Audax 2015 – Wales Raid – Dave’s rememberings

Roughly in order from our departure until my abandon:

  • The Kite when my jockey died
  • Looking at every cyclist from Stratfield Mortimer to Thatcham as a potential donor of bike parts, with or without their consent
  • A miracle – finding a bike shop with just the right part open to 6:30? on a Friday, which then morphs into a tea (with milk) and coffee producer and then it’s a bike shop with a toilet and showers for customers (http://www.pro-bikefit.co.uk/)
  • The first blue bell woods
  • A hare going from left to right
  • Looking down on the orange lights of towns below us
  • The first part of the night when the Moon was still strong
  • Riding on the right hand side of the road
  • East German approach to getting the best from athletes
  • A Cadbury factory
  • The landscape gardener who wanted to be reincarnated a prostitute
  • A strangely lit up hill just on the border with Wales
  • Girl in the panini restaurant putting extra cheese in our toasties on hearing of our audacious adventure, a terrible burden to carry over the lower slopes of Mt Gospel but essential for some of the high altitude work we had to do.
  • Thinking we had done the ridge between the mountains and the estuary before it had really got going.
  • You shouting out encouragement when I KOM’d that ramp
  • Knocking a man over with the combined force of our bike lights (we stopped to check he was ok)
  • Hallucinating that hedges were walls in a corridor and a donkey emerging from a porch

Audax 2015 – 600k (failed, reduced to 500k) – Wales Raid

My first failed Audax for a while. To be fair, I decided to start hard on my quest for Super Randonneur with a 600k through Wales. In the end, I made it back to Bristol, completing 500k and thus my longest ride to date: https://connect.garmin.com/activity/764432153.

Again, Dave was up for the foolhardiness, so joined me on the adventure.

The original plan was to leave Dave’s house at 3pm on Friday (after a nice long lie-in), cycle straight through the Night into and through Saturday, hopefully arriving at my parents house in Bristol for a quick sleep after 24 hours or so, then press on into the early hours of Sunday back home to make it easily within the 40 hours time limit for a 600k (15kph average).

In the end, we arrived in Bristol after 31 hours (about 22:30), which was pretty much bang on 15kph. I couldn’t go through another night with no sleep, so decided to abandon, especially as my knees were in abit of trouble. Dave pressed on, but had to sleep in a field and bus shelters eventually arriving back home at mid-day on the Sunday.

Despite not making our time limit, there were some great moments.

Chow mein in Wantage:

Wantage chow mein

Meeting an ultra distance runner in the middle of the night somewhere near Tewkesbury. He said he was running to Lands End, but we neglected to ask him where he had started from. I can only assume John O’Groats, though Dave suggested Tewkesbury. Almost immediately after meeting him (and his escort car), we saw a “road ahead closed” sign. As usual, as cyclists, we decided it couldn’t apply to us. After several miles and more and more “turn back or be doomed” signs, we were starting to get worried. Finally we arrived at some very convoluted roadworks ans thankfully spotted a “pedestrians” sign:

Bridge repairs

(don’t know about great, but memorable) The police car that tried to wreck us, pirate style. It was parked in a layby facing us, but it was the wrong side of the road. We both assumed it had pulled over to the left, not the right and were really confused when we tried to go to the left of it, that we suddenly ended up on stones and grass!

The descent of the mountain pass to Newton was freezing, but extremely exciting, followed by the (again excellent) Weatherspoons enormous cooked breakfast.

Ice cream in Hay on Wye.

The magnificent view from the top of Gospell Pass:

Gospel Pass

and crossing the Severn Bridge at dusk:

Severn Bridge

The main low points were: realising at Newton that we were in big trouble with time;  getting very cold (to the point of ringing my wife to find train stations) on the descent to Rhayader) and the 24hr petrol station at Leominster, where the man in the window asked me “would I like sugar with my tea”. I said “yes”. He handed me a black tea and a packet of sugar. I enquired about milk. The chap looked really surprised, had a little wander round the shop and then said there wasn’t any. So, black tea, when I REALLY needed a good cuppa at 4am!

