7. Beyond 200

So, now that a 200km ride was in the bag, it was time to start pushing farther, since I hadn’t ended up on the floor in a heap after my inagural audax.

TCR racers talk of putting in 250 to 300km per day as a matter of course, so it was time to start setting my sights on something longer than 200km. It was time to move on. I had also registered for London-Wales-London in 2018 (LWL18), a 400km audax in May 2018.

Of course, successfully pushing ahead of 200km for one day doesn’t mean that I am multi-day event material, these guys do this distance and more for many consecutive days. But, hey, I have to start somewhere.

The Richard Ellis Memorial Ride was starting off from Great Dunmow, about 30km from where I was, with a friendly start time of 8.30am so a ride to and from the event would have me knocking on the door of 300km, or nearly 3/4 of the way of LWL18 – it had to be done.

James Hayden, winner of TCR no5 in 2017, racked up over 600km in under 22 hours, before taking on the rest of the race. 260km for one day wasn’t too much to ask, was it?

This time, I was much better prepared than I was on my last (inaugural) audax. The courier bag was gone, the big lock was gone, there were no rolls or other food as I had realised on my previous audax that there is little chance of starving to death on a 200km audax through Essex.

I bought a frame bag and a small café lock, I laser cut an acrylic route sheet holder at work, I formatted and printed the route sheets. I even bought mudguards, which I’ve never used in all of my 25-odd years of cycling, due to their hideousness and “old-man’s bike” look. However, the responsible rider uses them during the winter months, especially on audax rides, so as not to spray the guy behind them with road muck. The event itself also called for mudguards, so I fitted them with a childish, begrudging feeling about the whole thing.

Once they were on, I realised that they made my bike look a whole lot more like an ultra-distance, or even just a long-distance machine. And they were glossy, glossy black, too. I was being won over by them and I could feel it. I looked at the bike from different angles, cocked my head, narrowed my eyes, and started to like what I saw. Look at me, with a frame bag and mudguards on my long-distance machine, I thought.

I was prepared for once and I was proud to put it out there with a quick thank you for some of my inspirational people on Twitter:

I was rewarded with plenty of encouragement, including some from the long-distancers that I have heaps of respect for. This was much appreciated – its amazing what a little support can do for you the night before your biggest ride ever. All I needed to do now was get off the bourbon and get into to bed.

I had decided to be up by 05.20 and out the door by 06.00, giving me about four and a half hours sleep before taking on my longest ever ride. I planned to take it easy on the 30km journey to the start of the ride. There was some noise from the neighbours at 05.20, and I was wide awake. Sure, three and a half hours sleep would be fine, wouldn’t it? TCR racers get less, and it might be at the side of the road where they lay down. I’d been in a luxurious three and a half hour slumber by comparision.

Time somehow ran away from me (as it usually seems to do) as I faffed about and I ended up leaving about half an hour late but I wasn’t bothered as it was only a little over an hours ride. I set off in the dark but the sun was well and truly up by the time I arrived at the start point.

I arrived early, but not too early – just enough time to register and notice that Andy (who guided me through my first audax), was around somewhere, as I had seen his bike. We soon bumped into each other and said hello.

Soon enough, we were off and I was nicely warmed up already after my 30km ride to the start point and looking forward to how my body would respond to the extra distance. This ride would be around 40km more than I had ever done previously. Hopefully I would make it.

So, it was off to explore the scenic lanes and villages in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk; the three counties that I would visit during my ride.

About two kilometres off of the start, I managed to do what has become almost customary for me during a long ride, and that is to pause my Garmin, and then forget to resume it. How annoying, this lost me about 15km of tracking between Great Dunmow and Saffron Waldon, resulting in a straight line of gpx track, like this.

Somehow I manage this on every long ride I do.

Anyway, I decided not to dwell on it and just get on with things but I couldn’t help feeling slightly irked by it for some time afterwards.

