ARTS AND SCIENCE 600KM AUDAX, 18th, 19th June 2022
So how does one recount their maiden 600km audax ride?
This is my account after a week to digest the enormity of the ride. It is still fresh in my mind, and as I draft this with a smile (those that know me at West London Cycling can visualise the smirk as I write this) but I was not always smirking during the whole 600km I can assure you!
Preparation and Expectations of the 600km – How I approached it
Before the ride actually started, I had near enough scored an own goal by not getting my Cannondale ready (another story in itself!). Ketan Mistry was kind enough to lend me his trusty Holdsworth bike as a late replacement and boy it was lighter (carbon frame) and on less chunky tyres!
One of the key preparation items for me is to religiously scour the weather forecasts daily and adding the key town destinations (of the towns which we pass) on my met office app on my phone. I had anticipated rainfall (not light showers) from Thame onwards and had mentally prepared myself for rain for most of Saturday and a dip in temperature as we approached nightfall (lower double digits).
On my previous audax ventures 300 & 400km, I reviewed the route sheet and drafted notes (mentally) on how to prepare for the ride based on experience and learning from others (tip from Bryn Evans – the 400km from Haslemere to Beaconsfield Control was our longest ride between controls – in excess of 3 hours ~ 75km). The geek in me also created a breakdown of the brevet card as shown below. In my head, I knew that Day 1 would quite challenging but Kinver was a milestone being that it was the first 1/3 of the route covered and then we could be at Rugeley at the 300km mark. In my mind, I believed/ assumed this would be a formaility and be relatively straightforward cycle towards Loughborough at the 360+km mark with a short overnight sleep at the Premier Inn.
Furthermore, I believed that Sunday (second day of riding) would be a procession of a standard 200km plus ride (how wrong I would be!)
The 600Km Ride
So what was the experience like on Day one? Well, I had a nervous state of butterflies in the morning at 5am onwards as I packed my stuff onto the bike and forgot my one of the rear light mounts (this was later not needed). Little things like this play on the mind and I had to give myself a decent mental pep talk and to be positive and it has to be all or nothing because this type of ride does not come often in the company of Dave M, Bryn and GT very often and I was not keen on entering another 600km in 2022 alone.
The actual ride from Kings Cross to Thame (77km mark) went well (I was enjoying riding the reserve carbon bike with the reduced weight advantage and gearing set up) and the rain started at the 100km mark). In the early hours, we had reasonably warm weather in London in the early 20s C and it was pleasant and warm with a hint of humidity. My heart skipped a beat en route to Moreton-in- Marsh as I encountered a ‘snake bite’ puncture and the sudden hiss of air and soon I was riding on the rims on the front wheel before stopping.
The guys were great in assisting me to replace the inner tube (Formula One like with taking off wheel, mudguard etc) and we were soon back on the road. Rain started to gain momentum as we approached Moreton -In- Marsh at 2pm but had slowed down to showers. Dave M was getting cold at the control and we were quickly on the move heading to the next Control (Kinver).
Approaching Kinver at the 220km mark at 6pm, the weather turned again but for the worse! The rain was quite heavy and after our food stop, we embarked towards Telford towards the Ironbridge. Mentally at this stage I was doing well and the rain soon died down. One of things I do enjoy about these long audax rides are the places we visit. The Ironbridge was quite a spectacle even if the sun was not shining in the bleak overcast. It was definitely a highlight for me! 😊
So onwards to Rugeley (300km mark) and the ride was uneventful except we had an additional two riders who had joined us in the late afternoon and providing additional company. The only other notable event at this stage was my wahoo Elemnt crashing and needed a reboot as the rain at this stage had delightfully decided to stay away. The late afternoon ride turned to dusk and we approached the BP station at Rugeley (around 10pm) which were populated by other audax riders for a fuel/ rest pitstop. GT’s white socks were ruined and were dispatched into the bin and we prepared for the final leg for Day 1 towards Loughborough. Knee warmers and my headband were put on and Bryn had zoomed off to find some company for the overnight ride.
For some reason, the 60/ 70km to Loughborough was the most challenging for me in Day 1. Maybe the combination of too much consumption of sugar (SIS electrolyes, gels, marathons, Hi5 energy bars) had taken their toll on my stomach. The steak pastry was not sitting well and the 70 odd Km (which really was under 3 hours of cycling) was painfully challenging and dragging. All I recall was wanting this leg of the ride to be over and the only notable recollections was the rolling mist which I actually liked and a few late sleepy villages which we passed. My thoughts were becoming more negative as I was playing scenarios in my head about what would happen if another puncture was to happen. I was also wondering how resilient Bryn was by riding alone unaided in the night without any GPS device assistance (with just a routesheet) and hoping he had caught up with one of the faster audax riders we had met at the BP station earlier in Rugeley. On reflection, this was a low phase for me and how much I craved for hot food and wished I had some special fried rice or piping Singapore noodles (we passed a Chinese Takeaway in Rugeley). Eventually the night ride on day 1 was broken up by us navigating a closed road and climbing a steep hill (which I actually enjoyed) as Dave M remarked that the lights in the distance were probably of Loughborough. Time passed quickly and we were in Loughborough as the silent night was broken by noisy student digs. We approached the Premier Inn at 2am in the morning. Day 2 was to start on the agreed 4:30am start time downstairs in reception.
