DAY 23

Back in the saddle and despite a few aches and pains from lifting boxes, pulling up flooring and scraping wallpaper, riding today was a joy. The sun was out, it was nearly ? though not quite ? warm enough for shorts. For the first time this year I did not have to wear my winter jacket.

As I neared the end of my hour-and-a-bit-loop. I passed a rider going the other way and waved. A couple of moments later I heard deep breaths at my back wheel and a voice said: ?Mind if I join you??

Sadly I was only a mile or so from home and I told him so. He seemed disappointed but rode along with me for a few minutes before saying: ?I ride here every day after work. Finish at four so I?m here by 4.15. If you?re ever out this way, feel free to come along.?

I thanked him for his invite but in reality it?s unlikely I?ll get myself together enough to be there on time regularly. I can?t even get myself to the Sunday club-run on anything like an infrequent basis and that starts at 9.30 without fail.

Although I have ridden (most) days since my challenge started, there has been no set routine. Sometimes I go out early, as soon as breakfast has digested. Sometimes I?ve gone out late and returned home just before dusk. I?d love the luxury of having a regimented start time for my riding but it?s just totally impractical.

Someone asked me what I am going to do once the 30-Day Challenge is over. Well, the simple answer is to carry on with the training plan, week-by-week and get as fit as possible in time for the summer. After that the door to some really enjoyable riding opens ? foreign sportives, rides in the Alps.

I?ve mentioned Guv001, a contributor to our forum who restarted his 30-Day Challenge after missing a couple of days and although I don?t think that was necessary I salute his dedication. Someone else deserves a mention too ? NickdSaint, who says he was left for dead on the roadside after being hit by a car in August 2003, survived, came out of a coma and is now in the first week of his own 30-Day Challenge. Reading between the text speak it seems his goal is to lose a bit of weight and get fit for summer too. Good luck, fella.

THE LOWDOWN

Distance covered: 28 kilometres (17.4 miles)

Time: 1hr 8 minutes

Average speed: 24.7kph (15.3mph)

DAY 24

Intervals are where you begin to notice the improvements in fitness. In week one the intervals worried me because pushing hard for a set amount of time is a real test of willpower. Now I feel stronger and more confident and the eight-minute intervals at lactate threshold are within my sphere of capability. Before anyone says ?You?re obviously not going hard enough then? let me clarify.

I have crossed the boundary that comes quite quickly when you begin training again after a lay-off. At first pain caused by riding a bicycle is enough to make you want to stop, get off and go to the pub. After a while the pain is almost a spur itself and you begin to play little games with yourself. ?I?ll go this hard until that building there,? or ?I?ll go as hard as I possibly can for the final two minutes.?

This was a short, sharp session, which was a good thing as time is incredibly short at the moment.

THE LOWDOWN

10 mins at base endurance

8 mins at lactate threshold

2 mins rest

8 mins at lactate threshold

10 mins at base endurance

Distance covered: 17 kilometres (10.6 miles)

Time: 38 minutes

Average speed: 26.8kph (16.7mph)

DAY 25

Today ? with the culmination of the challenge just five days away ? was a complete write-off. It was the first day so far that I planned to ride but couldn?t. There were mitigating circumstances. Following a shockingly unhealthy breakfast I spent the morning waiting for the delivery of a bathroom suite. The delivery window as 8am to 1pm. Naturally they arrived a couple of minutes before one. I had pre-arranged a lunch meeting and that took place in an Italian restaurant where it seemed rude to turn down the opportunity to eat spaghetti with meatballs.

Then I went to the bank to inform them of my change of address, a process I had hoped would be a straightforward matter of showing proof of my identity and giving them the details. Ah, how naïve that was. They wanted enough forms of ID to apply for access to the new Trident nuclear submarine system.

Most ludicrously the lady said: ?Now we need a utility bill from your new address.?

How am I supposed to get my hands on one of those then, considering I?ve only had possession of the property for five days? In the end she accepted a copy of my mortgage offer and a completion statement from my solicitor. Finally I had to listen to a 15-minute sales pitch where the bank assured me they could save me money on my mortgage, my insurance policies and just about everything else. I half expected her to say at the end: ?Oh and we?re doing a great deal on these lamb chops at the moment ? six for a fiver. No? Okay, how about I wash your car for a tenner?? Here?s a wacky notion, Mrs Banker, why don?t you concentrate on looking after my money and stop hitting people with your illegal charges?

None of this has anything to do with cycling, but it is my list of child-like excuses and I have receipts to back it all up and everything. If I may also submit as evidence the fact that I missed the best stage of Paris-Nice so far on Eurosport perhaps you?ll believe me.

To round off the day we had a curry out and a few beers. Must do better tomorrow.

THE LOWDOWN

Meals out: 3

Breakfast: Builders breakfast. Egg, bacon, sausage, tomato, baked beans, hash browns, mushrooms and a mug of tea.

Lunch: Spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs

Dinner: Chicken dupiaza with pilau rice and aloo ghobi. Too many beers.

Self-loathing scale: Off the chart.