The Flatlands 612k audax

After an early 3:20am alarm call and drive over, at the village hall Tomsk (the organiser) introduced me to an Italian chap (decked out in Liquigas/Cannondale gear and riding an amazing-looking top-end Cannondale with deep-section wheels – reminded me of “Deep” from PBP2011!) who was looking for some fast wheels to follow. He stuck to me like glue when I was faffing about. I only just had time to get my Etrex HCx up and running before Tomsk let the “fast group” go, a few minutes early.

There was a bit of route confusion just south of Stoke-by-Clare when a guy in a white gilet with tribars said we ought to turn down a lane when my Garmin said straight on. I followed him, but Nick Jackson (“Flatlander”, of Cambridge CC) and Chris Asher (of VC167) went straight on. Somewhere in the confusion we lost the Italian but I wasn’t too worried for him – we were bound to meet up again at Red Lodge – but that was the last I saw of him! At Red Lodge (61km) “FlatEarthBob” Johnson (also a VC167 rider) and another rider were already tucking into a second breakfast. Nick Wilkins, our new controller, held us all for a few minutes until the control opened at 08:02 and then we were off again.

The groups split up around here into ones and twos. White gilet was ahead, tucked into his tribars, but I had him in sight and eventually he stopped to faff with something and I was on my own until Nick J bumped into me at the garage on the north side of Whittlesey (130km). After that we had a stiff breeze to cope with on the run up to Boston. I worked quite hard here, figuring it’d be easier after we turned inland towards Goole later, and I’d get a bit of rest.

Boston (187km) was busy, but I found the cut off from the market square OK. Got a flypast from a DC3 around RAF Coningsby. In Kirton-in-Lindsey (277km) I had the “where have you been today… I’ve just bought a bike too” conversation from a middle-aged man as I chugged my chocolate milk and pasty. I’m not sure what he made of the length of the ride we were undertaking!

In and out of Goole, the wind really seemed to catch some of those roads. I was wondering how everyone was getting on and figured I’d probably see a few riders (maybe the VC167 crew?) as we crossed on this section. It was nice to get to Glews Garage (319km) and have a bit of a wash and brush up in the loos before more grub, a quick pose for a selfie for Jules, and a top up of the bottles. I was starting to get a bit of Hot Foot, but sitting about eating relieved it. On the way back I saw Nick and there was another rider coming up to the T in Eastoft as I rode past.

Just a bit south of here in Crowle I saw another VC167 rider, clearly on a day out but the bright LED lights and rackpack were a giveaway of someone on a bit of a ride. I didn’t notice too much traffic into Gainsborough (377km) although the road is wide and fast, maybe I got lucky here, but was starting to wonder how I’d manage for food through the night – Gainsborough was the last 24-hour garage en route and I bought plenty of bonk rations here. In many respects, a fast rider is better off starting in Sleaford  and then hitting the 24-hour garages later at the end of the night. On the other hand, I was starting to get a bit of indigestion and my drinking rate would fall off as it got colder. Somewhere along here I used the small chainring for the first time since before Red Lodge. Most of this 300km section had been done in 50×17 and 50×16! If flatness is your thing, this is the ride.

The run into Lincoln on the A1500 wasn’t too pleasant on the other hand – plenty of fast moving saloons eager to squeeze past in the dark, and like Nick later on I struggled with the maze of cobbled streets around the cathedral – the Garmin autorouting was confused and I was trying to read the route off the screen map (I might pick a more straightforward route here if there’s a next time). There were a few “lads out on the town” to wiggle though, but not too bad. At the top of the long climb out of Lincoln my gilet went on and that just about kept me warm enough for the rest of the night. At Sleaford (434km) I found a Chinese takeaway to buy a coke and some water and picked up an ATM receipt for a Proof-of-Passage, although I found myself at the wrong end of the one-way system and had to do a bit of pavement hopping/drunkard dodging to get back on the right road.

Spalding was more of the same – the batteries on my Garmin Etrex died here, more faffing for AA spares in my pocket, and the BP garage at the end of town was closing up and wouldn’t sell me the chocolate milk I craved to calm my stomach. The atmosphere seemed a bit lairy with drunk lads and I was glad to escape. Just after Spalding there were warning signs of a road closure due to a failed level crossing but I pushed on, hoping that this wasn’t on the route we were following – it turned out to be OK. The lanes south of here seemed harder and bumpier than on the way up in daylight, and I was glad to get to Whittlesey for a second time. On to Chatteris (524km) and the first garage off the roundabout was still open and the chap on the counter was only too happy to chat and fetch me the things I wanted through the hatch, even providing me with a selection of sandwiches/slices to suit my fancy! My Hot Foot was getting bad again so it was nice to have 5 minutes standing about. This was my last top-up before the run back to Great Dunmow (although there’s also a 24-hour garage just after the left turn onto Huntington road into Cambridge if you need it).