Stage one was to Grantchester via Saffron Walden, Ickleton and Great Shelford, places that I had passed through before so I was fairly familiar with the roads and the route. There was an information control at Newport and this time I was actually ready for the control, I pulled up at the side of the road and jotted down the info I needed on my brevet card.

CP1 at Grantchester was 45km in, so a nice short distance to stop at with about 80km racked up for me. The tea rooms there were a great place to see how much cake I could eat refuel. Some cake and coffee were definitely in order.

And serve myself I did!

I sat in the garden and said hello to a few other riders that passed my table and gave me a smile. Such a friendly bunch are the audax community. I took some time to check out Twitter. Great stuff, first up was a bit of encouragement from Chris Herbert, who is a big inspiration to me:

Its not easy to explain how much this can mean when you are out trying to break a personal record. Just a bit of involvement from somebody you admire can really mean a lot. Thanks, Chris.

It started to rain a little, so I packed up. I had a bit of a chat with the guy manning the controls and stamping the brevets, he said he’d be shortcutting over to CP2 on his way home, so I might catch him again there.

There had been a northwesterly wind so far, not too cold but it had been against me all the way, so I was happy to turn east after CP1 for stage 2 and see if I could get a bit of a tailwind to take advantage of. It was a hillier section over the chalk and into Suffolk to CP2 at the Maglia Rosso Café and Bike Shop at Hawstead, near Bury St Edmunds.

More food, sorry, fuel at the Maglia Rosso.

After careering past CP2, not noticing it on my left, I pulled up hard on the brakes and U-turned back, turning into the car park and finding somewhere amongst all the other bikes to secure my own.

I stepped into CP2 and asked what they had that was “full of calories”. The guy behind the counter reeled off a list of things and I settled for a Chicken and Stilton panini, but that turned out to be unavailable. He offered me cheese on toast, or beans on toast, “I’ll have both, thank you”, and I did, together with a black coffee.

I headed over to the guys at the back of the room to have my card stamped and then found an empty table and plonked myself down there to wait for my order.

Soon enough, the guy from CP1 came along, he sat down and we chatted. Next came another guy, who’s name I can’t remember but I do remember that he was from Dulwich. We all chatted for a while and wondered why our orders were taking a while to turn up. I guess they were busy.

We ate (and it was delicious) and we left, Dulwich took a faster pace than I did and I let him go off into the distance, always annoys me a little bit but I am learning to reign my speed in for longer distances. I had tipped past halfway now and so was on my way home. Just the 130km or so to go.

Stage 3 took to the lanes again to skirt Lavenham, then through Hadleigh and East Bergholt in Constable Country and then back into Essex. CP3 was at Mistley Place Park Café, near Manningtree. The Café closed at 17:00, with control closing at 18:34, but there was no need for me to worry as I had plenty of time to spare.

I rolled into CP3 at about 16.30 and had my card stamped. Also, I bought some sweets and sat in the garden to eat them. This was about the farthest point east that the ride took me, next I would travel west all the way back to Dunmow, where the arrivée was, then the 30km home.

CP3 at Mistley Park Gardens.

I did think of getting something more substantial to eat as the menu looked delicious and the smell of the food was very enticing, and I am greedy; let’s not forget that. But I was keen to get on so I left after the sweets.

Stage 4 rolled back through the Stour Valley, with one section of bridleway, which was a bit of a surprise! I passed a bloke walking his dog and said “hello”. He was a stern looking type that I thought might just scowl at me (bloody cyclists). but, instead, he gave me a big smile and a very friendly “hello” back. The Garmin beeped urgently at me and I saw that I was off-course. “Hang on, I have to go down there?“, I thought, peering down the bridleway.

Much gawping at the Garmin and, more importantly, a look at the route sheet confirmed that I was, after all, on the right route down the bridleway.

The pretty bridleway between Langham and Boxted Cross. This is known as Hundred Lane.

I met two other people walking dogs along the pretty lane, neither as friendly as my stern-looking but utterly amiable man from beforehand.

