Long distance is where it's at - fact!

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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Sun Mar 02, 2014 10:02 pm

Recovery ride day today. 3 hours super steady zone 1-2 with the first hour fasted. My coach has me doing these to improve my fat burning ability whilst riding, not to loose weight, so I have to make sure I refuel well. Hard to resist eating in the morning beforehand after yesterday's epic on not-enough food due to PPP (piss poor preparation). I was already close to bonking when I was in the co-op before we started, with a glazed expression, buying bread, bananas and dry roasted peanuts to pack into the jacket for immediate consumption after that first hour. :lol:

Did I imagine this rabbit in a low-carb-induced hallucination do you think?

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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Sun Mar 16, 2014 12:20 pm

Right, where am I up to? Oh yes, the tail end of a pretty intense training block for me volume wise.

I have done a 200 km every weekend for the last three. Last weekends was frantically high paced for an audax as it was pretty flat - with the outward splits between controls being 18 mph and 18.5 mph which felt pretty steady with the tailwind. Way back was 16.1 mph then 14.9 mph between controls as myself and the young lad I was riding with began to tire fighting the headwind. Great to get the moving time for a 200 km under 8 hours, although I admit, I did note to myself that I was missing out a little on just 'riding and enjoying the scenery'. I normally do pretty much the entire 200 km on my own so it was strange to be riding with someone for the entire distance. I felt a little responsible to push on with my own speed somewhat as Paddy is incredibly fast and fit now, but it was great having someone to share the work with and certainly have a laugh with! He's a lively soul, brings music and chats endlessly!

The weeks' training went well. Dry trails meant I couldn't resist the MTB instead of the roadie for intervals. Mainly so I could grab back a few QOMs on a couple of the local descents - goodness knows how long they will hold, but they were quick so fingers crossed haha.

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Oh, and we did some secret trail building in the woods. It's work-in-progress. The other half has promised to make it easier for me to ride cos it is pretty full on atm

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Yesterday's 200 km was much harder for me mentally than any before. Carrying soooo much training fatigue now. I was going to bail, but really needed this one as it's a BRM (validated by Audax Club Parisian) which will have relevance for me if I decided to enter the PBP next year. TBH the start was hard, I wasn't able to hold groups I would normally be fine with, and the hills were sluggish. But then I ended up riding with a great guy who I really like - he is 67 (I would have put him early 50's) and an absolute machine on the flats which meant I could get dragged along a little when I would normally struggle for power. I am a better climber so I led up the hills. We agreed to ride the entire route together which would have been brilliant.....until he took a very fast wrong turn and I had no hope of catching despite hollering my lungs off to tell him to turn back! After waiting a while I figured I was back out on my own as normal. Then I had a pretty bleak time, despite the sunshine, just struggling and wondering if I was actually going to make it round, right up to the point when I gave myself a good talking too. It was the MOST stunning route, just gorgeous countryside, villages, and I worked out that even if I stuck it in the easiest gear and span round at 12 mph I would still easily make the cut off time. Of course, I didn't actually ride that slow, but just backing off on the hills and not trying to smash round was enough, and the second half was much easier than the first. Still back under 9 hours with stops - haven't looked at the moving speed yet. I was so content pootling through this amazing part of England. Proper soul riding. :D

Now for some 'tapering' well, kind of training reduction, in preparation for my first 300 km at the end of March. I am most scared and excited all at the same time. :D
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Mon Mar 24, 2014 9:20 am

Well, I am officially on my own on the coaching front......mainly because I have put an order in for a new Audax bike :D

The bike is most exciting, of course, but I am struggling to know what to do with my training again, especially on these two 'tapering' weeks. I know it's only a 300 km, and Audax isn't like racing in terms of 'peaking' for speed and power (all I have to do is get round)....but next weekend is still the first time I will have ever ridden 300 km and I am scared I could get this preparation all wrong. At least I have the knowledge, that, without a doubt, I have done the work. Now I just have to shift the fatigue out of my legs. They are still very tired, stiff and sore. Being honest with myself, I know I spent too much time last week on the MTB doing unstructured sessions to be good for recovery. I have this week to get it right.

So, since the Audax I have done very little. I was 'supposed' to do a long recovery ride the day after the last 200 km but just didn't want to. It was like my body and mind said NO. So I had a pootle on the MTB to put in some strava QOMs on a couple of descents on the Monday, had a VERY long day travelling to Ireland and working on the Tuesday, but this left me free to do a bit of exploration at the beautiful Ticknock forest on the Wednesday.

Ticknock has some stunning built MTB fast flowing trails, as well as hidden techy full-on DH. As I was on my own, it was a case of sticking to the built stuff. Could not, for the life of me, get the chain to sit on the cassette on the way up - skip skip grind skip. I try twiddling stuff, check the mech is straight, that the cable isn't sticking...all good. Weird. Start on the descent and something is very wrong.......yup that would be my back wheel falling out then :lol: Tighten it up, push back up and away we go, all good. In the end I did very little, the wind was brutal and I was struggling to stay on the trail at the top. By the time I got to the bottom my legs were feeling it, my knee was sore and physically I just knew it was enough. The built trail was amazing though, the descents fast, flowy, rocky, jumpy, pumpy, everything you could want from a trail. There is nothing bad I can say about Ireland, it is a fascinating and very friendly place.

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Thursday was ladies steady MCS ride as normal. Saturday I rode with friends on a very steady MTB ride at the FoD.
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Sunday was an exceptionally steady road ride - 33 miles of cruising on flat roads in sunshine/hail/showers/moody skies/blue skies - the weather was chaos!

My legs still feel fatigued, sore and tired though. I have a rough outline of this week. Comments appreciated:

Monday - rest, stretch a lot, get leg rub from other half
Tuesday - steady road ride 2 hours zone 1-2
Wednesday - long work day, stretch
Thursday - leading ladies MCS MTB ride slow and steady. Minimise climbing
Friday - rest, drive to Oxford, chill out, stretch - maybe 10-20 min gentle spin on the bike to check the last section through the city which I will be riding on a busy Saturday evening when exhausted and probably delirious!
Saturday - early up to get to start at 6 am....have 20 hours to get round the 300 km. At my 200 km pace I could get round in 12-13.5 hours. I am actually going to aim to be round in 15-16 hours. If I drop back my average speed and pootle round I will make it. If I try to push on I could burn out - I don't yet know where my distance limits are.
Sunday - rest, sleep, 1 hour zone 1 to spin out legs, plan next 4 weeks of training.
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby silver » Mon Mar 24, 2014 10:28 am

Looks good.
Stick to the plan, you've already done the miles.
Eating well all week is probably a really good idea too.

It's been over 20 years since I rode this distance in a day, I'm a little jealous :)
It's not what you do occasionally that makes a difference, it's that which you do everyday that brings progress.

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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Thu Mar 27, 2014 5:14 pm

[quote="silver"]Looks good.
Stick to the plan, you've already done the miles.
Eating well all week is probably a really good idea too.

It's been over 20 years since I rode this distance in a day, I'm a little jealous :)


Thanks Silver, I did just that. Just have ladies ride tonight and then that's it.

Cor blimy I am so nervous! I have prepped well though I think. Bike is ready, clothing is ready, lights will be on charge after tonights ride, food is ready (lots of that), GPS is loaded......all I need is a little luck and it will be all good! :D
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby silver » Thu Mar 27, 2014 6:01 pm

good luck :)
It's not what you do occasionally that makes a difference, it's that which you do everyday that brings progress.