My room in 318 was blissful. I quickly unpacked; new cycling clothes readied for day two. Shoes were surprisingly not that wet and the same for my socks. A quick brew (super creature comfort) was made and consumed and a hot shower was taken. In my lavish warm double bed, my heart was somehow beating faster than normal and I was wondering if I would ever fall asleep but I had set my alarm for 4:10am . At 5 minutes past 4, I automatically woke up and quickly changed, readied myself (another hot up of tea) and made my way downstairs as both GT and Dave were waiting for me.
The day was bright even at half 4 in the morning and the sky was brighter. Dave said we should take it steady towards the service station at Colstersworth and I knew this would be the 400km mark (2/3 through the 600km and a third remaining). Once the legs started pedalling, my left knee was not in tune and I felt a sharp pain as I pushed down. Dave mentioned that his knee had not been working well since the trip towards Tonbridge Wells a week ago.
We wearily passed through the quiet villages in Leicestershire and stopping to resurrect GT’s electronic shifting which had stopped working. With Dave’s magical gaffer tape and a couple of zip ties, we managed to secure the battery charging unit to GT’s top tube bag and powerbank. GT’s bike was back in business. The ride for me was non eventful except for some are few ‘dozy’ episodes which I knew would pass based on the 400km experience I endured a month earlier.
The delightful service station that greeted us supplied us with our first taste of hot food at Greggs. We had a nice relaxing stop for over an hour or more leaving around 8am and made our way towards the next two Information controls. I was in good place and riding with a good tempo, the energy levels were up (probably from breakfast) at the first Information control on Day 2 (at Helpston). Perhaps it was a dip in energy levels as the breakfast kick had subsided or the fatigue from the day before was catching up with me (or both) but the next control towards Oundle and afterwards was my lowest point on Day 2. It is hard to work out why – maybe knowing that I had over 200km to go that had zapped my mojo. Also, the consumption of too many sugary items had made me slightly nauseous on a consecutive day. Also, this was my maiden 600km so each additional km was challenging in itself.
Eventually we arrived towards St Ives and cycling on the https://www.thebusway.info/ the busway and bright sunshine descended upon us lifted my spirits and the views were quite spectacular but soon got quite repetitive. After another stop at Girton arriving around 2pm before Cambridge and we were soon on the home straight but we still had another 100km to go and expectations that we would get back to King’s Cross in the early evening. Mentally this was harder than it should have been but once out of Cambridge and after the pain had dissipated from my left knee (the pain had reared its head again), I had stopped looking and being obsessive at my Wahoo and enjoyed the views and we had to lower the pace to help pace Dave due to him managing to climb mainly with the use of one leg (knee injury). We had endeavoured to get this far and pushed on to complete this audax.
Road signs towards Potters Bar were gratefully received and we had a final Information control which was to become a sting in the tail. The Essendon climb seemed to last forever and when you approach 600km, it becomes a nuisance, and I was grateful for the rear 34T cog. The final route into London Kings Cross was like one of my rush hour cycle commutes. One more Highgate hill came into fruition and my Wahoo decided to crash and reboot so I had to rely on Dave and GT for navigation. As we approached Kings Cross, the sky decided to rain upon us but nothing too heavy to dampen our souls. Triumphantly we completed the 600km just before 7pm and was well within the time cut off of 11pm.
The statistics of the 600km was over 25 hours of cycling time and over 9 hours of non cycling (resting, sleeping, waiting, bike repairs, rest breaks etc).
So that completed my fast-track education into the world of audaxing that started in early February this year. It has been an enriching and humbling experience in the completion of a 200, 300, 400 and a 600k series. Others will carry on further and tackle the LEL later this August. I have a lot of admiration for this niche world of cycling and for the people who organise these events and ride them. Blogs written in the past have centred on the mental aspect of doing these rides because you have so much thinking time and this aspect was evident in this draft.
Preparation and experience are essential, and you build up belief in your own cycling abilities against the elements and learn strategies on coping to complete each audax.
So to the end and thanks for reading and apologies if I have rambled too much but would be happy to chat or expand any points in person. My experiences are limited compared to others who are veterans of the circuit and achieved PBP and LEL and more.