The Red Hand Gang

So in February, at the end of my last blog post I had covid, and now today, 8th June and barely 4 months later…I have covid again…..(no really… I wish I was joking)

But as I’ve been so busy (too busy) to finish my half written blogs over the past couple of months, I’m going to use my time of isolation to try and catch you up…. Probably over a couple of blog posts in quick succession.

When I contracted covid in February, I was not well at all. I tested positive for the full 10 days and I was ill, very ill. Raging temperature, extreme fatigue and my asthma was absolutely awful. There is no doubt in my mind at all, that if I hadn’t been vaccinated or had caught Delta rather than Omicrom, I would definitely have ended up in hospital due to my breathing. It was a bad time.

M was very strict about a very slow and controlled return to training once I was better, to ensure that I recovered properly and with no ill after effects. This was very successful and it only took a full month to get back to things fully, but it did mean that the Cardiff Half Marathon did not happen. I could have run it, probably, but it would have meant pushing things sooner than was sensible and so I had to decide if I was training for triathlons to half marathons this year – that crystalised the thinking and the Cardiff Half was gone.

So I returned to my training plan with enthusiasm. It’s a strange thing. Every set back seems to give me the impetus I need to drive forwards. Running was happening, weights, swimming at the pool, swimming drills (early before work) and I was using my time wisely to do my cycling intervals on a wattbike at the gym whilst my daughters were at hockey training.

The one thing I was struggling with however, was the long bike ride – usually 4 hours on a Sunday. I LOVE cycling as you know, but I love the social aspect of it even more. March and April were not particularly warm months and so trying to find the enthusiasm to head out in 6c temps for 4 hours, completely alone was very hard both mentally and practically (what if I got a puncture?) and I needed a plan.

I’m a member of a triathlon club (North Bristol Triathlon Club – the best triathlon club in the world, in case you are wondering) and one of the reasons it’s so good is because it is so inclusive. People are lovely and encouraging and although I am possibly the most inept triathlete in history, they don’t make me feel that way. So I reached out on our facebook “ladies page” (which started one year as a place to discuss what we were going to wear to the Christmas party….the decision in case you were wondering was sequins..obviously) to see if there was any appetite to form a gang for Sunday cycles? Now I was very careful about this, because, although cycling is my best of the 3 triathlon disciplines, I am still not particularly fast and in a triathlon club, pretty much everyone is training for an event and so everyone needs to get something out of each training ride so I wasn’t sure how it would work. In my head, I thought that if people fancied joining me on their “rest week”, when they wouldn’t be pushing so hard, that might work, but as long as I was honest with people about my speed (I cycle at about 22-24 kph on the flat) then they could decide I they wanted to join and hopefully it would be ok.

As usual, I needn’t have worried at all as my question was extremely favourably received and quickly a whatsapp group was formed and then more people got to hear about it and now we have a considerable gang of men and women.  

We got into a little routine of meeting at Henbury Leisure Centre and then cycling up to Oldbury, Berkeley or Slimbridge. The meet up was usually fairly chaotic with kit all over the floor and the gang helping each other to do up their overshoes (ok, so I’m the one who really needs help with that!) but very friendly with everyone pleased to be out, even if we’d all been panicking about how many layers to wear for the ride….I hate being cold.

It turns out that the vast majority of people prefer to cycle in a group for company and they weren’t actually too bothered about speed – for the long rides, although speed is important, it’s actually more about being able to sit on the saddle and turn your legs for 4 hours (which is 90-95km for me). Sometimes a couple of the speedier ones, Madame Ocular, Merida and Glinda (who is so strong up hills that she literally floats up them) would race a short strava segment having lots of fun and their all important “push” for training purposes, but I didn’t worry as they would always wait for me at the next junction or at the top of the next hill. We got into such a routine that we even knew where our “designated pee stops” would be (different fields for ladies and the men) and we all knew where we would stop for breathers and to take in the views, which are spectacular.

Slimbridge in particular is a fantastic cycle (probably my most favourite route) and the café on the canal has an excellent selection of cakes and pasties – most of the gang would have both, leading to me genuinely considering if I should be putting a Ginsters into my trisuit for fuelling on race day.

Everyone was training for different races and although some of the group I didn’t know very well back in March, I have got to know them really, really well over the past few months and I now consider them all to be my friends. We are planning a very big night out once everyone’s races are completed in the Autumn.

Triathletes are a strange breed and we’re all slightly mad and this definitely rubs off on each other. One of the gang, Bagman, thanks to Covid, has back to back Ironman races, on different continents on consecutive weekends. That is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a marathon…… the first weekend is in Europe and the second is in Canada. Now he didn’t plan this intentionally, it’s more to do with races being rescheduled due to covid, but even so, it’s clearly insane…..but I remember everyone’s face when he was telling us what he was doing as we were all eating cake at Slimbridge, and all of us just accepting that this would happen!

I’ve still done the odd solo cycle of course, it’s inevitable, but the group ones have been absolutely brilliant. Quite a few of the gang have also told me that they’ve never started their outdoor cycling so early in the year either so I’m pleased that it’s been beneficial for everyone.

The whatsapp group is now also being used for finding buddies for open water swimming as well as cycling. It’s been such an important factor for my training over the past 4 months and knowing that one of the gang will be with you as you jump into (frankly often bloody freezing) water, makes a huge difference and I know that this will continue over the summer.

Last night, the banter on the group (because at this point, it is banter rather than chat!)  switched from long flat rides (which was for the first race that most of the gang were doing, the 113 which happened last weekend – more on that later) to new routes with hills (hills…argh. Weymouth has a bloody big hill in it and I am scared) – we all now have hilly races to work our way up to (with the exception of Madame Ocular, who just enjoys cycling up hills with the gang!) and so this will be the plan going forward over the Summer.

So the moral of the story is, as with most things, be brave. Being brave and asking for help has found me the best bunch of supportive people that I could have ever hoped for and the training is so much more enjoyable as a result, even if they do video me falling as I climb over a gate at the “peestop”…..!