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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:35 am

Well, I did it :D

I had good luck with the weather, a nice RAC man that got me to Oxford the night before, the bike mostly behaved (other than dropping the chain if I changed chainrings down too quick) and had all the right kit. The route was amazing, through beautiful Cotswold villages, the stunning sun dappled Forest of Dean, the sweeping Wiltshire chalk plains with epic blue skies and white horses.

However, it was a very hard day. I was so worried about the distance. The night before I got at least some reasonable sleep, but as soon as we set off I was at constant war with myself - "you're never going to make it round" "yes I am of course I am, I have trained well, rested well and eaten well" "so what it's, like ANOTHER 100 km on top of a 200 km and you always struggle at the end of those!" "but that's fine because I am going to back off and go slower" "but you hate going slower and you are going slower now and it's still hurting" "it doesn't matter, even if I stuck it in my easiest gear I'd still make it round" blah blah blah you get the jist.

I kind of started slower-than-normal and tried to pace myself by backing off as soon as my breathing laboured and physically felt ok for it right until the last undulating road to Chepstow (halfway point, although a lot of climbing I thought had been covered). Then I started to struggle. Having already drunk four bottles of water I was still dehydrating and out of fluid. The last 10 km to Chepstow were hard. Water water water. Never has sat on the floor outside a supermarket felt so good! Struggled to eat anything in the morning because of nerves although the strawberry soya shakes downed outside the Tesco control point helped significantly on the headwind struggle to Malmesbury. Was joined from Thornbury area to the common by a great guy who I have met several times, but who's name I have forgot. I can't even begin to explain how much that shelter and encouragement for around 10 km helped.

Made it up the stiff monument climb and thought that was it. Just the head wind to deal with now.....and relaxed a bit and finally started feeling hungry just in time to eat half a sandwich and another shake at Malmesbury. That felt good for a bit....but only a bit.

Psychologically I had been fighting with myself from pretty much the start and it was draining. I just wasn't sure I could make it round if I am honest. So when these two, unexpected to me, climbs appeared in the headwind over the Wiltshire plains I really went into a dark dark place. I had struggled unusually with climbs all day....but got up them steadily one way or another. These two though....good Lord. Made the first and then someone pointed out that I should be saving my legs for the next one. What legs I thought? I'm already fecked....delirious and now at the point of tears haha. I have never walked a climb on the road bike. Ever. Until that one. :oops:

That was a turn of the corner for me though. Once at Malborough I stopped for the info control and managed to eat a half a Trek bar and my emergency gel. The gel was amazing and spurred me on to Membury. A packet of crisps and some encouragement from folks there really helped too....as did the knowledge that only 50 km or so were left.

I was spoilt on the last 10 km stretch by being joined by a guy Andrew and his riding buddies who spent a fair bit of time chatting to me, ignoring my incoherence and generally just making the kms tick off. So great to have people to shared the relief with at the end!

I was definitely mentally floundering, at most points throughout the day I think haha, as showed by the average moving speed which was definitely on the low side for me....I went with the slow-try-not-to-faff option which always works better that stopping for extended periods which just leave me seizing up. Plus walking a climb, I am still most ashamed haha :P Still, back in 13:51 and moving time at 13:01 isn't too bad for a 300 km.

I am pleased I did it, and sometimes forget that I do spend a lot of the time riding on my own as I am such a funny pace and never seem to find the 'right group' to tag along with, unless I am on a particularly good day when I can power up the climbs and hang on to back wheels on the flat. I don't mind this though, it sits me in the scenery more and I do tend to immerse myself in the experience when I am not concentrating on running into someone's back wheel.

If I am honest, it has definitely made me question whether the step-up from a 200 km is too much suffering to enjoy for me. Although now I'm home I am at least certain I will try to make it through the Brevet Cymru 400 km and Bryan Chapman 600 km in May. I'll be on a different bike with suitable gears for that which will at least help with the climbs. We shall see. I can always bail and put it down to experience.....having the option to know that 'it doesn't matter and I don't have to be there' is normally enough to remind why I am doing it and how I really want to finish. Fingers crossed, eh?
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Mon Apr 14, 2014 10:07 am

I rode the Cambrian 1A 100 km audax yesterday and it was absolutely stunning. By far my favourite road ride that I have ever done.

Set off from Llandrindod at around 10:20 am with moody grey but dry skies and it didn't take long for the climbing to start. I had created my own GPS file, by chucking the controls into bikehike and letting it do it's thing, and set my mind on following the route, no matter how stupidly hilly the little lanes became, and how many little offshoots it sent me round from the main A roads (more about that later.....)

There was an absolutely gorgeous stretch that looped alongside the A44 on the way to Rhayader and I grabbed a quick pic, not realising this would only be the start of the increasingly epic and verging on mythical scenery. Already by this point I was glad to be on a new bike (a Specialized Ruby comp), with the compact on the front and an 11-32 on the back (although I couldn't actually use the 32 sprocket...more about that later too...)

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Got in to Rhayader pretty quick, as it's not far from Llandrindod, so didn't need supplies and controlled at the Museum. A lovely lady signed my card and was very much in shock when I explained the route. You all know what it is like, non-audaxers think 100 km is a MILLION MILES when to an audaxer it's just a short day out. With her warning of "Tregaron? It's pretty 'wild west' out there you know" I headed off up the mountain road into a ferocious headwind. This was, of course, all part of the plan as it would be a lovely tailwind on the way back after all those hills, so I smiled to myself, revelled in my new-found low gears and carried on spinning steadily upward.

Eventually, the GPS pink line turns left. Left? There is no road left? Oh *heart sinks. There is a byway. Guess who hadn't redone the Cambrian1A file when she realised that bikehike in openstreetmap is happy to send bikes up green lanes and bridleways unless you tell it otherwise? Yes, that would indeed be me. It did go a long way to explaining why my original 105 km was significantly under the 113 km predicted for the ride. So I had some choices a) Panic, cry a bit and head back the way I came in a sulk b) Panic, but appreciate all the lovely riding done so far that day, and head back the way I came and even possibly ride some of the 1B I had done previously as I know that area well c) Don't panic, head onwards and see what happens.

Sometimes A would have been the most likely option, but not yesterday, not in such a beautiful place. B very nearly happened, I was having such an enjoyable time I actually stopped caring about getting the audax done and was just happy to have got out so did consider it.

In the end I went with C. What's the worst that could happen? All roads lead to roads and I would eventually end up either rejoining my pink line, or rejoining the A44. If I met the A44 first I decided I'd just turn round, and smash out a Strava time to the best of my ability back over the mountain road to Rhayader. If the absolute worst happened and I got totally lost and knackered, I could stay at the first hotel I found and sort it out in the morning. It would be fine!

As time went on, I realised the road was heading south and, flicking out the GPS map, I would eventually re-find that pink line. Not that I cared. I could have been 50 miles off course at that point...I have never ridden such a stunning little lane in my whole life. Running alongside a totally deserted mythical valley with a gushing stream, kites overhead and just complete tranquillity. I thought about getting photos but realised with the headwind, climbing, long stop trying to work out where I was going to go if I kept following the road, and a sixth sense telling me the climbing was only just beginning, I pressed on. Not with the normal innate urgency I seem to have that prevents me from appreciating the surroundings though, just calming soaking everything in whilst cruising past.

