Some time over the winter I decided I wanted to ride my 8th Audax Super Randonneur series of events in 2014, which is 200km, 300km, 400km & 600km distances. The Bryan Chapman memorial will be my 600km event on Saturday 17th from Chepstow at 6.00am. Can’t pinpoint exactly when this decision was though, it could have been on a club ride although it could equally have been after several (too many) beers on the club social…
After a break of 9 years, due to family stuff and then injury, my motivation was seeing if I had mended enough and also to gauge my fitness and health in my mid-50’s and see what the effects were of almost a decade away from long distance cycling. My body is coping okay, I seem to be marginally quicker finishing events and I am finding it easier to maintain a steady pace for long periods, although I have had quite benign weather conditions so far. It may be more accurate then to say I am probably at about at the same level I was in my mid forties. The biggest thrill in 2014 however, has been riding some of the longer events with several people doing their first Super Randonneur series and being part of their achievement as they push their own boundaries and seeing new friends noticeably grow in confidence at each event.
The first thing then was to re-join Audax UK, do some networking online to find out what had been happening and start getting some longer rides in over the winter. These were the cold wet and windy early morning rides through November and December which help toughen resolution and limbs. After Christmas I went out on my 26 wheel touring bike and had to avoid lanes due to ice and so main-roaded it over to Clevedon by which time it had thawed, so I came back over the Avonmouth bridge and next thing I knew I was onto a 100 miler. That ride in particular convinced me that my motivation was still okay, so I went ahead and entered a few local 100km Audax events in January and February to test the water a bit. All went well, maybe too well as I kept getting sunny days either side of very heavy rain which was causing parts of the country to spend weeks under water. That little niggle in my mind kept saying these fine weather windows may well come back and bite me hard, so I tried to prepare for it. You can’t control the weather but you can control how you deal with it, is the basic philosophy.  A big milestone at this stage though was travelling to Chepstow with Angus and Dan to ride the Gospel pass 150km Audax in February. One of the best days ever for me. Spending all day with club mates travelling, chatting and cycling in glorious Black mountains scenery on a quite a challenging course, although I grovelled up the pass itself Angus seemed to be flying that day.
Then it was onto a couple of 200km events which again went very smoothly and by this time I knew I was definitely up for the longer events. By now it was late March and I took a break to re-charge and assess how things had been going. A lesson learned from previous experience: Don’t burn yourself out! This semi-relaxation period coincided with spring arriving and so I hit the proceed button with longer solo rides and started to do some shorter faster riding around a circuit I use north of Pucklechurch now the evenings were getting lighter. I entered my 300, 400 & 600 events at this stage having held back until I was fairly sure I was ready for this second stage of the Super Randonneur series.
End of April and the morning of my 300km started with torrential rain as I sat and ate breakfast at 3.30am in my kitchen with the rain lashing against the patio door. I prepared myself and my kit for what I thought was going to be a very tough day only for the rain to stop by the time we started at 6.00am in Cirencester. I have absolutely no way of proving it, but I believe that being psyched up for severe weather and then riding in sunshine just made the event itself appear easy. It’s always a good idea to surround yourself with positive people whenever possible or to consider riding alone when necessary if conditions are hard. Luckily I rode this event with some great people riding their first 300km event and that definitely helped too. I do admit to using a few mind tricks leading up to longer events such as listening to powerful music and combining it with motivating imagery that stick in the mind and helps keep you going at times of adversity. The shrinks call it, “Visualistion” I’m not sure what I call it… but it seems to work for me! Also used a British Cycling article on diet and nutrition in a weekly newsletter for longer events to try and remind myself to keep fuelled properly. Biggest lesson I learnt from this is to keep feeding even as you approach the finish so it will stop over eating afterwards during the recovery phase. It really does work.