So, what went wrong?

The planned route was 630km, rather than 600. Dave suffered a mechanical (all the bearings fell out of the jockey wheel in the rear mech, something I’ve never seen before) near Mortimer. We fortunately managed to find a bike shop that was open late, so could get a replacement, but this added 8km to our route. I also made a mistake in navigation after Leominster (maybe tea deprived), which took us to Knighton via Ludlow, rather than direct. This added another 12km. So in the end the full route (as Dave discovered) was 650km. If this had all been factored in to the Audax time limit, it would have given us another 3 hours on our time limit.

We didn’t build a buffer during the relatively flat section to Wales with a tailwind. Our average was 18.5kph (factoring in the extra 20km of mechanical and navigation error). This should have been well above 20kph. The moving average over this section was 23kph, so we probably stopped too much. Whether we could have made the rest without stopping that much is a moot point.

Our speed through the night (and much of Saturday) wasn’t helped by it being cold and wet. We would stop at a petrol station, get cold, put on layers, get even colder with a descent, then boil going up the next hill, stop to take layers off, then get freezing again on the next descent, with added wetness from our sweat. Cold seem to be a problem on these long rides, as we’re not generating the heat with high speed riding. It seems that in temperatures where I’d be warm in a long sleeve top during my commute, I get chilled with two base layers, a cycling shirt, thermal tights and a rain jacket. Maybe the winter jacket next time,  though this could easily be soaked by sweat.

My plan was too optimistic with timings. If we had left at 10am, rather than 3pm on the Friday, we could still have gotten a lie-in, probably not suffered that much more with sleep deprivation on the Saturday, but had 5 more hours before collapse on the Saturday. The plan was based around having light for the descent to Newton, but dawn was surprisingly early and a long time before sunrise.

Maybe Welsh mountains were overly ambitious for our first attempt at a 600. I have an Ely, Lincoln & the Fens route up my sleeve as a plan B.

 

The Brooks Swift held up well. I can’t say it was blissful, but nothing would be for 30+ hours. But compared to previous long rides (except my last 300, also with the Brooks), it was marvellous. My left shoulder started to really ache after about 350km, which was hard to deal with because any position on the bike put pressure on it, apart from sitting bolt upright holding the TT arm rests. Not ideal. This trouble stabilized, but it wasn’t ideal.

All in all, hard work, but a real adventure that I’ll remember for a while, or at least my knees will!

UPDATE

One week later and I’ve cycled to work once, my knees are actually fine, they had stopped hurting by the Tuesday, but my left Achilles tendon is pretty sore still. This twinged a little during the ride, but not to the extent of the knees, so it’s strange that it should be the long term problem.

Cycling mileage 2014 vs 2013

2013 2014
Miles Count Miles Count
Sirrus 2529.39 124 153.81 9
Sirrus Light  1597.21  75
Linskey 3357.64 160
Khatmandu  84.94  8 46.66 3
Khatmandu – ice 190.15 11  7.83  1
Raptobike 49.17 5  152.83  7
TOTAL 4450.86 223 3718.77 180

New bike this year, but reduced mileage. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it’s a combination of:

  • having a lingering cold for the first few months of the year, so taking the car to work some more
  • doing in my back mid August which curtailed fun rides during a prime season
  • working at home more (especially several weeks in the summer where the air con was broken in the office)

You can really tell how much milder last winter was than the previous one by the fact that the spiked tyres only got used once (though really should have been at least one more time to avoid terror!).

I have also been collecting my average commuting speed (combined moving average of going in and coming home) for the last couple of years.

Commuting speed graph 2014vs2013 scatter

 

Not sure what it means, apart from that a TI bike won’t double your speed. However, I think this year I’ve been taking slower, but more pleasant routes, so it’s definitely not slower.