A brief interlude for an amazing bit of descent put an even bigger smile on my already-smiled-to-the-point-of-aching face.

On entering a wee village I managed to grab a postie and get confirmation I was on the road to Tregaron so this settled me a bit as I was beginning to get concerned about my lack of fluids. The new bike didn't come with bottle cages so I just stuck an old one on thinking it would be more than enough to get me between stops. The stretch between Rhayader and Tregaron was a lot longer than expected and was very hungry and very thirsty for the last 10 km. Straight in the Spar to control with two bottles of Oasis and a carton of orange juice. Bliss, utter bliss! At this point I see a few riders coming into Tregaron "they look so much like audaxers" I chuckled to myself. "No, hang on, that one has a Carradice, they MUST be audaxers"......heading out toward Beulah I start seeing more and more, and then the familiar faces appear. "Ahhh the Elenydd 300!" It's funny, when you are on an event, you can ride for miles without seeing anyone else, but when heading in the opposite direction the gaps between riders are no where near as big as you would imagine.

The climbing started again pretty quickly and became increasingly challenging, even with the new gearing, at one point I had to weave back and forth across the road to keep from stopping. Right at that moment I really wanted that chain to sit on that top sprocket, but it was having none of it. Bastid thing! Still, I made it up all the climbs, without stopping at any point, across that mountain road. What a road, it's immense! Who the hell thought putting that there was a good idea, well, thank you. So hard, yet so rewarding getting up to the top. If I am honest, I wasn't overly fond of the descent down what I now understand is the devils staircase. Now, I like going downhill very fast on a bike, but a mountain bike, with big tyres and lots of grip. Riding a skinny tired roadie down a narrow exceptionally steep gravelly and slightly potholed road, especially with a whole number of riders coming up (meaning no cheating and taking corners superwide) was not really my idea of fun. Still, looking at the faces of those riding up, it was still the better option heh heh.

At the bottom of the Devils Staircase was a control for the 300 km and the volunteers were most kind and refilled my water bottle meaning I had plenty of fluid to get me to the next control. I couldn't stop for long though as was getting increasingly concerned with the ticking clock. The 'normal' 100 km time of 4 to 5 hours clearly wasn't going to apply to this one and I did wonder whether I would be back in the limit. Then I had an epiphany - who cares if I don't make it back? The ride wont be validated....but it wouldn't take away from what an amazing day and ride it had been so the whole thing had already been worthwhile. The audax validation would just be a bonus.

Once the mountain road was over it was nicely undulating to Beulah. Or was it? I did ponder several times on the way back to the van whether things I was now considering to be 'small hills' were so because my perspective on what constitutes a climb had changed so much in the few hours preceding that point. All that climbing made me hungry but not for decent food. Oh no, on arriving at Beulah services the only thing I wanted to eat was a giant sized grab bag of Walkers crisps. These are becoming my audax food of choice. I carry all sorts of 'suitable' riding food (most of which returned with me to Llandrindod) but none of it compares to crisps for getting me back blasting along again. I don't ever eat crisps at home etc, so why I do on audaxes I don't know, but they work, and that's fine by me. The tailwind back from Beulah to Llandrindod was a blessing and picked up the pace considerably along the decent B roads meaning there was no danger of being out of time and arrived back at just gone 4

Some interesting stats - very slow moving over the 115 km distance - 5 hours 30 moving time, 5 hours 50 total time including controls. Insanely slow, but the 2250 meters of climbing, the wind and the occasional wrong turn explains it, of course. With an average HR including the stops of 169, and maxing out at 200 bpm it was, indeed, a real challenge of a ride, but loved every minute of it :D
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Tue Apr 22, 2014 11:40 am

Did a 24 hour team ride at the weekend - find below the spiel I wrote on the Audax forum:

Well, that was quite a start to the Easter weekend

After a slow journey to Ipswich from Malvern in pre-Easter accident prone traffic, the warm welcome, tea and comfy bed offered by Arabella was very much appreciated. Great to meet such a legendary Audaxing lady, see her legendary bike, and hear sage advice, whilst waiting for lovely Els to arrive.

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast of intriguingly tasty pin-head porridge and syrup, and introduction to the word ‘abstemious’, we did the final kit checks and headed out in the sunshine to meet FBOAB at the station. FBOAB turned up with four Easter bunnies as mascots for the front of our bikes, and a comment of how surprisingly bracing it was.

No kidding. Brrrr.

Once up and running into the headwind we soon warmed up and the wonderful route designed by Arabella, and GPX’d by FBOAB, took us along nicely undulating lanes, picturesque villages, past thatched cottages and flint churches to the first control.

After a leisurely stop in the sunshine of Finchingfield, talking 'tandem' and 'PBP' with FBOAB ticked off the miles to Chatteris until FBOAB stopped to make phone calls. Seemed serious, and it was. We caught Arabella and Els just outside Cambridge before FBOAB broke the news about Chris and shot off to get the train. I had lost my little bunny mascot by this point, so FBOAB passed hers on to me. Three riders, three mascots. Maybe this was one of those 'things are just meant to be', but it was gutting to lose her from the team and we all missed her company for the remainder of the ride and hoped Chris would be ok.

We headed on to Chatteris. There is no doubt that the route was brilliant. For me it was like another country to the undulations of Herefordshire. Everything felt so open, exciting. The guided bus route outside Cambridge was fascinating. I just assumed it was a redundant railway line until Arabella explained how the buses worked. In my head I imagined a 5 mile an hour pootling machine….how wrong was that? Woooooosssshhhhhh they go so fast! The excitement!

Chatteris was a most welcome stop, I was hungry for ‘proper food’ by then and much relieved that this truckers café not only did chips and beans, it did GIANT chips and beans. Els and Arabella were served equally huge meals and we sat there working out our timing. We were on schedule, just, but the strong (unexpected) headwind was hard work and we were not building a buffer. So much for being blown up the Fens to York, eh?

Still, with full bellies we set off, with Arabella setting a steady, calculated pace to Spalding. We were sharing the workload to a point, but if I am honest, I am useless at sitting in front setting a pace. Either too fast or slow. Definitely something I need to work on if I am to ride with others. The noisy work into the headwind was extended and it was a relief to turn West onto the raised Fenland roads lit up by the evening sun. The intense smell of rapeseed and blosson increased with the heavy evening air. The peace of the direction change, accompanied by sunlit grasses, ditches and expanse of agriculture was soul-soothing. Quite a contrast to the 10 pm Friday atmosphere of the Wetherspoons control at Newark. I wasn’t flapping about the bikes being stolen…ok, well, maybe a little.

In preparation for the night leg, we donned extra clothing at before heading on. By this point I was up to a base layer, cycling top, winter Gore jacket, shower/windproof fluorescent, two buffs, longs, and winter neoprene gloves. This had got me through pretty much all the winter Audaxes this year, so should be good. In fact, it was toasty to start with. Els may have mentioned, in a very much tempting fate manner, that it was a little warm with all the clothing on…..

A few hours later and I can feel the ice crystals forming in my blood.