Through Cambridge at nearly 3am I just went straight across town on the cobbles – I had bit of a weekend break here a couple of years ago so I sort-of knew which way to go. And then we just had the last section to negotiate. After the previous unrelenting flatness, the hills of Saffron Walden came as a shock. The old rear wheel I’d selected for this ride which I usually pair with the homebuilt front dynohub wheel, was playing up – the Mavic freehub has developed quite a bit of play recently which +500km had done nothing to improve. It was OK in the big ring with tension in the chain, but in the inner ring I only had a few smaller sprockets or the bottom 25T so all these climbs involved me climbing out of the saddle in the big ring and changing down with a clunk and twiddling uphill in bottom gear once I’d run out of momentum (checking back home today there’s a good 2mm lateral play – time for the bin).

I got my last ATM receipt in Great Dunmow (612km) and realised that my feet were now too sore from Hot Foot for me to drive (which shows that it’s all about footwear/pedals, not temperature – I was wearing my fancy Sidis, not my comfy 15-y-old  Nike Poggio), even if I was capable so I tootled back to the car, parked in a cul-de-sac nearby, for an hour or so’s shuteye until the sun came up and I was more ready to drive home, via another service station for more rest and coffee after an hour.

Many, many thanks to Tomsk for organising and being so accommodating with late entries and to Bugloss (of YACF) for the GPX tracks. I was out of the office all week before so didn’t have a chance to print off a routesheet and was totally reliant on my Garmin. I added just over 100 waypoints to Bugloss’s GPX to give my Etrex HCx an autorouting option which only fell apart at the pedestrianized centres of Boston/Lincoln/Cambridge. For power/HR measurement I used a separate Garmin Edge 500 running without GPS but using a speed sensor for time/distance – it’ll run for +33 hours in that mode.

It’s a good route although those long straight roads can get to your brain a bit. I never rode Bernie’s “Long Flat One” but I can imagine this is a similar ride. Nice flat roads in the main, although very exposed – tribars would be useful on a less benign day than we had, it must blow a bit up there! Fastest ever 600 for me, 10 minutes quicker than the considerably hillier Epsom-Lincoln-Epsom perm I rode in 2006 when I was younger and fitter. Good to get another Super Randonneur series under my wheels, and a pre-qualifier for next year’s Paris-Brest-Paris.

Route map HERE. Check out the profile!

Fairly United CT H10/17R TT. 21:22

Finally started to feel recovered from Cotswold 226, so banged in a few hard interval sessions this week. Tested out my right foot with a little jog midweek but I think I’ve fractured a toe. I suppose this time of year is not a bad time to have a foot injury and it doesn’t seem to be affecting my cycling.

On the day it was warm enough, with a slight westerly breeze to hinder our progress back to the timekeeper from the far turn. I rolled out my best aero kit, including GB/Sky track skinsuit and all the overshoes etc. and managed to really pile on the power on the run back from the turn for a new course PB of 21:22 and 4th amongst those riding the “full aero” part of the event. Very happy with that.

60 Howard Waller Thanks to Biker Jun for the photo. More here: Flickr

Garmin Connect data. Full results: CTT

Didcot Phoenix CC H10/181 TT. 22:34

I was unsure of my form going into this local TT, I’d had a sort of bug all week that’d left me with sore legs and generally feeling run down – worse than usual after an ironman. I’d not done any interval work all week, as I’d hoped I would do and my sore toe was still giving me trouble: an exploratory jog earlier in the week hadn’t been too successful. I went for a half-hour swim in the morning to loosen up for the race.

At the village hall HQ, as soon as I was ready with my bike and so on, the heavens opened. It was just a passing shower (I hoped) so I sat it out and then rode the 20 minutes to the start for my warm up. I think I was colder when I got there than before I’d started, and although the bypass was dry, a squall was blowing up across the far end of the course. Less than ideal conditions for fast times. Off the start I toughed it out up to the far turn but the bike was a bit of a handful in the gusting winds and then the return leg was largely sheltered so we didn’t get much assistance from the tailwind.

