Eight years ago I took part in the London Edinburgh London (LEL) bike ride, 1400km of riding in a maximum of 114 hours. I had no experience of long distance riding and although I finished just in time, it wasn’t much fun. I recorded my adventures on film as an early adopter of twitter in those days, the film captures the struggle, both mental and physical, that riding that kind of distance can present. I didn’t ride much for a year after that, we set up Milltag in 2010 but I caught the distance bug again the following year, completing PBP far more successfully.
Since then, the business has grown and at times that has taken priority over riding those big mileage events. LEL 2013 and PBP 2015 were both skipped in favour of more manageable endeavours; Raid Pyrenean, Majorca 312 and End to End double were all 300km+ rides that proved to be memorable trips in challenging terrain. Working for Milltag offers plenty of opportunity to ride, it’s all ‘kit testing’. For that past couple of years I’ve kept up a steady diet of monthly 200km local audax rides plus longer excursions in the spring and summer months. By the end of 2016, having spent a glorious October week bike touring in Northern Spain and Portugal I was ready to sign-up for LEL 2017. LEL is now a major event, attracting a global field of 1600 riders, a major logistical challenge for an event still staffed predominantly by volunteers from the Audax community.
Ok, so i’ve ridden some big distance events in the past but nothing really prepares you for day after day of big mileage, unless you are this guy – keep on riding Steve. The general consensus though is to start with smaller (but still 200km) distances at the start of the year and build up to at least one 600km ride prior to the event itself. The reason is not just to gain the necessary ride fitness, but also to condition the body to the stresses it will have to endure – it’s often issues with knees, necks and hands that put pay to riders chances of completion on multi-day cycling events. Finally, longer riders give you a chance to check out your set-up and approach; what works for you, what you need to bring and how to fuel for such an effort. Having attempted LEL with no formal preparation (there are no qualifiers) I was grateful for the more rigid process for entry into PBP which required a 2, 3, 4 & 600km rides prior to starting.
I’ve knocked out some 200 km rides in the first 3 moths of the year which in the main were encouraging. Audax rides are not a race, there are no times published but if you find yourself in a lead group the pace will be pushed and there is undoubtedly some kudos in arriving first. I’d planned my training around a few set-peice rides in the spring and early summer. The first of these came at the end of April, the snappily titled London-Wales-London, a 407km day ride from Chalfont to Chepstow and back. I’ve ridden this a couple of times before and usually suffered at some stage. This time round the ride went well, finishing in just over 19 hours. Job done and form good. Soon after I travelled over to Sicily for a few days riding with our clients, Mission Cycling. The weather was perfect, the Giro was in town and we managed a couple of ascents up Mount Etna. It’s a hard life.
Since then it’s been unseasonably windy and those long solo rides have become a little more challenging. Last weekend I’d planned a 330km round trip from London – Cambridge – Oxford – London, the ‘University Challenge’. A roaring south-westerly pushed us to Cambridge before midday, where my ride companions bid me farewell. The next 100km were into the teeth of the wind and after less than half of the prescribed route I was pretty cooked. I still had 100km to get home so decided to call it a day and headed back south, limping home some 12 hours later.
This weekend sees the culmination of the past 6 months training as I set out to ride to the Scottish border. Originally I’d planned this as a 24-hour challenge but the reality of facing such a distance solo, through the night and into the early morning has made that unattainable. So, i’m heading in a northerly direction, heading to Newcastle for a brief overnight (or overmorning, is there such a thing?) before continuing on to Berwick -Upon-Tweed and completion of the 620km route. I will be getting train home – the return journey can wait until next month.
To ride, to adventure, to travel further and farther beyond expectations. This is the motivation for taking on this challenge. It’s also an escape, and recent events have put that in sharp focus. Nothing I can do can reverse recent tragic events in London and Manchester, our riding life continues but my thoughts will be with all those affected. May your gods go with you.
Stay safe out there.