Well I shan’t be doing that again!
It was a very early 6am start in a lay-by near Woodford. You can tell this was a real audax as the kettle for tea and coffee was boiling on a camping stove out of the back of a van! We’d come up with a sort of strategy for the ride which involved trying to do the first half – virtually 100 miles – within 6 hours riding time, and include two 15 minute stops. That would put us at the cafe in Montgomery at 12-30pm. A 45 minute stop would then have us back on the road at 1-15pm and with another 7 hours would see us back at the car. Mentally, the strategy was to focus on 30 mile or so chunks of riding.
It’s quite eerie riding at that time – the roads are all but empty apart from cyclists. The wind had been strong the day before but it felt relatively flat at that time, albeit it was behind us, and we made good time reaching the first control at 30 miles for more camping stove coffee made by organiser Mike. 45 miles came up very quickly as we crossed the border into Wales. We chatted to Daniel (I think) from Condor Road Club, who had organised the Todmorden Loops audax, about audaxes in general, and very quickly we’d reached Oswestry and 60 miles.
We were averaging 17.3mph at this point but it was around here that Anthony started to feel unwell. We stopped at a garden centre cafe for coffee and flapjacks and pressed on towards the cafe at the halfway stop. Despite the strong tailwind, Anthony was struggling a bit but we arrived at the cafe at 12-50pm – 20 minutes outside our strategy. Our ride time was around 5 hours 35 minutes so we’d lost a chunk of time on stops.
The cafe was nice enough but struggled to cope with so many people, especially with Mrs Overall doing the serving. At this point Anthony was in a lot of discomfort and we discussed what to do. After much deliberation he managed to get a lift off Mike, who had driven to the cafe to perform the control duties. As you will read, it turned out to be absolutely the correct decision!
I set off behind schedule at about 1-50pm and immediatly hit the headwind. The wind was coming from east to west and the next 55 miles of the route was directly into it.
If you look at the 10 mile average speed chart above you can clearly see where the tailwind stopped and the headwind started. I made a huge mistake in the first 10 miles (100-110 above) by fighting my way into the wind. I burnt out really quickly, using lots of energy and leaving myself feeling pretty sick but struggling to eat or drink anything. The route didn’t help either, as it basically cut through a large and exposed valley, and apart from the odd bunch of trees there was virtually no cover.
It was a real struggle but was about to get worse. After the control at Wem the route changed direction. It had been heading in a north-easterly direction but then changed to go due east – directly into the wind. You can see how my speed dropped right off at 130 miles. Mentally it was a huge challenge to keep going but in my head I was breaking it down into ever-smaller chunks – just do the next 10 miles, 5 miles, 2 miles – even so, knowing there was still 65 miles to go was hard to take.
I reached Eccleshall at 7pm and stopped at the control to have a chat with a couple of other audaxers. It seemed we were near the front and everyone was suffering. A short break, some food and drink and I felt slightly better. What was more encouraging was that route now turned north and the headwind became a simple crosswind – bliss! It hadn’t died down at all but I could cope with a sidewind.
I put my lights on about 8pm as the sun had gone down but it was a race against time at this point, as my lights are fine for commuting in Manchester with streetlights, but not for unlit Cheshire lanes. I was pretty much on auto-pilot at this point and I doubt I’ve ever been so happy to finish a ride as I was at this point.
On reflection I’ve learned some lessons for my long ride from London to Brussels and have some more general observations
- I need to adapt my riding style to the conditions – fighting into the wind too hard was a mistake
- I need to pace myself better overall and eat/drink more when the going is harder
- Mental strength is three quarters of the battle. Your head will give in before your body. If it does look for small milestones to keep you going
- There were audaxers doing this ride who will be doing 400km and 600km rides soon. These guys are unbelievable. Chapeau.
- Despite what the magazines tell you, it’s not about the bike. At all. Most audaxers ride old steel bikes that bike snobs would turn their noses up at.