By the time I’d trundled back to the HQ the sun was out again and the wind had dropped – later starters got the benefit of much better conditions, oh well. There were plenty of DNS’s from those who’d looked at the wind and decided not to bother but I’d only finished 10th.  I’d still managed a good ride, power-wise, nice and even and strong (I was using a new Quarq, having traded-in the old Power2Max I’ve been using for the past year or so – the Quarq reads a little higher I think), so evidently my form wasn’t too bad after all- I’ve just got to try to hold it for the last few TTs of the season.

[Results]

Coventry CC K33/10D TT. 22:10

Only a week after an ironman, perhaps not the best idea but I was curious about the course and it’ll be used for the National women’s and juniors 10-mile TT in a couple of weeks’ time. Needless to say I didn’t feel particularly fresh, and a cool south-westerly breeze did nothing to reassure me that the trip would be worth the ride but I gave it my best shot, riding off a “5” number in the front half of the field.

I rode over to the start for a warm-up. I took it fairly briskly off the start, and although the front trispoke was a bit of a handful in the breeze I coped OK, careful not to push too hard over the opening drags. Out of the bottom turn I had my minute man in sight and overhauled him up the next slight drag. That was that for my race though, as my average power slowly declined and after I’d jumped out of the final roundabout (I had to drag the brakes to let a car through ahead of me) I had nothing left in the tank for the slow rise back up the DC to the timekeeper.

By the time I’d trundled back to the HQ the first half of the field’s results were already in – I was 10th with some fast riders still to come. If I didn’t know better I’d have said I was coming down with a bit of a bug, I’m not normally this tired after an ironman.

Garmin Connect data, average 272W, not special! Last TT with the old Power2Max – it’s up for sale and a sparkly new Quarq Elsa is on the way.

Cotswold 226 Iron-distance. 9:44:16

Here we go then. Another 3am alarm call to stuff down some toast and a large espresso. Why do I put myself through this? I’d spent a nervous previous day watching weather forecasts and preparing wheelsets to cope with any eventuality but somehow managed a few hours’ sleep, a more common occurrence for me before a big event these days, maybe I’m finally getting a bit more relaxed about early morning starts. Decided to pack a jacket and gloves in T1 and stick my “training wheels” on the TT bike, with more robust tyres (and, as a plus, they don’t fill with water like my fancy HEDs).

Training hadn’t gone too badly. After London Marathon in April I’d been going OK but then two weeks before the English half-iron champs at Grafman I’d picked up an achilles strain which meant I missed that race and was a on bit of a downer. A couple of fast cycling TTs at 50 and 100 miles resulted while I laid off the running. I said to myself that if I could get back to a decent 13 mile run before this race then I was going to give it a shot. In the end I got back into my running although my achilles was as creaky as anything. The not-forgotten miles from London training brought some pep into my stride, at least. I managed a couple of 16-milers; not super, but enough to convince me I’d get round.

The rain hadn’t quite arrived as we racked our bikes. I could see Chris Goodfellow racking a few places up from me and saw he’d not made any concessions to the wet forecast – no spare bike clothes and his best carbon race wheels. After a quick race briefing we were in the water. I got “warmed up” and then swam over to the right-hand end of the start line for the shortest line out around the lake to the first buoy.

Swim

With only 190 people in the race, there was minimal biff off the start and I soon found a bit of space to sight the first dinghy we were swimming round (although without a few other feet to follow I think I might’ve got a bit lost on the turns of that first swim lap – maybe previous experience of a Cotswold113 event would’ve helped here). We quickly thinned out and I found myself in a group of four or so – Chris G and a few fast relay swimmers were out of sight.

I think I took the swim pretty easy but still managed to get a bit of cramp in a calf with the landing ramp in sight which just dropped me off the back of the group I’d been with. It was just starting to spot with rain, so I continued with my plan of putting a spring-weight jacket and some gloves on in T1. I have terrible circulation so although this carries a small time penalty and an aero-deficit, I knew it’d be worth it for my own comfort. Despite the faffing, I caught three riders within the first 10 miles of the bike ride, so I guess it didn’t cost me too much and I figured I must be well inside the top 10.

