So, this is the start of the longer distance stuff. If you have read the commute, then you will know that it serves as the backbone of my experience in the saddle. Time to up the ante and time to start pushing my limits.
In the days before Audax, my longest ride was Nightrider, where me and a friend rode to and from the event. That turned out at 170 odd km and it was done overnight, after a week at work. It was hard work, but I did it:
Audax is a natural route for those of us that want to try longer distances, to see how we get on. Audax offers the following benefits:
- Ride with like-minded people (if you want to) and, (more importantly), benefit from their experience.
- Have your route mapped out for you by somebody that knows the local area and can pick cycle-friendly, traffic free (ish) roads for you to explore.
- Take regular breaks in the form of control points (CP).
- Start small (50km) and build up the distances.
- Meet friendly, genuinely nice people that don’t annoy you.*
So, I visited the Audax UK website back in the Summer and joined. Then I booked myself in for a 200km ride around Essex and posted the news out on Twitter while tweeting to the amazing Jasmijn Muller (UK & World 24hr TT Champion) about how people like her had inspired me to push my limits, referencing her blog entry about LEL2017 and how inspirational it had been to me:
So, Jasmijn and I shared a few tweets and it ended up that she was riding the very same event as I was. Her response when I posted a link to the event:
I have to say that I was really pleased. It would be great to bump into Jasmijn at the event. I truly admire her along with all of the other wonderful people that have inspired me to go further.
I was determined to get a good night’s sleep in the before the event, but, as usual, one thing led to another and my plans were scuppered; I ended up with 5 hours sleep on the clock. I had also packed too much into my courier bag. Worse still, a courier bag was bound to be frowned upon by the audax pros. Nobody carries stuff on their backs in audax, it all goes on the bike.
My packing strategy wasn’t looking good for my plans to do the Transcontinental Race, where people hack their toothbrushes in half, just to save a bit of weight and room. Have you seen the size of that lock?
I wasn’t really organised. I was supposed to have printed the the route sheets and found a way to attach them to me, or the bike so that I could refer to them during the ride. I was also supposed to have studied the route and made myself familiar with the Control Points. I hadn’t done any of that.
Next morning, I dragged myself out of bed and fumbled around in the dark for my cycling kit. I pulled my gear on, visited the bathroom, and then padded quietly down the stairs so as not to wake the whole house.
I faffed for too long, stuffing route sheets into my bag in case I needed them. I threw stuff out of the bag, I threw other stuff in, I actually made some rolls to take with me for food. I stopped faffing and wolfed breakfast down, (coffee and porridge), keen not to be late, although I was already running behind time.
I stuck the bike in the car and just as I was about to head off, a local couple that I know (and haven’t seen for ages), came by on their morning run. They stopped and we chatted while I did my best to hide that fact that I was in a rush. They were very impressed with my 200km challenge, anyway and they didn’t hang around, which was good.
It was an uneventful drive to the start, in Witham, Essex and I unloaded the bike and faffed for a while. Then I popped into the Control Point (CP), walked straight past registration, asked somebody “where is registration, please”, got told: “my son is manning it, he’s behind you”, laughed nervously and registered.
I felt like a bit of a stalker, but couldn’t resist scanning the entrants’ labels laid out on the table (sorry, Jasmijn ;)). Jasmijn’s was still there, meaning she had not yet signed in so I thought I’d grab a quick coffee and keep an eye out.
I had to faff a bit more outside with the bike and I thought I caught a glimpse of Jasmijn across the car park. “She’ll be inside registering soon”, I thought – we were getting closer to departure time.
A bit more faffing and I suddenly realised it was time to go. Completely missed Jasmijn, and that made me chuckle to myself a bit – just so unorganised! Another time, I am sure.
I headed off, the 215km yawned out in front of me and I had no real idea of how to pace myself or where I was going, or where the first CP was. Just blindly following my Garmin 810 Edge and wondering if it was okay to overtake people or would they come cruising past me later on? I worry about these things.
9.2km in and the Garmin lost its way, telling me to turn back. I knew I was on the right track because it had only just told me to turn left, but I pulled over anyway and thought about digging the routesheets out of my bag. Suddenly, a guy comes past me at a fair old lick, saying: “All okay?” “All fine, thanks”, I lied and swiftly set off to catch him, hoping he was part of the same ride that I was.
This turned out to be Andy who was a seasoned long-distance cyclist. I asked if he minded me tagging along (he said he didn’t) and told him it was my first audax. Andy was very welcoming and we soon got onto the topic of long-distance – I was in my element. I listened to his advice throughout the day and this is what I took home:
- Route sheets are handy if your tech packs in, or just as a second reference.
- Carry your brevet card in a plastic bag (usually available at registration) Store it somewhere easy-to-get-at and put some spare change in the plastic bag that your card is in, for buying stuff at control points (where you get your proof of visiting in the form of a shop receipt, for instance). Keep a small pen in the bag, too – you will need this for noting down info controls and other entries in your brevet card.
Thanks to @arf_001 on Twitter for reminding me about the pen after reading this, not sure how I forgot that one.
- Carry as much as you can on the bike (I knew that was coming).
- Buy a cafe lock and don’t lug around a kilo of lock all day, like I had (on my back).
- Get out of the saddle regularly, even if you don’t need to – it helps to stop your bum going numb!
- Control Points: Join the food queue before getting your brevet stamped. The food queue is always longer than the brevet queue!
We chatted about ‘reprogramming’ the mind, in terms of distance achievable and I said that, at the end of a 100km ride, I am usually ready for it to be the end and told him about Nightrider. I remember saying that I hoped I wouldn’t feel like that half way around the 200km ride! I didn’t, thankfully enough!
We talked about lots of other things, which made the ride pass quickly, even through the headwinds and the light rain that we had at points later on in the ride. Funny how you can meet a random person that has so much in common with you, aside from the obvious (cycling, in this case).
Where I spent time behind Andy, I made sure I kept my distance – bit rude to wheel-suck a guy that you’ve only known for a few hours. We got seperated when I stopped for the loo at about 40km in, but I made up the distance fairly quickly and was pleased to see Andy coming back into view. He said he didn’t slow down for me when he’d noticed I’d gone, but I think he did, he was just being kind.
The day unrolled and we talked and cycled and ate and laughed. I remember the last CP, at The Compasses, where I was starting to feel low on energy and was also running out of time; I had a meal with friends booked that evening. We considered running in, getting our cards stamped, then running out again. Couldn’t do it – I had to buy Andy a drink, so we enjoyed a quick beer together.
Back on the road for about the last 15km and a smile spread across my face. I’d found my mojo again and I was back up to full power, racing through the leafy lanes and watching the kilometers tick over on the Garmin. I said: “Hey, Andy – my mojo is back”, he gave me a wink and a smile and said, “Let’s finish this off then”, upped his pace, and I did the same.
We swung into the Arrivee at Witham and had our cards stamped. I shook hands with Andy and thanked him for putting up with me, grabbed a handful of sweets that had been kindly laid on by the organiser, and headed out of the door.
I got to the restaurant as the rest of the guys were halfway through their starters, ordered a beer, ordered my food and tucked in. I had earned it.
So, it had begun. I had beaten my longest ride by a very respectable margin and I was hungry for more. The next blog entry will be all about going beyond 200km.