At the end of the lane, I met a lost looking man, perhaps eastern european, who pleaded with me for directions. This poor soul didn’t know that he had just met the most useless person in the UK, or maybe even Europe, since we’re just about still in it, to ask directions of.

I tried to act confidently: “Where do you need to go?” “I really need to get to Boxted; I have a bus that I must catch and there won’t be another one along for ages.” I started to apologise with “I’m not really from around here…”, fumbling to load up maps on my phone when, glancing down at my route sheet, I spotted the next directions:

R @ T no $

L @ T & IMM R at Boxted Cross [Carters Hill]

This basically meant that my next turn was a right, into the village of Boxted – result. “You just need to go up there and that will lead you to Boxted.” He was delighted, I was amazed at myself. The stars must have aligned or something later that evening. This bloke had just won the lottery in terms of finding me in “accurate directions mode” and he didn’t even know it.

Crossing the River Stour and dipping briefly back into Suffolk via a second info control at Bures, I noticed the weather was on the change.

190km down and the weather started to change.

The rain started off gently enough but over the following miles the sky darkened as the rain took hold and the sun went down. With 70km to go, the only good points on offer from the rain were a) it was good training for foul weather in the TCR, and, b) I got to try out that hideously expensive waterproof jacket I bought recently.

Handily enough, I caught up with Dulwich again and we passed the time dissing the weather and me complimenting my new waterproof attire – this thing actually worked! It kept you dry but was breathable enough not to boil you in your own perspiration – glamorous stuff this audax lark, eh?

We found the info control at Bures, and the weather was so miserable that I took a quick snap of it (the info), rather than faff with the pen and brevet card, while it got wet and blurry in the rain. Dulwich had something rather more resembling a memory than I did, so he just said “Nine miles; I’ll remember that”.

Info Control: “At Bures, what is the distance on the sign to Colchester?”

We lost and found each other over the next 25km, as darkness claimed the last of the daylight until I eventually passed him and he said not to wait up. I got my head down, since it really was getting miserable now and tried to find the last remaining power to get me back to the arrivée. A rest there, some coffee and snacks and I would finish off the 30km home; “A couple of hours”, tops, I told myself in the gloomy, wet night.

I went through a couple of villages, one was Halstead, but I missed the sign for the second as my glasses were too wet to see through clearly enough to read signs. Half an hour or so later and I was passing through the village of Stebbing, I knew I was close.

Sure enough, a sign for Dunmow soon appeared out of the gloom and I gave a rather weak hoot of joy as the rain lashed down and my front light picked out huge, glistening droplets in the air and pond-sized puddles in the road. I was really starting to see the sense behind mudguards.

I swung into the final checkpoint, took my shoes off, shook my coat dry and went up the stairs to get the final stamp in my card. I chatted with the others about the route and the weather, met Andy and shook hands with him and had a couple of coffees and some food – it was very welcome.

Dulwich turned up about half an hour later and we congratulated each other. I did feel a little bad for leaving him on his own in the cold and the dark and the rain, if I’m honest. Not that he seemed to mind.

After that, it was back out of the door to head south for the 30km home. With 330km down, it was just a little spin to finish this thing off and get home. The rain stopped, the night was still and I tapped out the last few kms home, with a bit of a grin on my face. That was it, I’d done it – farther still in my quest for longer distances and well on the way to 300km.

Surely 300km had to be next?

I did find time for the picture at the top of this page, with about 15km to go.

260km (estimated).

Strava log:

Twenty two days later, I rode a modified route of the Richard Ellis Memorial Ride and broke the 300km mark. I did think of posting an entry of that ride here on the blog, but it took largely the same route as this ride, so I didn’t bother. Suffice to say that in late October and as a solo effort, it was testing at times.

Still, I arrived home in one piece and felt okay. I have to say that of all my rides, this one made me the proudest, it made me feel like I had achieved something a little bit special.

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