Inventive ways of keeping warm took shape. Rubbing gloves hands hard on thigh killed two birds with one stone, shifting lactic acid out legs and friction warmth for fingers. Arabella’s route, yet again, came up trumps with a (open on Good Friday) 24 hr Asda at Newark. A whole supermarket, entire shelves of good food, and the only thing I wanted to eat was a big bag of barbeque flavoured triangle snacks. We sat on the floor in the warmish entrance eating, I guess to the amusement of security staff. I was suffering with the shivers and cold to the core, diffidently admitting that the pace was probably a little slow for me to keep warm. Don’t get me wrong, it had been a wonderful day cruising along, with enough breath to speak and head up to take in all the scenery and I had no problem with taking things steady. In fact, the whole day was just wonderful. I was, however, woefully unprepared for how it would affect me at night. I thought my normal winter clothing would be enough, forgetting I guess that my normally verging on masochistic level of pedalling goes a long way to generating a lot of heat. Myself and Els purchased extra jumpers. My boring old grey hoodie was no match for her pink, fluffy, rabbit-in-heart-shaped-sunglasses adorned number.

So, now with a hood over my two buffs, we braved the cold again. I took to mostly standing up and pedalling, and occasionally sprinting off in front for a short distance and then stopping and waving my arms around like a madwoman to keep my core temp ticking over and keep blood in my fingers. Chocolate rice milk in the water bottle was great, just like liquid icecream at that temperature. Pot holes and lanes were intermixed with good A roads. The headwind had died off and it was silent and calm. We fought off the ‘dozises’, mostly. Who’d have thought you can be freezing cold, riding in -2 degrees, with saddle sore, knowing that if you fall off it’s going to hurt, and still fall asleep? Still only one near miss for me with a verge, and one dream of a tree growing in the middle of the white line.

Then finally that blackness showed signs of blue in the East and within very little time the rivers were lit up again in yellow-orange and the rapeseed glowing in the morning sun. The frosted grass twinkled, noticed only after flying round a pretty tight bend; “good job it’s dry”. The night had gone so quickly and before we knew it we arrived at Thorn. Just gone 5 am. Lovely lovely 5 am. CO-OP garage opening time. Very hot machine coffee time. Warmth and wonderfulness in a burgundy cup! The VC167 team arrived and the CO-OP ladies tolerated an AUK takeover of their store with nothing but smiles…even when we were very nearly sitting in the ‘hot roll’ machine trying to pilfer as much heat as possible.

Coming out of the garage, daylight was in full swing and, with reassurance from Els to trust Arabella’s impeccable timing, we continued at the perfectly calculated pace to Selby for the 22 hr control. We had a small buffer by then, but would it be enough if there was a puncture or mechanical? Finger’s crossed there would be neither!

It was nice to be back on gently rolling lanes and break away from the flatness of the fens before joining the good quality cycleroute into York. There is always so much pleasure to be found in urban riding and the satisfaction of sneaky cycleroutes through suburbia. Before we knew it, we popped out into York, having covered the distance required, and added to the growing collection of bikes into the garden of the Punchbowl, to the wonderful Crinklylion's hospitality cakes and the hubbub of the other Easter Arrow teams.

Thanks to FBOAB, Els and Arabella for a brilliant weekend. Glad to hear everything is OK with Chris and hope you are home safe. Thanks to Crinkly for her thoughtfulness at making vegan mango flapjacks and the offer to stay. Obviously didn’t want to bother FBOAB and Chris for the original lift back to Ipswich with all that had happened so, after a minor-24hr-no-sleep-induced-panic, ended up heading back to Ipswich with Arabella and Marcus. Many horrendous experiences have left me badly burnt when it comes to public transport, but this time, for us, it was fine and I managed to get a ticket with a bike reservation on the same train. The nice conductor even let me stay in first class. Not so fine for the poor guys without reservations who got kicked off, even though, with a bit of shuffling and tying up, the bikes had all fitted in. With a little sleep on the train I managed to drive safely awake from Ipswich to Coventry where it was time to stop again and sleep before the last stretch home.

An epic weekend, with the most marvellous route and company, thanks team ‘we iz ladyiz, innit’

Here is an album of photos taken by one of my lovely team mates: https://plus.google.com/photos/11338655 ... banner=pwa

Also, to catch up a little, I have been doing some MTB lately. Here's some pictures to prove it ;)

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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Wed Apr 23, 2014 7:07 am

Went out and did Harcourt Hill reps last night on new bikey. Didn't smash out any PB's but, and this is the important bit, neither did I really kill myself up it. I was able to do 5 reps and could have done more. Hoping that constant effort of this kind will really help with the climbing. The problem with doing it on the old bike is that it hurt so very much I just dreaded hill sessions and felt wiped out for a few days after as I had to push such a huge gear. I feel right as rain today and ready to go on the 2 hour fasted ride later :)

Harcourt reps - 839 m in 36 km, of which 750 m climbing were in 24 km.
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Fri May 02, 2014 4:17 pm

So, the last few weeks have been really ticking over. Some regular riding, some fun roadie stuff with a friend and limited MTB. After my 'perfect' taper for the 300 km, which left me feeling sluggish, I decided to stay with a 'normal' riding load this time. Not doing full on sessions, but not being particularly prescriptive with reducing the load (other than at the gym). Will find out tomorrow whether it has worked as it's the first of the big two-in-two weeks. A 400 km through Mid Wales this weekend, and a 600 km to North Wales and back on the 17th/18th May.

Everything is prepped, packed and ready to go. I love the packing bit! All the kit checks and working out how to mount/tie everything to the bike. I have enough food supplies for nearly the entire route (mostly in the form of 4 x chickpea, potato, carrot and rosemary pasties, plus 2 x cinnamon bagels, Frys chocolate cream bars, banana Soreen bars, banana, fruit jellies for bonk emergencies) as I am not certain of being able to get any decent vegan food on this one. Maybe chips and mushy peas at the seaside if I am lucky *crosses fingers. Plus, on top of the normal kit, spares, mechanical emergency repair stuff, I am also carrying extra batteries for the GPS and headtorch, winter top x 2, borrowed skins thermal top (which is way too big but who cares), spare winter gloves, spare socks, spare buff to layer up overnight. Anyway, fingers crossed for me - this time tomorrow I'll be around halfway through, hopefully!

In the meantime, here are a few random pics from recent rides. Did I mention I went out with the OH on a roadie ride last week? First time he has ridden with me since I got the new roadie, and he couldn't believe how much quicker I was on it, which is great :D

This is my riding buddy Sven who has an amazing ability to turn every roadie ride into an offroad epic with his choice of lanes haha. On Wednesday we went a stage further and properly offroad along the most amazing bit of bridleway with stunning views across to home. Apologies for the poor quality of the photos, it was dusk and the light dropping rapidly.

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Carrying up
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Muddy roadie
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This is a photo of me showing my regular Thursday night ladies some secret bluebell lined singletrack
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And this is Sven on another good evening ride (to the pub and back) looking over to the Malverns from a gorgeous local viewpoint. It's great riding with Sven - he has been riding for years and years and years and knows all the best roads, plus we are a similar pace so we both benefit from the ride.
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Wed May 07, 2014 12:05 pm

Here's my write up for the audax forum of my experience of the Brevet Cymru 400 km. I know you won't know the charcters involved, but I'm not going to edit it for the purpose of this blog, as, well, quite frankly, life is too short and I have a 600 to prepare for ;)

Unlike the hardmen who sleep in cars or ride to the start, I went for the softies option and got booked in the Magor Hampton hotel. Same price as a Travelodge, but much nicer with a big comfy bed, free breakfast and no bridge fees/riding from the hotel. I say free breakfast…..of course this is for normal people that live normal lives. Not audaxers up at silly o’clock and out the door before the night shift has even finished.

