Start/Finish: 0900 on 9/5/15 in Manningtree, Essex.
Totals: 520.6km in 24:20:47
I actually began writing this race report in my head the day before the race started while having a shower after an easy early morning spin in Epping Forest. I was so full of beans and excited to be getting back on my bike after a testing 4 week layoff with Achilles tendonitis. I had been quite disciplined through my rehab in keeping the bike efforts to a minimum and resting as much as possible however do regret not realising the seriousness of the injury sooner.
Anyway, I spent Friday morning prepping all my equipment. My Garmin was preloaded with the route in 4 different versions as I have found with the bigger rides the GPS can crash quite easily and I needed to have a plan B, C and D. My bike was running smoothly and I had added a small handlebar bag to carry my phone, camera and external power for my Garmin and lights. I also stuck a note on my top tube outlining the various control towns and distances which I found to be very useful as an ‘at a glance’ reference and stuffed my pockets with fruit, protein bars and flapjacks.
Adrian O’Sullivan and Oli Leach were also doing the event and I knew some company would make the day much more pleasurable. Adrian had opted to ride to the start and although tempted I felt it was too big of a step to go from a biggest ride of 350km to 650km especially considering my recent injury and so I opted for the 7am train with Oli and his friend Greg.
At Manningtree Station the atmosphere was great with 200 riders mulling around and we also had the pleasure to meet Steve Abraham who is attempting to ride over 80000 miles in one year. Oli and Greg had decided to keep a steady pace so Adrian and I joined the third wave of riders setting off at 0910. Within the first few minutes I had learnt my first lesson of the day as my Garmin took 15 minutes to load the 400km route and Adrian could not get 3g on his phone to load his route and so we had to sit with a big group until we knew where we were going.
The ‘neutralised’ section was soon left behind as the ping of my Garmin was like the race gun going off and Adrian and I bombed off the front towards the first control point at 50km in Ixworth. As we picked off the vast majority of riders in waves 1 and 2 we knew it was going to be a fast start and we continued to cruise with the help of a nice tailwind. As we steamed up a long flat section into the first control with Adrian rolling through pretending to be a choo choo train we passed a rider in a white jersey who was a bit astounded at the pace we blew past him.
At the first control we got our stamps to verify the route and were also told to slow down which I found quite amusing as we were in a ‘race’. The reason behind this is that audax is an event not a race. These rides are set up in such a way that you must reach a control at a particular time, especially the manned ones, and therefore the race has a 15-30kmph recommended average speed. We had just rode the first 50km at 37kmph and being told off for that just made us want to go faster.
The next control was 57km away in Halesworth so we cruised out of Ixworth and took some food on board before getting the heads back down and going for it. We soon caught up with the rider in the white jersey and he decided to jump on the back of us as Adrian and I continued to roll through and work. On one turn I dropped in behind him and realised he was wearing an Everesting jersey and so it turned out James had everested the opposite side of Toys Hill that Adrian had done. The kilometres rolled by as we chatted and the weather remained nice and although there were always ominous looking dark clouds in the distance the rain held off for the vast majority of the day.
At our current pace we were going to be one hour early for our next control and so we kind of slowed down a little but not really and rolled in about 50 minutes early. We were in the mood for a quick snack and keep moving but couldn’t risk submitting a time outside the designated window and so we sat down for our first hearty meal of the day. The lady in the cafe was very welcoming as were her other customers as they asked what we were doing and seemed genuinely interested and impressed. As we finished up lunch more cyclists rolled into the cafe as they had seen our bikes outside and the owner was very happy with a busy establishment.
Our next stop was the Reedham ferry crossing which was strange but beautiful and then onto Acle which took our total to 150km for the day so far. We managed to get some water and pick-a- mix sweets in the post office before it shut and were happy to keep moving onto Wells, the half way point. This next 70km was very tough as we headed into a north westerly head wind although we did pick up two other riders and the four of us continually worked hard for a couple of hours. As we got within 15km of Well-on-the-sea I was just recovering from a little rough patch and took up the lead at the front. As we climbed a short drag into a small village one of the riders we had collected on a single speed fixed wheel bike started shouting at me to move off the front. Although feeling fine I begrudgingly moved and sat up at the back of the group. Slightly pissed I lifted the pace a bit over the top of the rise and through the village. Adrian and the other rider Mike managed to get on my wheel and that was the last I saw at of Mr. Fixie. I hope he learned a valuable lesson and won’t shout at me next time I’m doing him a favour by taking the full brunt of a head wind for him.
The three of us rolled into Wells and found an American dinner by the seafront which was just about to shut but they accommodated us. As Adrian ordered from the very tired waitress she was unimpressed by how far he had cycled and quickly trumped him by letting him know she had been on her feet for 14 hours. He had finally met his match and she was such a funny character. Mike, the other rider we picked up, was a very impressive but unassuming character who had previously completed Paris-Brest-Paris twice. During his last effort he told us how he had crashed and was unable to walk but could still cycle and completed the ride only to find out two weeks later he had a broken pelvis.
We collected our food receipts as verification that we had been in the town, got our lights/hi viz on (staying safe Mum!!) and were soon on the move again minus Mike as he decided he couldn’t hack our pace any longer. No sooner had we got out of town did I realise something was wrong. My back tyre was soft and needed to be changed so we pulled over and swiftly got it sorted with the help of Adrian’s mini-mini-mini pump. The next stop was Barton Mills at 297km and by this point our pace had become steadier with the odd flourish of madness if the dark roads opened up and felt safe. This was where Adrian came into his element and continually pushed the pace and I wandered what the hell he had been eating (or smoking) while I hung on. Despite having only eaten three hours earlier we decided to have a snack in Little Chef as it was now midnight and it could be our last easily accessible and substantial meal for a while. We also met Douglas here, who I had got to know on my 300km ride, and so he tagged onto the back of our 2 man locomotive.