Audax 2014 – 100k – Winchester Winter Solstice

As a counterpoint to our summer solstice 400k to Weston-super-Mare, cycling buddy Dave and I had been planning a ride for the winter solstice (ice permitting). Due to Christmas party commitments, I had to talk him down from a Woking- Cambridge – Oxford 400k loop, then we finally gave up on doing anything much more than a 100k. I had decided that to do something different, I would take the recumbent on the ride. Knowing this, I planned a flat as possible A-road route to Winchester taking in some big roads because of the early start time.

Knowing most of the ride would be in the dark, I decided it was finally time to get creative with the reflective stickers. Coming up with the evil eye to ward off errant motorists:

WP_002210

 

This seemed to do the trick and we had no hassle from bad driving. In fact, one car refused to come close to me from Fleet to Aldershot, so ended up going 15mph for about 3 miles! Dave tells me that from behind it looks rather like a snake, so success.

Our ride to visit King Alfred in Winchester was a success.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/654653443

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/654653470

WP_002212

However, we suffered several mechanicals en-route. First, my chain un-shipped a couple of miles from home over bumps requiring a quick stop. Then a rubber band on my GPS holder failed. Thank goodness it didn’t fall off completely as we were on a quick descent along the A31 at the time. I thought to give up with the GPS at the time. but then stashed it in my bag. This is why the track is in two parts. On the descent into Winchester (about 1km from where the photo was taken), Dave suffered a front puncture, then just before the turn for Axford along the A33, Dave’s chain also un-shipped!

Upon arriving home, I was rather disappointed about our finishing time (about 4 hours 45 minutes, where a good 100k will take 4 hours) but the average moving speeds aren’t too shabby, so I think the many small stops hurt our time. Probably jumping straight into 100k with no preparation on the bent was a mistake, because my legs didn’t recognize what I was forcing them to do and I’ve been un-able to bend my knees for a couple of days. I also had the feeling that rough roads (washboard rather than potholed) really slowed me down. When I was on a smooth piece, I’m sure I could make 10kmh more for the same effort! I feel this somewhat on the upright and not having done that route before I have no direct comparison, but it could well be the difference between the 700c and 20″ front wheels. Maybe it’s time to get myself kitted out with a 26″ front.

 

 

Audax 2014 – 300k – Doesn’t seem so long this time (Norwich)

This year I was aiming for a Super Randonneur, but then at the critical time, I developed a long running cold, then incapacitated my back in a coughing fit. Despite not being fully fit, I figured it was getting late in the year for a big ride. So, seeing favourable winds, I took the snap decision to go for it and take on a flattish 300. My wife was not convinced by this plan and thought I would probably ruin myself.

This was exactly the same route I took last year. As you can see, I managed to shave 8 minutes off my effort one year ago!

It all started well, but my back started hurting a little more each mile, especially when putting power in. This meant I couldn’t keep up the pace I wanted up the hills. Around Milton Keynes, about half distance, I was contemplating abandoning. However, I knew that if I made it to my brother and sister in law’s in Ely, I could sit and wait for a pick up rather than have to deal with trains. That was only a 100k further, which wouldn’t be impossible. By the time I got to Ely, the pains had disappeared (maybe from the motivation of racing & beating a roadie) and I was flying again, so I pushed on. I’m glad I didn’t take an early chance of an easy way out.

WP_002058

I was abit disappointed by not having quite as high a moving average as the last time and to still have spent 2 hours not moving. This is in spite of only having two real 30 minute stops for lunch and early supper. I always seemed to be stopping to take clothes on and off, adjust equipment and of course the call of nature. Both shop stops I made, I seemed to end up behind multiple people doing things very slowly!

The great things about the ride, were that I didn’t end up a cripple and I didn’t get any saddle sores! The Brooks Swift / Thudbuster combination actually came through on a big ride. I think the fact that my sit bones aren’t as well supported as on other saddles means that it doesn’t feel as good over a short distance, but equally prevents sores under the sit bones that have plagued me. The Thudbuster makes the whole thing not un-bearable on the other areas of my underside.