Got to the start with just the right amount of time to kit up, grab the Brevet card and get lined up with the mass for the ‘off’. Sitting right at the back of the pack and heading off steadily in the second group reflected the mood for the ride for me….no real rush, just find your pace and make the most of it. The Arrow had settled me into knowing that, even if I went ‘proper’ full value, the sleep deprivation wouldn’t be a problem so there was, indeed, no rush to be back with the early crew.

Still, it’s easy to say that, when there are a load of people in front and I caught myself moving up the field and riding on my own like normal, until finding a reasonably paced group which seemed like good folk. Chatted a bit to a guy called Adam, who had already removed his helmet as it had been rubbing, and had attached it to the bars. You know that ‘tempting fate’ thing….

Sure enough, on the straightest bit of road between Chepstow and Hay I see Adam swerve violently from one side of the road to the other before hitting the deck rather hard (luckily 20 meters in front of me). Everyone else rode by saying ‘are you ok’ but, to be honest, riders often reply they are ok, even when they really are not. Seeing he had a head injury, I stopped to help him up and do the basic checks for shock and concussion. The bike was OK, other than some mangled mud guards which he took off. As he had no way of carrying them, I told him to hide them in the hedgerow – worry not eco-folks, I will be working out that way in a week or so and know where they are to collect.

Once up and running again, we pootled on, passing James Bradbury who was changing out of his longs and into shorts in the lovely sunshine. Then we picked up Flatus and rode together to Hay. Apart from all the burping, farting, graphic descriptions of saddle sore and gossiping like a mother hen, Flatus was an absolute pleasure to ride with. ;)

It was a nice pace with good conversation I was very happy to continue for the day. The section from Monmouth to Hay was particularly beautiful, especially the last rolling lane along the valley. I can’t think of a better time of year to do this Audax, spring flowers everywhere. At one point later in the ride there was a carpet of bluebells so intensely coloured it looked like a purple carpet covering the hill.

After the first stop (which was a real novelty for me – to sit down, drink coffee and chill out, very different to the normal down-espresso and eat-whilst-riding format) at Hay, we continued on to Llandovery where we lost Adam into the distance. I hadn’t realised, until I had an experienced audaxer on my shoulder, just how terrible I am at pushing on and chasing down wheels. Having Flatus there to say a few times ‘back off the speed and watch how far ahead those riders get’ was a real eye opener. For half the effort we would arrive at the controls maybe a minute or so behind and enjoying the journey much more for it. When I say ‘enjoyed’ I really mean it, all of it. Normally I am on count down a lot of the time, wishing the kilometers away, but for most of the BC I didn’t know how far we had been, how far to the next control or even what the time was. How liberating!

Llandovery was a most welcome control as the main road from Builth had some particularly nasty drivers, although the descent into town was worth braving the traffic for. More good use of the controls with beans on jacket spud (I had already eaten half of my extensive food stash) and another coffee. The staff at West End Café were doing a marvellous job. Food was turned around very quickly and water bottles topped up without complaint, even with the numbers of cyclists and motorbikers in there.

A gorgeous rolling section to Tregaron, through probably the best lanes in the ride, passed very quickly. There are few areas of the UK I love as much as Powys with the ancient woodlands and coppiced mossed hedge lines. Another chilled stop at Tregaron in the blue-rendered Café Hafod, a wonderful little place in the middle of nowhere that has soya milk available. Soya Latte? Oh yes please, what a pleasure!

Tregaron may have been halfway in miles, but it certainly wasn’t halfway in my head, especially with the notorious section to New Quay upcoming. We set off steadily and, sure enough, those hills were everything as described; steep and unrelenting. Luckily new-bike is a pleasure and I could spin/stomp up all of them, partly thanks to Flatus warning me in advance to take it easy and save my legs. Every steep crest got a mini-celebration, but the real reward was seeing the sea and the drop into Newquay. Rabbit: “you know when you get all overemotional because everything is so amazing” Flatus: “don’t be stupid I’m a boy”.

It just got better on arriving at the Mariners. Despite concerns they weren’t a ‘vegan or vegetarian’ friendly establishment, they had veggie options on the menu and, more importantly, we happy to reassure they cooked in rapeseed oil and not beef lard. Oh my days. Chips and mushy peas on the seaside, the ride just kept getting better. After the obligatory chat to a confuzzled local about ‘how far we’d been’ ‘how far we were going’ and ‘yes, we were riding back that evening’, it was time. Time for the climb out of New Quay with full bellies and seizing legs. Luckily (?) there is a really steep nasty bit right at the start to get those endorphins back in action pretty bluddy quickly. Oooouucchhhy.

It started to feel like it was getting late. Still light, but late. That feeling of ‘this is not really normal is it, surely I should be on the wind down and chilling with my feet up’ crept in occasionally and it was probably the hardest section for me. Although I say ‘hardest’ I was still thoroughly enjoying it. Late evening is the best time, that heavy air and intense smell of blossom. Darkness really started kicking in and we decided it was lighting up time. Except, to my horror, my rear light, and the back plate from my bike rack had totally disappeared. I had a little LED backup, but that was never going to be enough for the A40. I had my lithium powered helmet light I could put in the red-drybag, but I feared it would soon overheat without air cooling and explode the battery. Flatus+his red light sat behind me whilst I found some legs and we whizzed to Llandovery where, thank goodness, James Bradbury was there to save the day by lending me one of his two very excellent red lights (yes, lesson learned for me, a better back up is most definitely needed). As James shot off, another guy said someone had found a light and he was, right at that minute, sat in West End Café with it, after carrying the thing all the way from Llandovery railway tracks to New Quay and back. I just couldn’t believe my luck – thank you kind Abergavenny rider!

The coffee at West End Café was ‘blacker than midnight on a moonless night’ and that, along with some aspirin to ease the stiff neck and shoulders, set me up a treat and I felt better than I had all day. Unfortunately for Flatus, who was very much the opposite and I am sure won’t mind me saying, flagging a little by that point. It wasn’t far home really, in the big scheme of things, and the empty, calm, resurfaced A40 a pleasure to cruise along on. Sometimes, I find myself apprehensive about the approaching night (even though I have been night riding solo off road for years), but once it arrives I just love it. The silence, the animals, catching strange noises in hedgerows and the vague outlines of hills.

The Llangtock control was well placed I thought, being closer to ‘the end’ than I was expecting. Another welcome stop of course, with the Touts doing a wonderful job of keeping everyone fed, watered and happy to check ingredients on tea cakes for a hungry vegan rider! However, knowing how little was left, we didn’t stop for too long and, after a quick drink, some food and raiding the dry bag for extra clothing we set off yawning into the patchy-cold and dark. Thank goodness I went ‘comfort’ not ‘weight minimisation’ as an extra buff and pair of socks was well worth the hassle of having the bike rack on. I also had an additional windstopper which I didn’t need, so was happy to give to Flatus as our pace was dropping with his tiredness.

After some minor undulations the BIG FINAL climb appeared. The wall of blackness beneath the light pollution of the Severn Valley gave it away, pretty much when I was warned to take it steady as it was a long ol’ spin. It was late and I knew that I could be defeated if I didn’t find a comfortable pace, so I found a steady rhythm and got the blood flowing nicely to warm back up. I could tell, in the day, it would be a stunner of a climb, but the mystery at night was just as good. How far does it go? Is there a sheer drop to one side? When will I see the bridge? On getting to the top I glanced back and could see a stream of audax lights in the valley below and it made me smile. That’s it, I was done. Just a cruise into Chepstow, a couple of kicks and I’d be home and dry.

