AwesomeantiX Home Page Potpouri 2011: 24-Hour 2012: Trailwalker 2013: L-E-L

Audax: London-Edinburgh-London - 1400km
28th July - 1st August 2013

This year's challenge looked like the toughest to date and I liked that. Listed as the hardest mass-participation cycling event in the UK and only run every four years, it ticked the box for my 2013 target.

I'm a member of Audax and have done plenty of their local events over the years, though most of these are only 100km, whilst the mighty L-E-L is a mere 1,400km and you have less than five-days to complete it.

The bike, loaded and ready to go

Entry and Preperation: Along with three fellow members of the Lewes Wanderers Cycling Club (Paul Gibbons, John Miller & Micky Turner), I splashed my cash (£219) and signed on the dotted line. Entries opened at 10:00pm on 4/01/13 and had sold-out by midnight. This apparently left some of my cycling colleagues without a ride - or maybe that was just a good excuse for not doing it. There were 1093 entries (470 Brits) from 32 different countries.

I did a bit of research: Wanderers fast man, Tom Glandfield had done the event in 2009, so I revisited his report in the LWCC mag (Page 9) and talked with club Audax legend, Tony Gale about his successful L-E-L ride with Tony Longhurst back in 1995. Then it was time to think and plan and think a little more.

From the turn of the year, my three younger chums were putting in epic rides and clocking up gigantic mileage, whilst I was taking it at a more leisurely pace and working on my strategy. I was doing ok, but not getting in enough really long rides and seemed to lack the motivation to actually get out on my bike. With 14 weeks to go, I started a more structured training programme, but never really kicked on with the big rides and only clocked up just over 2,200 miles before the big day.

Equipment: After many chats and lots of work with my friend Google, I decided to use my Specialized Roubaix (comfortable and lighter than my LeMond), but nullified the weight advantage with a snazzy rack and rear box with panniers, loaded down for every eventuality. The front end: Simon Farmer lent me a carbon map holder and I adapted my 24-Hour headlight bar to sit on the front with speedo and headlight mounts. New tyres (Continental GatorSkin), new chain, a full service and the saddle (more comfortable!) off the LeMond. Looking back (which is easy), the light bar mount was too fragile and I didn't need anywhere near the amount of stuff I carried.

Lead Car 2 avoids a fallen John Miller - Photo: Sharon Reynolds
One Down: The Lewes Wanderers run a series of three road races every June, and these day's I drive one of the official race support cars (Lead Car 2). On the second round (13/06) we were heading at speed to the finish line, when there was a crash at the back of the peloton just in front of my car, I had to take avoiding action to avoid the fallen rider. It was John Miller and an ambulance was needed to take him to hospital with a badly broken collar bone.

The long and the short of it all, was that John was not going to be mended in time for LEL. Despite the huge personal disappointment, John insisted on helping us at the start and booked his caravan into a local campsite, so that we could spend the night before the big off in comfort - this included a bit of a drinking session in a local golf club bar. John then cooked us all a huge pre-event breakfast, before waving us off on our travels. The caravan was left on location for our return - Thanks John.

John Miller's broken collarbone
Off we go: We rolled out at 6:00am in a group of about 60 and I made my first decision! I could hardly read my route-sheet (navigation) without specs, so decided it would be easier to follow and made a bit of an effort to stay with Paul and Micky. Initially, I thought they'd be up the road after half a mile, but as the early stuff was pretty flat, it was ok. We pulled into the first checkpoint at 9:23, having covered 99km and it was time to eat and go to the loo, which I'd needed since the start! Each checkpoint provided catering, some were better than others. Having shovelled some calories down, the boys were keen to hit the road, so off we went.
The last breakfast before the off - Breakfast & Photo: John Miller
Micky, Paul & me at the start - Photo: John Miller
The next two stages were flat, with a prevailing tailwind and were run off more like a road race. We arrived at Kirton, having covered the 81km at an average speed of over 33km per hour and then did the 68km stage to Market Rasen, arriving at 15:13.

I was ok fitness wise on these fast stages, but by the nature of riding fast on the flat, you tend to stay in the saddle. A lesson I had learned early in my cycling dalliance, was I needed to get out of the saddle at regular intervals to avoid numbness and soreness and I think this rule had gone out of the window as I raced across the Fens for mile after mile. I'd chaffed my sit-bits and they were not going to get any better, despite liberal applications of Sudocrem. In the end this was to lead to my downfall and failure to complete event.

