Leighton Buzzard 600km

Event: The Buzzard 600km Audax (Paris-Brest –Paris Qualifier No. 4 of 4)

Start/Finish: 0700 on 20/6/15 in Leighton Buzzard.

Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/330353468

Totals: 615.9km in 37:09:25

Usually I am very well prepared for these races and very excited however on Friday morning I just wasn’t feeling it after a couple of late nights, not enough rest and a hectic few days at back in Ireland. I finally got around to preparing my bike late on Friday evening. I have a huge list of spares and tools to ensure that no matter what happens I can fix my bike on the road and avoid a premature end. I briefly checked the weather and saw sunshine all weekend and temperatures all above 10°C and maxing out at 15 however there was a strong wind from the south west which meant a head wind for the first 320km.

Saturday morning was a rush and I arrived at the start 15 minutes late. This is not an issue in regards to the event but it does mean you miss the front group and are therefore riding solo until you start catching people at the control points. Everything was a panic as I set my bike up and strapped my sandwiches on. I got my brevet card from the organiser, an old guy on a fixie from Exeter Wheelers, and set off at a steady pace to get myself warmed up. The old guy set off at a blistering pace up the first hill and I let him go and settled into my own rhythm as I tried to clear my head.

I knew from the off that I wasn’t going to have a good day as the wind picked up and a light rain came off the hills as I skirted along the Chilterns. I had on my shorts, jersey, arm warmers and proviz gilet. The weather said warm with no rain so I decided not to carry a rain coat. I never really got wet but a coat and overshoes would have helped. My bike felt heavy and sluggish which I put down to my new dynamo front wheel. It was great in the fact that as long as it kept turning I would have power for my lights and to charge my Garmin however to generate that power it obviously needed to have a certain level of friction. I had also pumped my Schwalbe One tyres too high and so had to stop and let a little air out which made the bike much more comfortable on the rough roads. It was also my first ride in new shoes and they felt great so far.

Despite not feeling myself, the 70km warm up passed in a blink and I was shocked when I rolled into the first control at Pangbourne. Most of the other riders were around the cafes and shops however I wasn’t ready to stop so it was a quick Asda croissant just to get a receipt before I got moving again. For those of you who are not aware how audax works, you simply have to collect a receipt in particular towns along the route to prove you had been there and not taken any shortcuts. These are all collected and sent off to France for approval of completion. I was now moving well into a block head wind and began to pick off riders in front. I chatted to a couple of ones and we tried to work together however there was no shelter when sitting on a wheel and it was throwing me out of my rhythm so I pushed on alone and reached Chandlers Ford at 113km. I was out the other side of the village before I knew it and had to stop in a Dominos for water and a receipt. I must have lost my ATM card at the previous control and so I was lucky to have requested a pin for my other card recently.

I always hate having to navigate busy Saturday towns during these events as you need to be alert to everything and also continue to watch the Garmin. I missed my turn and ended up having to do some extra climbing up around the one way system before rejoining the route. I was now 6 hours into the ride and was ready for my first substantial meal which would come in Salisbury. My aim on this ride was to keep my stops as efficient as possible and maximize time on the bike. In Salisbury I was in the mood for a couple of bakery pasties but once again I was out the other side of this busy Saturday town before I knew what was going on. Not only had I not got food but I had also not gotten a receipt to prove I had been there. I pushed on stubbornly until I found a pub a few kilometres out of town and had to buy a bottle of water to get a receipt. I passed an old guy who was riding fully packed (Adrian-esque) and he told me he was preparing for the Transcontinental and of course he knew the legendary Mr. O’Sullivan.

My first substantial stop was in Wilton in a very cycle friendly cafe. I was already tired and then became very tired and disappointed as my measly portion of falafel, pitta and hommus arrived. Despite being very tasty it just didn’t fill me and anyone that knows me will know I hate paying for and being disappointed by food. Therefore I did what I usually do and spoke up, told them what I was doing and they obliged by bringing me another portion for free. I followed this with a large slice of coffee walnut cake and my 4th coffee of the year. I then decided to move onto the sofa in the corner and had a sneaky 20 minute snooze and digest my now ample meal.

I had hit a pothole earlier in the day and back on the bike I now had a creak from my handlebars every time I climbed out of the saddle, which was quite often, as it appeared every village on the road to Exeter had been built in a hole and had a huge climb to get back out. My rear wheel was also damaged in some way and made a lot of noise if I forced the pedals around. This did not help my mood as my bike is always smooth and quiet and the slightest little noise just irks me. Food shops were few and far between and at the next control in Sherbourne I was once again out the other side before I spotted anything. I continued on and decided to risk not collecting a receipt as I was fed up with the lack of available amenities.

I finally found a Waitrose in Crewkerne at 250km and topped up my water, filled one of my bottles full of milk, scoffed a muller rice and some jelly beans. I got moving again and hit a huge climb straight away. I was now within sight of Exeter although it was getting late and I realised I wasn’t going to get a sit down dinner anywhere. I had been in the mood for a chilli con carne however decided this was a perfect time to kill my KFC craving. As I snaked along the minor roads which ran parallel to the A30 the night set in, the wind calmed slightly and I relaxed a little.