But where was Flatus? I got out a little food, waited. Nothing. Looked back. Nothing. Counted to 100 and nothing. Right, something must have happened. Luckily another rider came through “James?” “No, he’s sat in a grass verge just at the top feeling sleepy” Only a seasoned audaxer would understand my relief at knowing it was just a simple case of the dozies. Pretty much straight after Flatus appeared and we headed into Chepstow for the much welcome arrivee manned by the legend that is Mr Blacksheep :)
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby silver » Wed May 07, 2014 4:16 pm

nice write ups :)
I enjoy reading them.
It's not what you do occasionally that makes a difference, it's that which you do everyday that brings progress.

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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Wed May 07, 2014 4:35 pm

Thanks Silver.

Not sure they really get read by many people but I enjoy writing them and it's good to flick back through sometimes to see how far my riding has come and be reminded of the little details I would have otherwise forgotten :)

Shame this site is so quiet nowadays. It was, a long time ago, such a busy hub of useful information and helpful people.
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Re: Long distance is where it's at - fact!

Postby downhillingdemon » Fri May 23, 2014 5:27 pm

That 5 am alarm. The last snuggle of luxury in a warm bed with a good cup of Yorkshire tea and reminding myself, yet again, that I will NOT do any more stupidly early start times. It’s only a ride, I could just snuggle back under the duvet. No one would notice.

Except me of course. I’d notice. 4 months of audaxing, ever increasing mileage, ever increasing experience of various hardships (namely saddles, saddle sores, sore legs, blistered palms, bonking, winter training through freezing rain and floods, gravel potholes and crashing) had got me to this point. The final piece in the BRM SR Jigsaw and the ‘big aim’ for the year. There was no way even a comfy hotel bed could keep me away from the start.

An empty M4 to Bulwark was already well lit by the morning and, so far, the forecasters were on the money…it was dry and looking likely to become a scorcher. Clothing choice had been difficult, more in case the weather turned bad, but the bag drop option at Dolgellau allowed for dry clothing and an extra winter top. Like that was going to be needed! By the time we were lined up for the typically Audax not-so-big-send-off from the cheery organiser Ritchie, I had already removed the jacket sleeves and stowed them in the dry bag.

Following on from the lessons learned this year, it was a steady-eddy start for my overly-rested and sluggish legs. I let the pack shoot off in typical mass start fashion and turned the pedals steadily knowing that in 40 hours time, what happens at the beginning is of no relevance other than if stupid overenthusiasm leaves me without enough to finish. It was, however, nice to receive a comment on my smooth riding whilst heading out of Chepstow. Finally my MTB pedal mashing may be turning into something more stylish. Must be all the practice…….

I knew we were on for a big climb having blasted down it two weeks prior on the Brevet Cymru so it came as no surprise and I found my comfortable pace and span up. It was a nice warm up and I found myself starting to speed up somewhat. I caught up with a guy (who’s name I have forgotten. In fact, I have forgotten pretty much everyone’s names so I will apologise now!), also on his first BCM. We chatted for a while and it was a good pace, but when he mentioned that he wanted to add a bit of speed compared to the last audax, I took note and dropped off the pace. It was still very early in the ride, I had no intention of getting round as quick as possible, and I was starting to tip into the ‘trying’ zone. Flatus introduced me to the audax phrase “if you are trying, you are trying too hard” on the BC and it has become a favourite maxim now. In fact, it was repeated in my head numerous times over the course of the ride.

That was until Hummers came past and I saw an opportunity for a tow from the big man. Which worked, for about a kilometre until he started going up hill, at exactly the same speed and cadence as on the flat. He is the bionic man afterall! Ah well, still an easy kilometre was had and I thought better than trying to keep up….especially as I had missed proper breakfast and was now thinking ‘please be vegan food at the control’. Another companion called…erm, well, anyway….he was in a brightly coloured jersey, joined me to the control and we whizzed there with the tail wind in no time. Honey Café is a nice place. Expensive, but you do get what you pay for and, despite the chaos, they turned the food (baked beans on toast and not-bad coffee) round very quickly. Good job too as those first 81 km had properly woken up my appetite and the curried pasty and banana bread rescued from the jersey pocket on the way had just not hit the spot. It was a sign of things to come.

I have never had to eat so much food in one weekend.

It was nice sat in the sun chatting to various people and catching up with James Brandnor who was doing a good job of convincing me to head the Elan Valley rather than the A44….but eventually it was time to set off. I knew it would be easy to build up a time buffer on the way out, but I was concerned that we could be in for a BIG headwind on the Sunday so was planning on not pilfering time unnecessarily.

For a fair while I was on my own and feeling a little unsure. I was pedalling along, but perhaps too fast? Can I keep this up? It feels ok…..but you know you have a habit of working too hard….but it feels ok and so on and so forth. On the 200s I have always blasted round, bounced controls and generally ended up on my own. The joy of company on the Arrow and BC had spoilt me and made me realise just how much more enjoyable audaxing is when it’s a social activity. Other riders were about, but eventually I bumped into the back of Joolz, Gary and Mark and they were working at a lovely pace. Luckily they were happy to have me in tow as well and I was grateful for the company, and good company too! People’s lives are so interesting, there’s always something to talk about.

Of course, riding in a group always means more stopping (more wee stops, more food stops, more clothing corrections etc etc), but this isn’t always a bad thing. Particularly this weekend it was needed, the days were hot and I having to eat so much, so tried to use all stops wisely to get the calories in. Due to the climb up, Joolz and I headed into Rhayader a bit before the other guys (Mark being on a fixie) and stopped to get water at a shop. Oooh Raspberry Ruffle bars on offer? Yes please, and some of those too! I worked out how to stash more food to the bike whilst we waited for the guys to come through. Nothing. For a good while. “They weren’t that far behind” “Oh heck, wonder if they went the Elan Valley route”. We decided to head up the A44 and hope we found them at some point. I was actually glad to be doing so. The Elan reservoirs are stunning, I know the area well, but I was all too aware of this being my first 600 and the risk of piling on more workload than strictly necessary.

Just out of Rhayader we see two riders and are glad to find it’s Gary and Mark. To this day I have no idea how they got there, other than via a secret teleporter hidden on the outskirts. Although I guess the minor road round the back of town could also be the answer.

The bit of the ride had been dreading was the A44. The infamous biker route with the holiday traffic and limited overtaking spots makes for a whole load of aggression to which adding cyclists seems like asking for trouble. In the van I know it well, and it seems like a rather un-scenic route overall, especially compared to the valley adjacent. However, to my surprise, I quite took to it. It was like being in 999-police-camera-action, but with pretty stunning scenery! Quite exhilarating! I just never notice the gorgeous little streams, wooded areas and hills beyond when driving. The climb to Nant-yr-Arian was a long old grind, but a steady benign way to make up a lot of meterage before the drop into Aberystwyth. I have no idea how people cope with riding fixies. It’s one thing to have to make the gear choice to get up the hills, it’s quite another to have to pedal-like-a-maniac and still go slow back down the other side. Mark was falling off the pace a little with tiredness and told us to go on ahead to the Tre’r Ddoll control.