I’m also continually amazed by my ability to recover on long rides. I’ll find myself flagging, sit down and eat a sandwich, then be back on form, even after 250k.

Anyway, more random ride pictures:

WP_002062 WP_002057 WP_002060

Audax 2014 – 400k – Weston-super-Mare Solstice

A few weeks ago, I suggested to one of my cycling buddies that we do a ride to celebrate the solstice. He’s usually tied up with work and family, so I was thinking we might squeeze in a 100 or even a 200 seeing the sunrise. Of course, he upped the ante, suggesting a 400k all day expedition. He had selected the target as Weston-super-Mare and I’ve been thinking about doing a 400 for a while, so it was time to commit!

The plan was to start just after midnight and try to complete the whole ride before the next midnight, taking full advantage of the longest day.

The route (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/526374734) was predominantly big A roads to start with to take advantage of the graveyard hours with no traffic. This worked well, with another sun worshipper joining us for the ride to Winchester before returning home. We put in big miles on deserted dual carriageways to Yeovil. The only downside was that not getting much sleep the day before left me feeling pretty odd until we got in a big breakfast at Yeovil. This wasn’t helped by the temperature dropping to 7 degrees through the countryside. I was really glad I’d gone for 3/4 length shorts and a long sleeve top option. Wish I’d had full gloves too!

Breakfast

Then, what should have been the easiest part of the ride, Yeovil to Weston on dead flat back roads. However, I found the rough surface (more washboard than pothole) hard going with a saddle sore (more on that later) and a mild headwind added to the exertion. By the time we got to Weston I was looking forward to a rest and big lunch. t

There was some sort of event going on at Weston, involving air displays, parachuting and mini tanks.

Tanks

At this point it was good to be on a bike, because the queue for the car park was huge and the roads gridlocked. We however had the freedom of the promenade.

Beach & Bikes

We must not have looked to respectable though because some scouts came round collecting money for charity and avoided us! Must have been told about odd men in Lycra.

The next stage from Weston to Bradford-on-Avon was the toughest on paper, with the afternoon heat and a fair bit of climbing. There was indeed much climbing, but only two hills were a big challenge, being > 15%. However, we picked up some good pace by racing roadies. We passed a lone rider on a stripped down carbon bike up a big hill, to find his friends waiting at the top for him. They preceded to give chase, but we managed to break the pursuit and they evidently decided to wait again. Almost immediately, another roadie appeared in our mirrors. We assumed this was a runner sent out from the group, but it turned out he was on his own. He almost caught us, but we managed a team TT to break him, only to make a navigation error and end up with him on our tail again. This was on a steep hill, so we had a chat and he disappeared up the road.

The roads on this section were a little rough, and rather busy for their size and gradient. We would quite often end up with a queue of cars behind us, especially crawling up a hill at 5mph. Most were very courteous, but it did mean that there was very little break in this section.

It was about this time that my friend started obsessing about getting an ice cream. I started obsessing too and from that point on every sign we saw looked like an ice cream parlour! This went on for 20k or so until we finally did make Bradford-on-Avon. There, we found a cycle friendly cafe that did indeed do ice cream (I can’t find the cafe on Google unfortunately, or I’d recommend them). They said they were closing up so couldn’t do hot food, but evidently took pity on us as said “we could do something simple like a baked potato with beans and cheese”. I took my second selfie so you can judge how haggard I look.

Selfie

The food boosted our spirits as we headed onto the A4. This was, as we had planned a nice high speed section, with Dave taking big fast turns on the front. So fast I could only barely hold onto his wheel. My knee had started to twinge at Weston and I was trying to be a little cautious without resorting to a crawl. The only interruption to our TT effort was the fact that several miles of the A4 had been torn up, leaving something akin to a strada bianco. Not only was this rough, but a few drivers passed us without slowing down, showering us with stones. Apart from this, the A4 was again excellent, so wide for the volume of traffic that someone was happy enough to cycle on it with their 5 year old!

