LEL 2017. Typing this post with tingling fingers and numb palms. Cyclist’s palsy brought on by peddling 1,441 km over 70hrs between the 30th July and 4th August 2017. Audax UK London Edinburgh London completed. Elapsed time around 115 hours. An extraordinary achievement by all who entered. A ride that required confronting and overcoming many mental and physical barriers encountered on the way. A combined individual and collective effort to reach the end.
LEL had more than it’s fair share of experienced riders as it it did those that may have been less than adequately prepared. I really enjoyed riding with all those I spent time with. A few notables along the way. Sad to see Richard, a guy I rode with for much of the journey north but parted ways with in Eskdalemuir did not complete the route. Inspired by Jan, a lovely American fella who recited a self penned sonet to me about cycling in headwinds as we climbed Yad Moss together from the north side. A grateful receiver of education and coaching from Dave, a self confessed loud mouthed Aussie about riding in a group, cooperating and working as a unit. Taking note of Tom’s pace, steady as a metronome. I learned a lot about how to ride more efficiently over long distances, lessons which I will take forward with me on future rides and which hopefully I’ll be able to share sometime on the road with others.
As ever somethings went well whilst others could have been better. On the plus side was the bike. So pleased I got it serviced just a few days prior to the start – new chain, cassette, tyres and a all round checkover. Some of the roads were horribly surfaced. Wet conditions, rough chip seal and potholes testing the reliability and resilience of everyone’s machines. I had zero mechanical problems including no punctures. You really could do without that kind of stress on a ride like this. Bike fit was good over the distance. No back, shoulder, neck or knee pains. Legs did not let me down. In fact better than that they just kept giving without complaint all the way to the end.
Top of the could have been better tip was low level stomach cramps / indigestion from pretty much the 700 km mark. Never experienced it before on or off a bike. I know. I’m lucky. I know what all the complaining is about now though. Not sure what caused it. I was drinking enough and not eating anything unusual. Maybe the lack of sleep and disturbed circadian rhythms upset the natural balance of my digestive system. Maybe holding a tucked position down on the bars for hours and hours didn’t help. Maybe all the blood my legs needed to keep going diverted what my stomach needed to work properly. I don’t know. Probably all of this and some. Milk and bread helped settle my stomach. Indigestion tablets provided temporary and limited relief when on the road but definitely not something I’d like to rely on again. Already mentioned the peripheral neuropathy – numb and tingling fingers and palms; toes and soles of my feet to a lesser extent. Seems almost inevitable given the time, distance and at times very rough roads. Still there are a few things that could help reduce the impact of this in the future. I have an eye on getting these randonneuring bars by Compass Bicycles for one.
LEL is a fully supported audax. Food and drink available at each of the controls all the way up and all the way down again. Rows and rows of inflatable mattresses each with a horse blanket or two were also available at most. Showers, bike repairs, charging points etc etc etc all on hand. My expectations were exceeded for the most part. I heard / have read this was not the case for all. Sure there were was some gaps in provision. One or two controls were overwhelmed and ran out of food and/or had no air beds free for all those that wanted one when they wanted one but on the whole the organisation was what it needed to be. This was after all an audax. Seems that some riders overlooked the self sufficient element that goes with it. If it is a toss up between keeping things affordable and true to the nature of audaxing or increasing the price and trying to keep everyone happy I opt for the former.
The drop out (DNF – Did Not Finish) rate was pretty high. About a third I think. Given that there was no qualifying criteria not that surprising really. LEL being open to all made it very inclusive; for those with the money and who were quick to register anyway. My gut feeling is that there should have been some qualifying prerequisite though I gather this is unlikely to change.
To avoid this post going on as long as the ride here is a list of some of the things I believe helped get me to the end of the LEL. So in no order of preference or importance –
- Four years between each LEL gives you plenty of time to get in a good few long rides. Completing an SR series in each of the intervening years has got to be one of the simplest ways to gain the experience and miles needed to have a decent understanding of the physical and mental effort that is required to get round.
- You might get lucky and get by without a fully serviced bike. Mechanical problems and/or punctures at 3.00am on your own in the middle of nowhere with the clock ticking down can’t be much fun at all. Keep the drive chain lubed.
- Decide on your pace and train for that. I did about six months of rides keeping my speed down to a 20kmph average. About 5kmph slower than felt normal. It helped get used to the the speed and for me to stick to it. Many more tortoises than hares finished LEL.
- Establish a simple routine when ending each section. Mine adapted over time and ended up like this. Save the ride. Reset the Garmin. Put it on charge. Leave the bike. Get a hot drink. Lie down. Sleep if you can for at least a couple of hours every 300km. Eat. Load up the next section on the Garmin. Ride. Repeat. Some variation is necessary but it helped to have a basic routine to follow.
- Learn how to ride safely with others and draft effectively against the wind. It makes a huge difference.
- Keep in mind all things are transient. Accept how you are feeling and let it go. You will have your dark night of the soul. The time you most want to quit is the time to put off making that decision. Things will change if you can make the space in your head to do so.
- Be humble. Accept that there will be those who are wiser and more experienced than you. Be open to learning and adapt on the way.
- Keep your luggage to the essentials. You really don’t need that much and certainly won’t want any unnecessary weight on the climbs. A basic tool kit; a few layers to put on and off; a rain jacket; a hat; a neck buff; battery packs, a phone; bit of cash; and maybe some pocket food to keep you the sugar levels from dipping to low. Remember this is a fully supported ride.
- Anticipate a decline in cognitive skills. Lack of sleep and extended physical exertion had a big impact on my thinking skills at many times. Keep it simple stupid!
- Be organised and tidy. Know where things are and put them back when you have finished with them. It will save you a lot of frustration and time wasting trying to find stuff later.
- Plan in emergency contingencies and hope you won’t need them. Route sheets in case of GPS failures; spare batteries; cash; charged phone; space blanket. That kind of thing. Helps prevent worrying about what it situations detracting from the experience.
- Let your loved ones know that you won’t be providing regular updates on the way. Make sure they know about the rider tracking to keep tabs on your progress. That way they won’t worry about not hearing from you and you won’t worry about not texting / phoning when the only thing you want to do is eat or sleep.
Maybe all or some of the above only applies to me. LEL is ultimately an individual effort. What works for one person may not for another. Know yourself and what works for you. Be willing to adapt and change with lessons learned along the way. Support should be considered a bonus rather than an entitlement.