It was chaos. Cyclists everywhere. A confusing order-payment elsewhere system. I was hoping for some decent food and a coffee but I opted to eat more of my own pasty supplies and just stock up on liquid and a banana. At least the big ol’ queue gave me chance to converse with a friendly local who was interested in the event and where we were going. It’s funny, although there is, at least an impression, that cyclists are not welcome on the road, I so often find that people are very keen to chat and find me approachable when I’m in cycling kit. The bike is a great leveller. Once outside in the sunshine the chaos just washed around me whilst I took everything in.

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Have I mentioned the sea yet? How I love the sea. You may hear about how much I love the sea one too many times in this write up. Getting up to Nant-yr-Arian and seeing the blue in the very distance made me happy, but nowhere near as much as getting so close to Borth. Oh how I smiled. This was the reason I was here. Roll on Barmouth Bridge.

We left Tre’r Ddoll and I sat on the front for a bit but struggled, like normal, to set a good pace. I am just useless at being up front. Before I knew it I looked round and the guys were nowhere to be seen. I caught up with Nicky Gough in Machynlleth. It was nice to catch up with another audaxing lady, there aren’t many about!

The climbing started after Mach and I found a good rhythm up the first, although was aware I was breathing harder than I should be, By the time I got to the climb ‘proper’ over the Cadair Ridge I was hot in my longs and two tops. There was no breeze in that furnace of a valley. Halloween OTP was ahead and I caught up with him briefly but then really started to struggle with the heat so backed off and watched him summit from a distance. I started feeling a little funny. Was it the heat? Working too hard? Hunger? About 20 meters or so from the top the breeze returned payment for all the hard work to get there and cresting was one of the highlights of the ride. By the time I was in Dolgellau I had been wind-cooled and dried to perfection.

I was, however, still feeling a little weird so decided to just ‘follow the pink line’ on the GPS through town and miss the bypass. It’s a good job I have a reasonable knowledge of Dolgellau as a running race had closed the main road leaving me to find my way with pigeon sense round town to the hostel.

By the bottom of the lane I was definitely in need of a sit down, some decent food and rest. I figured I had worked far too hard in the heat on my own and I was missing the good company I had earlier in the ride so made the decision to wait for the guys to come in and ask if they would mind me gatecrashing their party over Snowdonia and back. But first there was the matter of the little lane to the hostel to deal with. Little it may be, but steep it most definitely is! Still, my legs are much better at climbing than they were even a few months ago and, as is so often the case on the little kicky climbs, the thought is way worse than the reality. Before I knew it I was riding in this magical little valley with the bubbling streams, mosses, lush greenery and shade. The riders passing, heading out for the night stage were a mix of refreshed and still-haggard-am-I-going-to-make this faces. I think I may have been the latter at that point.

Still, 10 minutes, a bowl of pasta and a cuppa later (thank goodness for bag drops meaning soya milk for tea!) I was picking back up and chatting to the guys. They were happy for me to join them over to Menai and back, which was a real relief, especially as they had planned to follow the route over the Barmouth Bridge and along the beautiful coastal road rather than blasting up the A470. I took a picture for Caerau alongside the forum bike, and was most impressed that anyone would attempt such an epic undertaking on a strange-to-them bike.
Leaving the control I was aware that I probably needed more to eat than just the bowl of pasta, but hadn’t packed anywhere near enough food. Having already eaten three of the four pasties I brought, I just grabbed a trek bar out of the bag and headed off with the guys.

The coastal road was everything, and far more, than I was expecting. The entrance to the cycle route over the bridge was slightly too well hidden, however, with aid of some locals, we soon found it via the station platform and headed along the tarmac. Then the bridge proper started……rumbling timbers against the backdrop of an evening-sunlit estuary was just sublime. Barmouth itself was as chaotic and scallyfied as ever, but we weren’t long in the midst of holiday chaos before popping out on the coastal A496. Remembering I was, indeed, a girl amongst guys, I figured I should at least try to stay composed and not get too over-emotional about the beauty of the surroundings. It was difficult though, with the ancient geology and mountains abutting the pastel sands of the coast. Absolutely stunning. There is no other way to describe it.

We eventually lost Mark who was struggling and told us to head on. The big climb of note, the infamous Pen-y-Pass, was between us and Menai, and thankfully, the clock hadn’t ticked so fast that we would miss the joy of seeing it in daylight. A steady trundle up began on the A498, devoid of traffic and a rather nice road in the peace of the evening. A tailwind helped push us upward to the A4086 junction and all was right with the world. Snowless Snowdon was dominating to the left, with the sun beginning to fall rapidly behind and silohutte the mountain.

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I had been warned that the road steepened to the summit and was prepared to work harder with an increased gradient.

No one told me of the hurricane which appears to blow directly into your face.

Still, click click click down some gears, head down and work and before I knew it, all was calm again and Joolz was waiting at the summit beginning the layering up for the long chilly descent and falling night to follow. It was most pleasing to find a pasty and piece of banana bread stashed in my coat when I pulled it out of the dry bag as I thought I may need it before getting back to Kings. I had to get a gratuitous selfie on the top, at 300 km, halfway through, I knew it was all home from here and I was well on my way to completing my big goal. I wish I had been able to get more photos, but the phone battery only lasts a few hours when on now, and even less if I have to make emergency phone calls, so pictures were very much rationed.

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Gary led us over to Menai and I was happy to be sat at the back as my energy levels started to fall. Soon, however, there was a plummet. Rapidly followed by THE HUNGER. 10 km from Menai and my legs turned to lead. There was no way I would be able to hold the guys. It was here, my first proper Audax bonk. Luckily, having experienced the situation off road enough, it was a case of slam on brakes, stuff face with pasty, trek bar and banana bread as fast as possible. The guys were long gone, but I was happy to spin for five minutes before picking up the pace to Menai and get there not long after. Amazing what a bit of food can do if you catch a bonk early enough.

Thank heaven for the Menai control. Lots of vegan options, although my body was on SUGAR NOW mode obviously depleted of glycogen so straight for the ginger nuts, white bread peanut butter and jam. Then the dozies came. I napped on the hard wooden floor whilst the guys ate and hoped it would be enough to get me home to Kings for some decent sleep. Mark turned up a little later and, being exceptionally well prepared, took the sensible option of an inflatable mattress he had carried with him. I was glad to be leaving Menai though, getting back to Kings before decent sleep would only leave 200 ‘n’ a bit the next day. Just a normal ride really……

The night section back to Dolgellau is rather a sleepy blurry haze. I we were joined by Bugloss and a guy on a yellow bike (another Martin, maybe?) with various others coming and going, including the guys on the tandem who are always good humoured and happy to play cat and mouse with their rapidity on the flat v’s the sluggishness of the climbs. Feeling strangely homesick, I struggled to stay awake in waves. It still amazes how easy it is to drift off whilst on a push bike. Bugloss disappeared and then returned….to report that he had crashed into a verge hurting his shoulder rather badly. Of course, there isn’t a lot that can be done other than get through it to the next control, but having a shoulder injury is never nice, even when there are painkillers available to take the edge off. It was a literal ‘wake up’ call, although the effect soon wore off and again I was fighting sleep through Coed-y-Brenin. Gary did a great job of providing interesting conversation to help fight off the dozies and they had passed again by the time we reached the steep ol’ lane back to the hostel and bed.

