I know I said I wasn’t going to have a target this year. Well. I lied. The mountains are calling. There are more physical considerations for this year, though, meaning a bit more of a pragmatic and a bit less obsessive approach to the rides that will come at the end of June.
Target – The Alps
That said, the target will be a lot less precise than in previous years. No focus on one mountain or one long-distance ride. That can get a little obsessive. The Pyrenees in 2022 was a better model. My legs were not as strong after three years of MS progression. Well, actually, they are strong but the impact of foot drop means that the communication between mind and limb via the nervous system can be, frankly, useless. This means that, when walking for example, my foot drags a little and I can be a prone to falling over. With the bike, clipping in was never and option and now the action of putting my foot on a pedal can be a little challenging, especially when tired.
Enough talk about what is going wrong, time to look forward. The actual target is going to be one climb at least. I may not have a real choice on what climb as the place where we are staying is in the village of Huez. So I have to climb Alpes d’Huez to get to bed at night which makes for a fairly obvious target. The idea of sleeping on the side of a mountain in lycra is not really exciting. My cycling chums will be doing the ‘Marmotte‘, multiple summits in one day and something which would not be sensible for me. I will meet them for the last climb on Alpes d’Huez, though, and perhaps warm up with a short climb to a nearby summit. Hopefully good weather. We’ll see. Then we have a couple of days to look around.
This is the fun bit. Between now and June, ride. Keep riding. A new bike, a Trek Domane, makes that more fun. There will be the usual trips to Amerongen to go up and down the one hill that is nearby, get used to the gearing and feeling. Cycling in to wind will also help with that. Hopefully. A lot of wind in Holland. No hills to stop it, after all.
There are also less exciting elements of training. I need to focus on my right leg, that foot drop. It will not go away but exercises shown to me by physios at the revalidation clinic can help. Stretching the ankle for example through rolling the foot from tip-toe to heel. Stretching with a towel. I am not sure if it will work, to be honest, but I need to believe that it will.
Indeed, belief is something that I have thought a lot about recently, particularly one specific ride. Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2017. I went in to that ride with an almost psychotic self-belief. I had decided, no matter what, that I would finish. In 2017 this was very hard work. I was too slow to keep up with my companions (no shame there, a group of twenty-something triathletes and a forty-two year old with MS!), the weather was awful and descending after some of the steep climbs was terrifying! Wet roads and Belgian drivers. Still, I knew I would make it, boosted when I came across another member of the group. When we reached the brutal, fabled Cote de la Redoute I remember feeling so thrilled, excited! The three worst climbs were to come and I had around one-hundred-and-twenty kilometres in my legs but I flew (by my standards) up that particularly nasty climb. Even managed to give one of the photographers the perfect shot…. though that was because my legs were really hurting.
The next year, the same ride, the same stage. The weather was far better and I was actually able to see how beautiful the Ardenne region really is. But my mind was wrong. My legs were in great shape but I had not been drinking enough. I had started to think I would not finish. The belief was ebbing. Redoute came and, internally, I froze. Halfway up my legs seemed to loose power and over I went, falling sideways. The rest of the course was finished that year and nearly all the stats had improved when compared 2017. Apart from Redoute, marking a lesson was learnt. The need to believe.
All the big rides that I have completed have been marked by a sense of belief. The difficult part, this year, is maintaining that belief in the face of worsening condition. I can train as much as possible and still the foot drop in particular can impact my ability to complete. Even with all the belief in the world the body may just say no.
So it is simple. The target this year is one summit finish. With so many mountains to choose from that should not be too difficult. I would like to climb Galibier but that will be biting off too much. Alpes d’Huez is sensible and also necessary!
Different to past mountains, though, is a sense of perspective. I no longer have this belief that I will complete the chosen climb. My body, especially my right leg, won’t allow that. That sense of belief is still important, though. That and the support of friends got me up Col du Tourmalet last year, a Covid delayed target from 2020. The sense of perspective meant I passed on Col d’Aubisque. A climb I wanted, so badly. But my legs said no and I listened. Why ruin everything? Belief is good but with a sense of perspective.
Back in the mountains I need to find a happy middle ground. Belief tempered with realism. To push myself, to feel pain, but not to an extent that is dangerous. The training will be physical and mental and, as always, I have a lot to learn if I want to add to my personal roll of honour. Mountains and a bad leg is perhaps not the best combination but I will certainly give it my best shot. And enjoy doing it!