It was getting hilly from now on, so it was time to say goodbye to my two chums and take responsibility for my own pace and navigation.

I had a small pair of old reading glasses, which when perched on the end of my nose, allowed me to read my route-sheet and I could then look forward through my clear cycling glasses to see where I was going. A face with two pairs of glasses (sadly, no photos), probably looked pretty odd, but it worked and I was independent, so off I went in search of Pocklington.

On route I had to cross the Humber Bridge, which wasn't much fun for someone scared of heights. I tried to focus on the path in front of me and avoid the large drop immediately to me left into a grey and murky looking river. I caught up with the boys at Poklington, Paul was having trouble with keeping food down, so he let Micky go on alone and joined me (for a while) on the night ride to Thirsk.

Navigation's a blur without reading glasses
Lights on and they did their job and I plowed on past Castle Howard in a spectacular electric storm. Then suddenly from out of the darkness, Paul shouted at me from under a tree. Not sure what the rules are for sheltering under a tree in an electric storm, but I stopped and joined him for a while, before we headed off and of course, he immediately left me behind! Pulled into Thirsk at 23:30 and it was time to sleep.

Shower, food and you are shown into a dark and giant gymnasium, full of several hundred blue inflatable mattresses (like a Pink Floyd album cover), many containing the lycra clad victims of day one. It reminded me of the cinema, as you are chaperoned to your bed by a guide with a torch. Having booked a call for 4:00am, I tried to sleep. No pillows, and sadly it wasn't like my bed. I must have dozed off eventually and woke to find it was 6:00am and I hadn't been given my requested wake-up.

Dodgy self-portrait
All together now! - Photo: Twain
Keep on eating! - Photo: Paul Gibbons
Day 2: Paul & Micky had got up nice and early and had a three hour head start on me - and our paths wouldn't cross again. I had a chat with a Doctor type chap about my sit bits, to be advised that there was nothing he could do to help. After a bit of brekkie, I hit the road alone, and made Barnard Castle just before 9:00am.

Next up, it was an epic four hours and five minutes to Brampton, which included the never ending climb up Yad Moss and the respite of the equally long descent down the other side. Another food fest and it was time to head into Scotland on the stage to Moffatt. Just after crossing the border and at about 3:00pm on a Monday, I saw a bride (full white bridal gown) and groom walking down the street - it took me a couple of miles until the penny dropped and I realised I was in Gretna Green. It was at about this time that things took a turn for the worse.

The titanium bar that had served me so well in the 2011 24-Hour event had been bouncing around since I'd set off and it finally gave up the ghost and snapped off from its plastic mounts. I stopped by a church and after some thought, decided I could ride and use my helmet mount for the headlight, but I needed the speedo as it was essential to following the route-sheet. The only option was to use a couple of cable ties from the giant supply of spares that I'd carted all the way up through England, and attach it to the bottom of the right hand drop handlebar.

In hindsight this was a big mistake, as I started riding lopsided, using the left drop with the right hand on the bar tops. On the four hour plus ride to Edinburgh, I pulled a muscle in my left hand side lower back and combined with my damaged sit bits, was now in severe pain and battling to keep on the bike.

I arrived in Edinburgh at five minutes past midnight. Not bad - halfway there in 42 hours, but I knew I was in trouble. I took a slow painful shower, grabbed some food and headed off for a few uncomfortable hours on another blue inflatable mattress, serenaded by the chorus of snoring and farting.

Climbing out of Scotland in pain - Photo: Twain
Pain and Failure

Day 3: I awoke in severe discomfort and could hardly move, I trudged off in search of breakfast and just about managed to get on my bike and roll out of the HQ. The next three stages were a blur of misery and loathing. Despite the stunning scenery, I hatted every pedal stroke and can honestly say I've never suffered so much pain before. I kept telling myself to keep going, as I was on the home leg and the idea of failure was not an option. I was doing four pedal strokes then standing up out of the saddle before sitting and repeating the process. Prior to Edinburgh, I'd maintained a good pace, but now I was being passed regularly by other cyclists as my average speed plummeted. It was on one of these stages that the photo on the left (close-up below) was taken and even looking back, it's hard to be nostalgic!