The beauty of the lane wasn’t lost in the darkness, but the climb was stiff and I was glad to reach the hostel and the familiar face of Mr Blacksheep who always seems to make everything feel perfectly normal.

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Being a lady. It has its problems. However, getting a bed at a busy audax overnight stop is not one of them and the female dorm had a readily available bed. I was happy to head pretty much straight to sleep after agreeing a set-off time of 6 am with the guys. I asked for a 5ish call which would give plenty of time to wake up, drink copious amounts of tea and force in breakfast before heading off. Oh, and of course, clean my teeth. Such a small thing, but having a tooth brush in the bag drop was a little piece of luxury and utter bliss. As soon as I fell into bed, fully clothed in riding gear, at around 3 I was flat out and managed two solid hours of good sleep.

When the wake-up call came I feel instantly awake, but very cold. Falling asleep in sweaty riding gear is not a good idea. Another audax lesson learned the hard way! Still, yet again the bag drop came good and the dry underlayer top I had packed was another very valued blessing. I had also packed spare riding leggings, but decided not to risk changing….the saddle sore was definitely there, although far better than it has been on other rides. Changing padding could cause all sorts of issues with blisters in places that no lady should EVER have blisters. My decision was confirmed at breakfast with a detailed discussion regarding lotions and potions over the beans, toast and cereal. Too graphic? I think not, it seems a common thing in Audax write ups, that the real hardships are never really discussed.

I was awake well before the other guys, but grateful for the chance to chill out, watch the dazed faces and drink plenty of tea. It almost made it feel like a new day. Almost. That was until we got on the road and started the epic climb back out of Dolgellau. Then it felt like it was, indeed, the same ride and I had, indeed, not reset anything and my legs were saying “410 km already, what are you trying to do to us?” Eventually they warmed up, as did we, and a brief stop to delayer and eat was welcome. Eat, again! It was non-stop. After the fantastically fast descent it was undulating pleasure to the next control. The only thing between me and bonk number 2 were two Fox’s Glacier Mints, won that very morning in a sweepstake with Hummers. It may have been psychological, or maybe they are clear bullets of magic that explain his huge riding feats, either way, they worked a treat and I arrived safely at Aberhafesp. Bugloss was still with Gary, Joolz and myself, along with another recruit who I am ‘sure’ was also called Julian (well, 480 km-brained ‘sure’….perhaps it was Adam) Paul, and James Bradnor. Various other folks came and went too, in that wonderful sense of community these long audaxes seems to bring.

Another control that did me proud for vegan food, despite concerns there would be little other than non-veggie sausage. There was bananas, bread, jam, beans. I opted for the veggie sausage on the menu, as I was sure the brand was ok for vegans too. Turns out later it wasn’t. Ooops, the vegan-police may well shoot me for that one. Still, it was an honest mistake gov and it was nice to chat bikes with the man-with-the-nicest-bike-in-audax serving behind the counter and his wife, names of both I have embarrassingly forgot. Mr Blacksheep had appeared like magic from out of nowhere and we all discussed route options to Weobley.

A short spin to re-loosen the legs, after the inevitable seizing up brought on by stopping, took us through Newtown to the base of the A483. It wasn’t long before we were all in a rhythm, Gary particularly setting a nice pace up, and we span the smooth tarmac to Dolfor. Once the road steepened, it was out of the saddle and work work work. I would never say I ‘prefer’ this type of steep climbing, but I am considerably better at it than spinning, and it was nice to be standing on the pedals with the ever-increasing saddle sore. I headed to the summit with Joolz and Bugloss and stopped to get some photos of the guys as they came through. At that particular point I was so grateful for the decent weather as the golden hills glimmered in the patchy sunlight. Being atop the Mid Welsh hills in the pouring rain would be harsh, and I have nothing but admiration for those who stick out a brute of a ride in horrendous conditions. It is one thing blasting round a winter 200, quite another to spend an entire weekend soaking wet and chilled to the bone.

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We dropped on the fast, fun, short but slightly technical descent and rolled to Knighton where another refuel of liquid and food was much appreciated. I don’t think I have ever stopped so much between controls and for so long, but every stop was worthwhile. Sat eating best-audax-food (crisps) and drinking ice cold drinks on the steeply sloping pavement outside the spar was wonderful. I was warm in my longs, both arms and legs, but knew, despite normally tanning well, I would be at risk of pretty nasty sunburn if I uncovered, so cooked slowly until we had the cool breeze of rolling again.

Oh my poor legs were grumbling. So I did not, when an easier, albeit it marginally longer, section avoiding the up-down-poorly surfaced lanes to Weobley was chosen. Herefordshire. Ugggh. As soon as we crossed the border, the pot-hole horror began and didn’t stop until we dropped back into Wales at Monmouthshire. Having these almost-off-road roads has been the storey of my winter training, so I am most used to them, but after the luxury of good Welsh surfacing, it was a challenge. More so when in a group; the invitable pointing, shouts of ‘hole’ and watching for rapid direction changes can only work for so long. Amazingly, no one punctured and we arrived at Weobley to find Mr Blacksheep chatting to a flock on the green.

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A clearly very experienced audaxer (name, erm, well?) made the bold, but probably completely correct, statement that “all audaxes should stop at the penultimate control” Heh! I know exactly what he means. It doesn’t matter what the distance is, it seems we ride to meet it. So the legs (or should that be brain?) are paced to run out pretty much at the end of the ride. Even the steps to the shop were an issue, ooof, ouch, eeeehh. All ice lollies had been raided, but unbelievably pots of vegan custard were in the chiller and I couldn’t think of anything better (who needs a spoon?). Other than winning on the scratchcard I bought of course, that would be better. It was better. One whole pound. Go me, first two Foxs mints and now some hard gambled returns.

Oh my, it was so hard to drag ourselves away from the shade beneath the tree of Weobley Green. We sat there for what seemed like ages, knowing on one hand there was only 80 km to go, but on the other KNOWING there was 80 WHOLE KM to go. Via Llancloudy.

Llancloudy. Such a cruel addition to the A466. I have ridden that road a few times now, and it still surprises me. In a ‘most horrific climb ever and someone should drop a bomb on it’ kind of way. Where on earth did that vertical wall of tarmac come from? I admit, I did struggle up a little, but got to the top thanks to Gary’s encouragement and was most grateful for the coasting that followed. Wooshhhhhh to Monmouth and then just the benign climb to Chepstow left.

It was turning from afternoon to evening and any hope of getting a water refill for Joolz at Lidl was long past, so we stopped at a pub in Redbrook where the owner was more than happy to refill the bottles for free, even with an offer of payment. A bit of good heartedness like that can only lift the spirits. As can the Tintern Valley and the sunlit ruins of the Abbey followed by a steady cruise through the woodland, up and over the top. In my mind I was expecting a lovely long descent to follow, so put the power down a bit only to realise I’d have to be over the other side of the Wye and dropping from St Briavels. Still myself and t’other-Julian-on-his-tri-bars pedalled like maniacs to the hospital for no reason other than we were nearly home I guess. We regrouped with the guys to roll from the roundabout back to Bulwark together. That was it, my first BRM SR done, and made so enjoyable by the great company and fantastic organisation by Ritchie, Mr Blacksheep and the volunteers. After a chill with yet more tea, it was with sadness I said goodbye
"You can't hide from your shadow"
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downhillingdemon
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