The 300km appearing to be much easier than expected set me up for the Brevet Cymru 400km the following week and again all went smoothly and added to my confidence by doing my first night time riding for a few years. I loved the buzz of leaving Llandovery control at 9pm as it got dark and night riding via Crickhowell control around mid-night back to Chepstow. I was in mitts all ride and the only time my fingers got cold was the final descent at Shirenewton where I simply couldn’t be bothered with gloves for the last few miles. Slept a few hours at the finish before my wife picked me up at the Severn bridge in the car. One year I did an impromtu ride home after this event which was a disaster because my system had mentally shut down having finished the event and I had to keep stopping and napping against farm gates. It took several hours to ride just 30 miles back to Bath by which time I was wrecked. Sounds funny but a serious point, and a hard lesson learnt, is I reckon you can fight off sleep for a goal but once the goal is achieved the fight is then lost. So with that in mind I try to roughly plan when and where I will sleep while always remaining adaptable to unforeseen situations by carrying a space blanket as a light weight backup.
The bike I use is a Thorn 531 steel tubing diamond frame machine, with a 26/36/46 chainset & 14-24 nine speed cassette, from St. John Street cycles and I have had it for about 12 years. It’s looks retro but it’s functional and if, for example a gear cable goes it means I can fit  a spare quickly by having downtube levers. I also carry a rack bag with tools, clothes, food and basic fist aid kit. It has a Schmidt front hub dynamo which pumps out enough light for night riding and unlike side wall dynamo’s doesn’t slip in the rain and is quiet with very little drag. I also carry a headtorch on longer events for reading route-sheet, swivelling to read road signs and potential hazards and acts as a backup in case of dynamo failure. A cotton cap with a peak is really useful for shielding oncoming headlight dazzle. The one bit of kit I am exploring getting hold of is a Garmin, as a navigation device. I’m not a real gadget person but as I have got older I am finding reading handlebar mounted route-sheets increasingly difficult, especially at night and on a few rides this year I have been glad of others alongside me who have had Sat-navs. On long rides in unfamiliar areas I would always suggest highlighting the route onto an OS map and carrying that as a backup, as it helps if you need to re-route or if you mistakenly go off course, which is very easy to do when fatigue makes even simple decisions seem complex. Going off course in the dark when you are tired is one of the most stressful situations Audax riders face and can challenge even the strongest willpower, so it is vital to re-gain control of that situation quickly.
On the Bryan Chapman Memorial 600 there is the logistical advantage of having a bag drop at Dolgellau bunk house. Riders use this check point at 224km and again at 409km. I will be sending off a bag with clean change of base layers, toiletries, night riding kit and food to replenish so I can keep weight down in my rack bag for large parts of the ride. One of the lessons I have learnt over the years from endurance riding is that a shower and clean clothes really can make a difference on a long ride for both hygiene and motivation. Most riders have their own choice of undercarriage cream, mine is Conotrane (nuff said).  I have had a few ‘moments’ over the years on this ride which include administering emergency first aid in the middle of the night and only realising afterwards I went into shock for the remainder of the ride, laying up in a bus shelter in a space blanket for several hours during the night from severe weather so missing the bunkhouse bed facility at Dolgellau and having to self-defend against a couple of late night jokers near Penrhyndeuraeth (No, I can’t pronounce it either!) I suppose this sums up the Audax principle of self sufficiency perfectly, in that there is little back up in the event of things going south, you need to be able to deal with it. However on the upside, other riders really look out for each other and there is an amazing camaderie and it would be wise to remember this when helping others…..that it could just be you that needs it next time.
In the last few weeks leading up to the Bryan Chapman I have stopped doing long weekday rides as the Audax events themselves have been providing the mileage. Instead I have been doing more structured stuff such as mile intervals on the road and shorter intervals on the track at Odd Down when possible.
Reckon I’m about as ready as I ever will be.
Biggest fear? Alarm clock not going off and missing it!!! Honestly….
Oh yeah, got my eye on a 3rd Paris Brest Paris next year…