My nemeses: The hidden cruelties of south eastern suburbia.

There are two stretches of road that feature all-too frequently on my training rides that invoke a shiver down my spine. Nearly any London-based rider who regularly heads to Kent will know these, and I am sure that they have caused similar whimpers of fear and pain for them.

I thought I would briefly dissect them for you:

Shire Lane.

There are two routes home from the country roads for me, and this stretch tends to feature on shorter more punchy rides, where I am looking for a higher intensity and perhaps less climbing. It’s around 3.3km long (the below strava segment cuts off the first few 100m), and, on paper, is nothing to get worried about.

When taken from East to West (i.e., uphill), it is essentially 3.1km of very straight and featureless road, followed with a cruel ramp of about 200m that tops out at around 9 or 10%. One of those horrible ones that rears up slowly, painfully sapping the momentum you’d picked up before.

Capture

However, it is the mental response that this road engenders that makes it awful. Depending on form and wind direction, you can do it at around 5-6 minutes, and being around 45 minutes from home – when I tend to be in ‘nearly home so may as well smash it as hard as I can until I feel like I’m going to fall over’ mode – means it’s taken at full pelt.

Given the lack of junctions and obstructions on the road, and being around 6 minutes long, it essentially makes for an unrelenting V02 max (i.e., around 110% of your threshold power) interval taken at the end of a punchy sweetspot (i.e., 90%ish of threshold) type ride. If you’ve done these type of intervals, you’ll know the feeling of lactate accumulating in your legs and the desperate desire to stop. And that’s what makes this one horrible. Down in the drops, keeping in to the side due to the preponderance of angry drivers along this road, you feel the pain remorselessly accumulating as you push push push. And in the back of your mind, you’re thinking about that last bit…

When the ramp at the end kicks in, if you’re trying to do it at any pace, you’ll get out of the saddle and try to punch your way up, maybe in the big ring if you’re feeling special. It’s that moment when you stamp on the pedals and pull down on the bars as you lift your mighty glutes from your perch that you know how hard the ride has been, or in what kind of form you’re in. In 90% of cases, I’m a bit messy at this point, and so on standing, the lactate bites into nearly every muscle in my legs, crippling your strength, bringing about an Aru-eque grimace of misery and child-like whimper of pain. If it’s particularly bad, an embarrassing shift into the little ring and return to the saddle is very much required. And that is more often than not unfortunately

And to top it all off, you then have to negotiate the junction at the end, and, turning right to head home, continue to chug up a 5%ish gradient for a minute or so til a gentle descent and some respite arrives.

If Shire doesn’t hurt you, you’re not trying hard enough.

Anerley Hill.

I think all SE England riders will have experienced this at some point. Cadence Performance Centre (a quite renowned and very popular bike shop / café / wattbike and yoga studio) is at the top, and huge amounts of riders use the area for a meeting and finishing point for rides due to the preponderance of cafes in the region. Unfortunately for me, I cannot escape it – it is the wall dividing my flat and the various bergs and rolling lumps of Kent.

Again, it’s nothing on paper; it’s around 700m long, averages 6% and maxes at about 12%. It’s a proper ‘berg’ that could be covered in shoddy cobbles and dropped in Flanders. The difficulty is, for me, it is brutally positioned about 3km from home when I will invariably be pooped. I always think that if I get up this without a few tears of agony, I’m definitely not working hard enough. I think others are of similar view. Indeed, associates in Broleur.CC have named it the ‘Anerley Challenge’, and whoever created the below Strava segment has given it a very fitting title:anerley

There are two things that make this hill terrible (or, indeed, ‘mental’).

The preceding 15 minutes.

Immediately prior to the ascent of Anerley is a succession of around 5 very small ramps along Anerley Road, all very short, some steep, some not. However, as this is the time when I’m in ‘Balls out attack to get home’ mode mentioned earlier, it has to be done as hard as possible to eek out the last possible gains from the ride, all the while trying to not incur the wrath of the numerous drivers in the area, and praying to the man above (should there be one) that the ridiculous amount of lights stay green for you.

Thus, this road ends up being 5(ish) maximal efforts at the point when you’re likely to be mentally and physically empty. And it’s all a charming warm up to the final hurdle of Anerley, a fear which is building up more and more as each of the ramps takes an extra bit out of your reserves.

Traffic and ‘road furniture’.

There are always loads of cars parked on the side of the road, and a few traffic islands in the centre, making the Mur itself hideously congested with traffic due to the lights at the top. The below pic gives a flavour of the mess it can get into. If there isn’t a line of frustrated drivers sitting in the jam there will definitely be a double decker crawling its way up to the bus stop you can see here. So, as your weary legs drag you to the summit, you need to have wits about you and eyes peeled to keep safe, ride sensibly and responsibly, and hopefully keep moving forwards.

Capture3

In fact, staying in the pedals and not being forced to a complete halt (due to either exhaustion or cars) is essential. If you have to come to a stop and put foot to the floor, at this type of gradient, it’s very hard to get going again.

What’s more, it’s likely that, on a weekend lunchtime, riders that have ended their session at Cadence, will be casually sipping flat whites and chowing on croissants whilst looking out on to the road. As such, they get a stadium view of your miserable attempts to reach the top without looking like a total berk. In the event of a mega bonk or an unclipping of pedals on the way up, these viewers make walking to the top out of the question.

On reaching the top, for me, it’s a true purity of relief; the session is over, and all that remains is an easy 10 minute spin home. Cue check of garmin stats, emptying of bidons and anticipation of the best of meals – the recovery refuel.

 

N.B Apologies to Simon Warren for stealing the vibe from his book. And a little bit to Broleur, who have a great piece about the climbs in kent). But I was bored. So tough.

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