I pulled into Brampton and noted that I was only five hours behind Paul & Micky. My mobility off the bike was very restricted and the walk into the catering area seemed to take forever. After some food, I slowly and painfully remounted the bike. It was downhill into the town and then the climbing started. I realised I couldn't go on any further, I knew from the ride up what this stage had in store and I wasn't going to be able to get over the hills. I'd wanted to get to Barnard Castle that night, thinking a good sleep might help, but I turned round and headed back to the Brampton HQ.

I told the officials I was packing due to injury and they zoomed me into Carlisle. Me and the bike got a train (£106) to London arriving at 11:30pm and several tube journeys and a three mile cycle ride later, I was back at the campsite. I loaded my car and headed for home.

The train journey was slightly strange, I was in full (not very clean) lycra, as the only thing I hadn't packed on the bike was my civvies. Plus, all the mountains of food I'd consumed were wreaking their revenge on my gut, producing an excess of wind all the way to Euston - I'm not sure what my fellow pasengers made of it!

I must congratulate Paul and Micky, who successfully completed the event in 89.5 hours. My failure to finish was both hugely disappointing and I must admit, rather embarrassing. I'm left wondering why it went wrong, was it lack of preparation (miles), or was it (force majeure) circumstances beyond my control?

The pain! - Photo: Twain

The face of failure
My frustration is exasperated by the fact that when I called time I was well ahead of schedule and still had over two days left to finish the event.

12-Hours - Focused on the road ahead - Photo: Tim Carpenter
Another Challenge - Kent CA 12-Hour - 1st September 2013

After the bitter disappointment of LEL, I needed a couple of weeks to recover from the injuries, but as they say: 'I needed to get back on the bike'. When I finally ventured out again on a club run, I realised I was in pretty good shape and after some discussions with my cycling mates I decided to enter the Kent CA 12-Hour event.

The Wanderers had five entries (Alan Lloyd, Rob Pelham, Sam Ramsey, Micky Turner & me) - Rob, doing his first 12, would be one of the pre-race favourites for the event win, A post LEL Micky, should be on for a big ride and the fastest three Wanderers could challenge for the team win, which they'd also achieved in 2012.

I needed a support crew and after struggling to find any volunteers from amongst the Lewes ranks, I corralled Astrid in to do the job. She was not overly happy with the 4:00am up and out and didn't really enjoy the 12 hours on the side of the Kent roads, but she did all I asked and that side of things ran very smoothly - Thanks Astrid.

Drawing on my 24-Hour experience and looking at my reports from my previous 12-Hour efforts in 1996 and 1999, I made my plans and sorted the bike, kit, spares, food etc.

I had held the club veterans record since 1999 and it had been finally bettered by Tom Glandfield on his National 12-Hour ride on 11/08/13. Therefore, my ambition was to do the 243.39 miles needed to reclaim the record - was I being too ambitious?

I set off well and went through 100 miles ahead of schedule in 4 hour & 42 minutes, but at about halftime I started to suffer some cramps in both legs and found it hard to stay down in the aero position. I thought about packing, but with my LEL failure still weighing heavily on my mind and probably, even more importantly, the fact that Astrid would be a little less than impressed, I regrouped and battled on. The second half was ridden on the tops in a more upright (and thus slower) position.

I was very stuffed for the next few days and realised that it had taken a lot out of me and maybe I was still recovering from LEL.

This is what you look like after finishing a 12 hour bike race! - Photo: Astrid Petrie
Chris Martin collects the Bray 12 Hour Team Award from John Clarey at the Kent CA Awards Lunch - 3/11/13 - Photo: Alan LLoyd
Results: I was given 230.505 miles, which underwhelmed me at the time, but in hindsight was probably ok.

The plus side: I joined Rob (who finished second with 267 miles) and Micky (248 miles) in winning the Kent CA Team prize and we set a new club team record. So, not a complete failure, but I do hope I can get things working more to plan in 2014.

03/11/13: Along with Alan Lloyd, I attended the Kent CA Annual Lunch and Presentation and collected the 'The Bray 12 Hour Team Trophy' from John Clarey - he'd ridden and finished the Tour de France back in 1968.

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