At 10:01 I went to open the door of the KFC only to find it locked, they had just closed. I knew I was going to have issues as in the past I have tried to use a McDonalds drive through on my bike only to be refused. At McD’s I had the beardy guy with me who managed to stay calm and speak some sense to the manager so I decided to try this approach. After telling the manager where I had come from and where I had to go she duly obliged with my order and even gave me an extra chicken wrap. I took my time to eat, had a stretch and called around to let Amy and family know I was safe.

I started moving north out of Exeter and stopped to relieve myself as soon as I was out of the busy area. Although I wasn’t feeling that tired I was very bored and felt like a sleep. I decided to climb under some trees in a clear area for a snooze however I wasn’t far enough out of town and there was still some noise around which meant I couldn’t relax. As I moved further up the road I stopped once again to plug in my headphones in search of some distraction. I don’t normally do this however had decided to bring my iPod as a backup. My head had been empty all day as the wind was blowing in one ear and pushing my thoughts out the other and so I felt I needed some stimulation. I settled for the Black Keys on shuffle and the first song that came on was Lonely Boy which I found very inappropriate. The music wasn’t working and I decided to start looking for a better place to lay my head and get some rest.

I searched a few fields with my lights to ensure of no livestock before lying down in the soft, soft grass, cuddling my bike and passing out. I woke an hour later shivering and had to get moving. I checked my Garmin and found a Premier Inn 3km up the road and set in search of heat and comfort. Unfortunately this random Premier Inn in the middle of nowhere was booked out and despite offering to sleep in the laundry room I was forced to keep pedalling.

It was now 2am and I was quite desperate for some shelter. It wasn’t cold once I was moving and I didn’t feel too tired but fighting against the wind all day had taken its toll and I just needed to rest for a bit. Taunton was the next substantial town with a Travel Lodge and the woman at the Premier Inn had been kind enough to call and confirm they had a room although it was £104. I was a little bit desperate at this stage and the thought of a bed almost allowed me to pay this but I opted to spend 4 hours in public disabled toilet in Wellington. The toilet was clean and had a secure lock so I brought my bike in and made myself as comfortable as possible on the cold yet dry floor. I rested my head on my helmet, used my gloves to barrier any bare flesh from the chilly tiles and was soon out for the count.

 It turned into a very surreal few hours and I woke a few times to eat, stretch and also decided to pull a roll of toilet paper from the dispenser to wrap my legs in paper and pad my gilet out for some extra heat. You would think I was in the Himalayas instead of the south west of England and I really wish I’d taken a photo of how ridiculous my legs looked. At 0615 I started moving again although it took me a long time to get ready and I was very disappointed not to find a cafe in Wellington. I couldn’t even get a cup of tea to warm me up as the dispenser in the petrol station was broken and so I carried onto Taunton in search of breakfast. I cruised through the city centre and was dejected as nothing was open and at this stage I was quite hungry and needed something other than flapjacks for breakfast.

On the outskirts of Taunton I saw a heavenly sight, a Brewers Fayre, (sorry Sara) and suddenly perked up at the thought of all you can eat breakfast. I didn’t really overdo it on the food (unlike the last time I was in Brewers Fayre and they had all you can eat chicken world) and so just ate enough as in the past I have over eaten when hungry on a ride and my body has not responded well to having to push the pedals and digest a heavy meal at the same time. Some fruit muesli, a cooked breakfast, a herbal tea and a coffee let me feeling good and ready to go. I got a lot of weird looks from other patrons but no questions and therefore no opportunity to brag about my epic ride to make myself feel better.

The next 50km were a bit of an uneventful blur but I do remember feeling very disappointed with my ride so far as I had aspirations of posting a course record and getting home in under 30 hours.  I felt a little embarrassed and considered chopping my ride to remove my 6 hours of rest to make it look as if I had rode without stopping to impress my peers. This is a prime example of how messed up your mind can go when you spend so long pedalling. I soon regained my sanity (and pride) and made my way into my next control at Wells to restock on water and some fruit before completing a huge climb out of town and continuing north east. At the top of the hill I found a relief spot and decided to try a headphone again but this time went for some Daft Punk. This did the trick. The hairs on the back of my neck pricked up, good memories of a great concert in Dublin with my brother years ago started flooding back and my legs began to do their thing. I was so zoned out I missed a turn but only had to climb back a little to get back on route.

As I skirted the north side of Glastonbury I passed a couple of families out for a Sunday ride with the kids and proceeded to say hello and even raced the youngest kid on a BMX.  He loved it and almost outsprinted me but I managed to wheel suck him to the line and make a last minute effort to win, this cheered me up. I knew Bath was fast approaching and I’d been thinking all day about the ridiculous climb out the other side which I had completed the previous week. Last weekend it took me quite a while to get out of the city centre and so I focused more this time and navigated Bath easily however hit a different climb at the other side which was equally as hard.