The final section from Newbury to home I again found hard going. Newbury seems so close, but it’s still a 2 hour + ride to get home. The stand out moment was the setting of the sun heralding our descent to winter. I also somehow managed to get 2nd fastest personal time on one of my regular commute Strava sections. Not sure how I managed that.

Sunset

The colours in the photo don’t really do the sunset justice.

Yet again, I suffered with saddle sores. Things started hurting around Salisbury, only 100k in! Things didn’t get better, but they didn’t get much worse either. I was able to mitigate the problem somewhat by shifting my position on the saddle and hanging a buttock off the side. This may however have contributed to my knee twinges as my legs weren’t quite symmetric. I think I can rule out heat as a cause, because the problems started through the very coldest part of the ride where I was shivering uncontrollably! Time for more messing about, or recumbent training. Recovery has been excellent. I wasn’t able to walk down the stair the morning after, but I was able to cycle to work the day after that!

Despite all the discomfort, I’m very glad I celebrated the turning of the year by breaking myself physically and mentally.

Audax 2014 – 200k – Oxford countryside cyclequest

I’m trying to ramp up my Audaxing earlier this year and get some longer distances in before full summer. So, off on a 200km specially designed to avoid country lanes and taking in 3 British Cycle Quest locations.

It was very much a ride of two halves (though not that obvious from the speed graph): http://connect.garmin.com/activity/503388055

The first 100k or so, I had a nice tailwind and no problems. As you can guess, the second half was straight into the wind and I suffered saddle sores and dehydration!

The water problems were strange. I didn’t feel particularly thirsty for the first half and only drank about a quarter of a bottle of water, then the thirst hit me and I got through the rest of that bottle and the whole of the 1 litre bottle in about 40km. It was the point where I was dreaming of having a cold coke that I passed a petrol station and decided I had to go back to stock up. Good job I did as I drank all the bottle of coke and another bottle of water I bought and still ended up feeling rather thirsty by the time I got home. Must ave been the headwind and heat of the afternoon.

The Cycle Quest took me to some rather nice locations:

Streatley golf course, where, unfortunately, I couldn’t find the answer to the clue and no one there seemed to know anything about signs in the car park.

Streatley golf course

Then Great Coxwell tithe barn:

Great Coxwell

and finally, the monument outside Fawley (as well as some curious horses)

Fawley monument

Fawley horses

If I say so myself, the route was excellent with very few bad roads aside from excessive traffic between Aldershot and the A33 in both directions. The sections that particularly stood out for me were the A417 from Streatley and the A338 to Great Shefford. Both sections were wide, smooth, pretty much deserted and had brilliant scenery. The only problems were a couple of closed bridges that required diversions. The first a daring sprint along the A33 dual carriageway and the second more A4 time trialling. I don’t usually mind dual carriageway riding, but the speeds seemed very high on the A33 and I was glad to get off it despite having a small hard shoulder to ride on. On the return route I though I’d try the same bridge again, hoping that the work had been finished. They hadn’t and I was annoyed that diversion signs only appeared about 100 yards from the bridge. However, I saw some cyclists coming the other way and clambering across, so I thought I’d give it a go. I made it, after much lifting the (rather heavy) bike over railings and pushing it over mounds of rubble with a couple of nettle stings for my trouble.

At this point, about 30km from home, with saddle sores and facing heavy traffic into a headwind I was feeling quite low. However, I got a break and was caught by a roadie at the start of the B3011 near Wellington Country Park. I managed to take his wheel reasonably easily and had a good pull over 10km at a pretty good pace.

Saddle sores are still frustrating me, but with the new saddle etc, they are now in a more manageable place, bang under my sit bones. Hopefully, a slightly thicker short pad will help solve this. I was particularly happy being able to sit on the TT bars for a good 10 minute stretch 160k into the ride.

Still much work to be done before I can think of big distances.

Faithful steed

 

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