Adrian had decided to try some of the slow release caffeine gum his nutritionist had given him and before popping them in his mouth proceeded to warn me that he would probably be talking rubbish for the next few hours, he didn’t disappoint. Despite a few yawns around 10pm and 1am I abstained from any caffeine and seemed to be ok. Unfortunately Adrian flatted shortly after setting off again and so I lay on the ground while he and Douglas seemed to over exert themselves trying to get the tyre back on. Saffron Waldon was our next stop 50km away and it was quite uneventful apart from having to top up our water at the chip shop with the groups of late night revellers wandering who the hell we were.
We still had 70km to Manningtree which was quite a stretch at 1:30 in the morning and my two groupies moaned quite a bit before I pulled out the classic parental warning and promised to ‘turn the bikes around and go home if they continued to grumble’. The crying stopped and we were soon shifting east through the country lanes of north Essex. I was doing most of the navigating and I had heard reports that the Garmin 810 can freeze during long activities and of course mine did. This meant we had missed a turn and instead of going back we looped around a narrow road and joined back onto the route. Up ahead we noticed another set of bike lights flashing in the distance and I realised it was the two old guys on a tandem I had chased down earlier and I was astounded at their pace. My reasoning behind their pace is that they were so old they don’t have to stop to eat or piss but full respect to both of them, I hope I can move like that when I’m 116. Adrian decided to berate me once again turning me into the bull going for the red flag, or red flashing light, and so we caught up and passed them for the final time.
Unfortunately we lost Douglas at this stage and we continued to plough on under the clear star filled sky and the murky red moon. We were getting close to the false end, as we still had 100km+ to get home, and as I promised Adrian there was only 5 more kilometres and he promised me we were on the last hill we could do nothing but laugh as we tortured each other. As we arrived in Manningtree and got our final ATM receipt Adrian played his trump card and informed me of the 24 hour Mc Donalds in Colchester. I had been so let down by the closed McDonalds during the ride to Paris in March so I didn’t get too excited. I was quite hungry at this stage but was prepared and had stocked up in Little Chef so was able to produce a tasty but sweaty chicken wrap from my back pocket which perked me right up and we were soon moving towards Colchester.
As we stood at the lit up menu boards at 4am I remembered trying to use a drive through in Boston without having a car and they refused to serve us and I got the feeling we were going to have the same problem in Colchester. Low and behold we were refused service as their insurance didn’t cover bicycles. At this stage I would have cracked up and probably flipped the building upside down but my beardy buddy was calm and proceeded to convince them he had an electric bike and also asked to speak to the manager. Common sense prevailed, helped along with some charm, and we were soon camped out in the porch with two big mac meals.
It had gotten quite cold just before the sun started to rise and it took us a minute to get moving again however we were soon motoring along the A12 which was fast but too busy and dangerous especially in our tired state. 60km from home we had to ease off the pace and take more regular stops as we were both quite tired and were also using a different route home so had to plan as we rode and desperately wanted to avoid the centre of Chelmsford. This was a very tough patch for both of us and we were quite sluggish but we kept moving and I was thankful we had the mental stamina to do so. Adrian ‘joked’ about getting the train home from Chelmsford but I think I managed to keep him moving by telling him his kids would be so disappointed if he arrived home with his bike in one hand and a train ticket in the other. Very mean of me but I know he’s thick skinned and the train was never a serious option.
As we got closer to home, the prospect of breakfast and a shower refreshed our desire and the choo choo train rolled from Epping into Tottenham in record time. A quick photo and a final farewell allowed us to go our separate ways with quality mileage in the legs and great memories in the mind.
There are not many people I could spend a full day with on the bike and likewise I’m sure plenty of people would struggle to enjoy my company for so long so a huge kudos goes to a great riding partner and an all round inspiring person. After 24 hours of riding we were suffering but we were still chatting, still smiling and still appreciative of having the ability to undertake such rides. Likewise thanks must go to a very supportive club and its members who are often intrigued by extreme events and this intrigue simply fuels the fire and the desire to keep excelling.
Below I have outlined the food I consumed in the 27 hour period of pre, during and post race.
- Bowl of porridge with banana, dried fruit and nuts
- 3 boiled eggs with a slice of buttered toast
- Can of coconut water
- Egg roll
- Beef curry with rice
- 2 glasses of milk
- Punnet of blueberries
- 4 bananas
- 2 oranges
- 1 pear
- Handful of pick-a-mix
- Piri-piri chicken burger with wedges
- Carrot cake
- Cup of tea
- Veggie bean burger and chips
- Medium fanta
- 1 isotonic lucozade
- Sweaty chicken salad wrap
- 1 high 5 caffeine gel
- Big mac with fries
- Small coke
- 9 flapjacks
- 2 protein bars
- 1 dark choc energy bar
- 9 litres of water
- Banana and peanut butter protein shake
- Large breakfast- 3 sausages, 2 bacon, 2 eggs, 2 toast, mushrooms, tomatoes
- 1 large portion of banoffee pie
Next up is the 600km Leighton Buzzard on June 20th.