I was starting to feel a little form coming back and despite still being 160km from home I felt as though I was within spitting distance. I pushed the 12 minute climb and caught 2 guys from Muswell Hill Peleton near the top. I hit it off right away with Alex and Peter and we began cruising along and chatting. Alex’s easiest gear with giving him a bit of trouble so we stopped and I managed to fix it at the bottom of the next hill which made his ride much easier. Peter, a Kiwi living in London since 1987, was very funny without trying and had me laughing a lot of the way. With the little pick up in form and now some company the home stretch was going to be straight forward. My only qualm was that they kept talking about the distance to the next control which got to me a little as I tend to just ride on feel and ignore the speed and distance. My rear wheel was also making quite a lot of noise which was quite embarrassing for a so called bike mechanic.

I had been on this stretch of the route the previous week and was able to reassure the guys that there were no major climbs for quite a while although there were some short sharp efforts in the run up to the penultimate control at Cirenchester. We were all in need of a good meal so sat down to some quiche, sandwiches and tea. Cake was also necessary and I opted for the Victoria sponge which was so big I almost asked the waitress to cut me a small slice. I then caught myself on and scoffed a piece of cake worthy of any 600km ride.

Apart from the laughing and also racing another older kid on a BMX, the run into the final control at Berkley was pretty uneventful. I was hurting a little in the saddle region and so most of my climbing was done standing up which was fine as my legs felt good. The guys mentioned that at the end of a 600km ride you shouldn’t be completely exhausted and should be able to do another 100 if you really had to. I was fine with this and happy enough to cruise home despite putting in a little mini effort to get warmed up after leaving Cirencester.

The final control in Brackley left 43km to the finish. We met a few other guys on the ride at this stop who had ridden together all weekend and they set off just in front of us. After topping up with water it was clear as we started moving again that the guys were itching to get home as the pace picked up quickly. I obliged and did my turns at the front before Peter came storming through out of the blue. He hadn’t been doing much work all day with most of it being left to me and Alex and he later told me this effort was to shake off two wheel hangers we had picked up. As we got within 10km of the finish it seemed that no one wanted to leave anything in the tank and so I pulled hard holding my speed around the mid 40’s for 3-4 minutes before dropping off to let the guys come through. ‘Good work’ Peter said as I dropped back to recover as we slowed down a little and so I went again and they got on my wheel as I pulled hard for another 4 minutes. This continued all the way to the finish as I pulled hard, recovered briefly and smiled at finally feeling good after such a slog. If only I had of pulled a little harder we would have had a KOM on Strava for that 45 minute section but we had to settle for second.

We rolled into the train station together before sitting down and sorting our receipts and records for submission. The organiser wasn’t present so we dropped our brevet cards through the window of his car and I quickly hopped on the waiting train to Euston without buying a ticket instead of waiting 40 minutes for the next one. I made my mandatory calls to let everyone know I was finished and safe as I stretched, rehydrated and generally basked in the satisfaction of my achievement. I managed to get hold of a conductor to ask for a ticket and he really appreciated that I didn’t try to dodge the fare.

The train soon arrived in Euston however the conductor had not come back with my ticket and I proceeded to get off the train. He soon spotted me and waved me over which I was happy enough with. As he processed the ticket I yawned quite a bit and he laughed and suggested I shouldn’t have stayed out so late the night before. This was a prime opportunity for a shameless brag and so I told him what I had just done. Thankfully the ticket machine was slow and gave me time to briefly explain my ride until he cancelled the ticket and told me to get home.

My left bum cheek remained tense and contracted all the way home which was weird and the noise of London really caught me off guard as it was such a stark contrast to the quiet roads I had spent the weekend on. Once home it was a protein shake, a cold bath while nibbling some dark chocolate and a warm shower to wash off 600km of dirt. I didn’t feel too hungry as I had eaten well during the ride but still destroyed some kind of curry Amy had left out for me and a few pieces of fruit.

The day after a big ride my thoughts are usually very lucid and surreal however I was fine on Monday and just got on with things. Kept drinking and stretching throughout the day and had to take Sally apart to get her fork sent off for fixing.

All in all it turned out to be a good ride in regards to mental preparation as there were many dark times during which I could have given up but didn’t as I realised that I was just going through a bad patch that wouldn’t last forever and I was able to ride on by telling myself that I was very lucky to have the ability to even ride a bike. My mind didn’t wander as much as usual as I had to focus a lot to keep myself moving efficiently through the wind and I was glad to have my iPod for the couple of times I used it. The ride also knocked my confidence a little in regards to my target time for Paris however I have since gotten over this and currently plan to go sub 50 hours for the 1200km’s.

Next up I have the Dunwich Dynamo on July 4th which is 200km out to the coast (and back for me) starting at sunset in East London and riding through the night followed by my final big ride before Paris but I can’t talk too much about that one yet.

Thanks for reading

Ciaran

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