Finish what you started

Sometimes, it’s not the challenge, or even completing the challenge. Sometimes, it’s the story behind it.

Strava‘s 2013 Spring Classics Challenge was pretty easy: ride 1319km (or 820 miles) or more in the month of April. Having a daily commute of about 2×19 miles would make this challenge almost a triviality. To kick-start the challenge, I took my new race machine out for a century-miler on April 1st.

The new race machineAll went well until about 80 miles. There, on a round-about, things went wrong: I crashed, and broke my collarbone… Now, the thing about a broken collarbone is that they can’t put a cast on it. The only thing they can do is cut it open, and screw a plate on it. As I not only had two fractures, but also two chips, chances were that the chips had come off on the very spot they’d want to put the screws. So, what was left for me was to let it heal on its own. So, when I got out of the hospital four days later, sore shoulder and all, and the last thing on my mind was the Strava Spring Challenge.

Not being able to ride a (race) bike is one thing, but being indoors 24×7 is not quite something I fancy. So I started walking, that being the only outdoors activity I could still do, and true to the Mythbusters adagium that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, the walks averaged 15 miles. Although I was happy to spend those hours outdoors, walking just isn’t, and probably won’t ever be, my favorite activity. As by the end of the 2nd week I was cleared to get back to work, I needed transportation. Driving a car is out of the question, riding a race bike too, and public transportation with the risk of having someone bump into me? Nah, I don’t think so…..

Now, there are bikes that you can ride while sitting upright, and steer with just one hand: the Dutch bike, or (in Dutch) the omafiets.


Although it does have a front rim brake, the main braking system is a coaster brake, to I don’t have to use my left hand for braking. And as it’s a single speed bike, no changing gears, either, so I don’t have to use my right hand at all. Having bought one at the 16th, and taking it for a 25 mile ride, I found riding this bike comparable to walking in terms of strain to my right shoulder.

So, for the first days, I just rode to work, not thinking about the challenge. Actually, that’s not quite true: I’d pretty much given up on the challenge. There was no way I could see to ride about 700 miles in little more than two weeks. But on the 18th, I did a little calculation: I’d ridden 180 miles by then, so in order to finish, I had to ride (820-180)/12 = 53.4 miles per day. That’s “only” 15.4 miles added to the daily commute. That sounds a whole less daunting.

So, every day, I’d ride to work, maybe take a longer route than normal, depending on the wind, and after my right shoulder started to stiffen up, I’d ride back home, getting the extra miles done, plus a little more, weather permitting, to get the mileage down. The weekends might prove a problem, though. I’m not the kind of guy that bikes somewhere, spends half an hour there, and continues on. When I stop, it’s only for a minute or so. Riding 50+ miles on a new bike, with a different type of saddle, and a different geometry just might prove too much to do. On Saturday 20th, I managed to push a little over 30 miles in a strong wind. That’s 13 miles short. That’s a problem: I was already pushing it just about as far as I could during the week, no chance of recouping those miles then. And to add them to the Sunday ride? Hardly doable. So I was close to giving up on the challenge for the second time.

Sunday 21st, however, started out as a really lovely, albeit cold, day. As it happened, I had an appointment in Leiden to man the time-keeping electronics at the Junior’s race series at my cycling club. It was an easy peddle to Leiden, just a little under 30 miles. After the races, the temperature had become agreeable, and I decided to take a long ride back home. It turned out to be a 43 miles ride, and taken over the weekend, I was only 2 miles short. It still was doable!

During the next week, I was really pushing it. I’d become accustomed to the bike, although I had to fiddle with the saddle as that was sagging down, and changing its height a couple of times within a few days didn’t go well with my knees. But I was not only getting the allotted miles down, but also an extra few more, so by the time it was Saturday 27th, I’d ridden 630 miles, meaning I’d only had to do about 47.5 miles per day the remaining 4 days. Had the weather been windy, cold and/or wet during the week, this weekend, the weather was nice. So nice in fact, I’d ridden 50+ miles on Saturday, but went for another 30 miles in the evening, plus 50 miles again on Sunday! With the daily commute on Monday, that left about 20-25 miles on Tuesday. It being a public holiday, I could decide on a nice ride to complete the challenge. Then it suddenly hit me: why not going to the crash site, and complete the ride I’d started in the 1st?


 So, I went out on Tuesday with two GPSs. One for the trip to the crash site, the other one for the completion of the ride I started a month earlier. Considering it to be two rides also freed me from a rule I’d set myself eons ago to never ride the same road twice during a ride (unless there’s no alternative). At the crash site, I stopped, switched off one GPS, turned on the other, and completed the ride, as well as the challenge.


Now, you can make several remarks on this, an obvious one being that I must be crazy to bike more than 750 miles with a broken collarbone. Of course, there’s a risk there that I’m taking, but there’s also a risk of hurting yourself when you’re walking. And there’s even a risk when staying in bed: you can roll onto your bad shoulder while you’re sleeping. It happened to me at least twice.

Another one might be that it’s better to find out what you still can do, or can start to do, rather than moan about what you can’t do. I could’ve not bought that bike on the 16th, and it would’ve spared me a whole lot of pain in the quadriceps, but then I wouldn’t’ve had all the fun of watching people stare at me.

The remaining remarks are left as exercises to the reader 😉


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