chief amongst which is the ability to commute to work in under an hour without having to cycle along the shoulder of a 70mph dual carriageway.
Said potential new house finds itself in a little place called Carrbrook, roughly 10 miles from Manchester and quite literally perched on the edge of the Pennines; and, as it turns out, it’s possible to cycle almost all of the way along the Ashton Canal and Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
To test out my theory, I hopped on the Troll and headed out for a bit of recon. The trail itself is actually quite good almost all of the way and, with the exception of one puncture, a little cobble related unpleasantness and an impromptu detour around Ashton-under-Lyne, all was good with the world but that’s a story for another day.
Today, dear reader, is all about food and drink. On the day in question, I woke up early and shared a rather delicious breakfast of brown toast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with my ever patient girlfriend, Karen. After doing a few domestic chores, I was allowed out to play on my bike so I filled my bottles with water and took off in search of the horizon.
The planned ride was a mere 35ish miles (probably ended up close to 40ish with the unplanned detour and my penchant for exploring muddy trails up in the hills) so it was hardly what I would call a big distance and, I’m sure, what many readers of this blog ride without even blinking.
About 15 miles into the ride, I suffered a puncture which seemed to take an age to fix (lousy Troll and its horizontal dropouts) which swallowed up the one spare tube I was carrying with me. By sheer coincidence, I skipped off the towpath at Stalybridge only to spot Johnson’s Cycles across the road (sorry, can’t find a website to link to; must be a fairly new shop) so I headed in, Troll and all, getting mud all over the floor and everything I touched. I grabbed a couple of replacement tubes for £8 and nommed one of the free bananas that was lying on the counter.
After enjoying said ‘nana, a short rest and a nice chat, I got back on the trail, found a great route through a country park, up into the hills, past a reservoir and around to the back of the potential new house. Could I live with these views on my doorstep? I think so.
From here, all I had to do was retrace my steps (minus the detours of course) and I was feeling fine. What I didn’t realise was that I’d been out for several hours and it was already long past lunchtime. Heading back, I made steady progress until I was about 5 miles out of Manchester city centre; that’s when it hit me. The combination of the previous night’s Prosecco, a relentless headwind, my less than adequate intake of food and fluids was starting to take its revenge.
The lactic acid starting building up in my thighs, I was a little battered by the cobbles, there was nowhere to hide from that awful headwind and my mind started wandering. Somehow, I kept the pedals turning (in a big gear, too!) and the Troll found its own way home for the last 12 miles. How I didn’t end up in an accident, I don’t know.
I realised later (after nomming a Scooby-Doo style sandwich, a large handful of salty pretzels and drinking 2 cups of tea) that I was dehydrated and running low on energy reserves, salt and probably several other things your body needs to keep going.
Looking back, I probably only drank about 500ml of water the whole time I was out and with only the banana I ate in the shop and a second one I nommed later on as fuel, I’d basically pushed my unfit body beyond its hungover limits.
It’s easy to remember to eat and drink in the summer when you’re out riding with the mad dogs because you can see the sweat pouring off your brow, you can taste the salt leeching out of your body and you know you need refreshments. The problem is, when the weather’s a bit colder, you really don’t feel that need to eat and drink as much as you do when it’s hot and this proved to be my downfall.
They say you should drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry… I’m not quite sure how that works; I guess after a while, you get to know just how much fuel your body needs and you can anticipate it before it feels like your stomach is tied in a knot and your throat is like a piece of sandpaper…
There are plenty of options out there for getting the right stuff into you from ready made drinks to powders, tablets, gels, energy bars and the list goes on. Try a few out and you’ll soon settle on the one that works best for you but, in the meantime, keep taking in plenty of water and you can do worse than have a couple of bananas and / or oaty flapjacks in your pockets.
Oh, and spare tubes too!