Bike

Most of the ride was on my own. I was riding along, aware that maybe I was putting out a bit too much power but actually not feeling too bad with it – I felt like I needed to work hard just to stay warm. The rain was really hammering down and there were some massive floods to ride through in the dips. I found myself laughing at the absurdity of it all at times. Nathan Blake passed me, riding back up the drag to Malmesbury at around 40 miles. He was going easily, spinning a big gear, and there was no way I was going to follow him. Shortly after, I caught and passed a woman riding for a relay team. The rain eased up along here and I started to actually warm up for a bit, but it was a short respite before storms returned on the second bike lap.

Out of Tetbury and up the drags through Didmarton I could see some riders ahead. They looked too close together to be triathletes (non-drafting race, remember?), but who else would be out in such foul weather? Eventually I caught and passed the tail-gunner of the group coming into Badminton, and then made a bit of an effort to close up to the other three. It was clear they were riding strongly although trying to keep apart. We had a bit of a comedy moment at the feed station in Sherston – the marshalls hiding from the downpour in a tent and then rushing out to pass us bottles stacked on the trestle tables. With 85 miles in my legs I didn’t have the strength to make a clean pass on this group (as Nathan must’ve done earlier), so I sat off the back reminding myself I had a marathon to run yet, ate the last of my flapjacks which had formed a nice mush in the bottom of my bento box, and a cereal bar I’d remember to tuck into the pocket of my jacket. Just after Malmesbury one of the three tailed off and I was able to jump past him as the rain bounced down and thunder bellowed from the skies, and slowly reel in the other two with a bit more effort. I had no idea what places we were racing for but I guessed top-10 at least. My fingers were quite numb and I was worried I’d not be able to tie my laces for the run.

Just as we got to Ashton Keynes we caught another rider but he had a high number so I guessed he was also a relay rider. I never quite made it back to the leading twosome, but I was very close to them coming into T2. I took off my gloves in the cruise back to transition revealing white, maybe dead fingers, oh no! Hope I’ll cope OK. And then I was out of my shoes and jogging to my run kit. There weren’t many bikes racked – maybe only four. Where was Chris G’s? It should’ve been a couple of places up from mine. The relay rider, having passed his chip on, was only too pleased to chat as I ditched my soggy bike jacket and tied my trainers – apparently he’d seen Chris at the side of the road with a puncture.

Run

Out of T2 and the girl passing-up gels at the exit shouted “5th” at me as I jogged by. “Cool,” I thought, “at least one of those is a relay runner”. I had a touch of washing-machine belly from the drink on the bike and as soon as I passed some bushes at the side of the lake, stopped for a pee. It just went on and on – evidently I’d drunk enough! Once I got going again I was soon reeling in the runner ahead, and passed him comfortably exchanging “good run” wishes as we crossed although the guy behind in a blue trisuit seemed to be catching me quickly. No matter, previous ironman experience meant I knew I had to set a comfortable pace and ignore those around me – the real racing wouldn’t happen until 10 miles to go. Looking at my watch I had about 3h35 to run to get under the magic 10-hour mark. It seemed doable if I kept my head.

Sure enough, the guy behind dropped away after 15 minutes and then it was just a question of counting those ahead as they ran back from the first turn-around and it was quickly apparent I was 4th, although one of those was a relay runner (in speedos!). Nathan had biked himself into the lead and the guy in 2nd was looking strong so my only concern was whether I was going to get caught. I just plugged away at around 8-minute mile pace and just concentrated on doing a good job of the run. Nice smooth stride, rocking the arms, head up. I passed 10km in around 51-something, no miraculous 3:26 Roth-style marathon run was coming here. A gel every half lap, washed down with some water or coke (at a walk). The week before I’d warned the president of my cycling club that the run turn would be practically outside the end of his street, and sure enough he was there to cheer me on. That was a bit of a lift, I think he was very impressed to see me up with the leaders.

The sun came out, and after a lap or so it was obvious that a smallish guy in a black trisuit was hunting me down. I wasn’t sure whether he was on the same run lap as me but it seemed likely – he had quite a few lap bands on his wrist, just like I did. A small tendon in one of the toes in my right foot was starting to hurt so I had to adjust my stride a bit – more heel striking than on my midfoot – not so comfortable. The wind got up and made the run to the far turn hard. But it was the same for everyone so I just made the best of it I could, although the wheels started to fall off my effort coming into the last lap and I just could not get my stride together (as an ex-rower I feel that form is everything – if you can keep that then everything else follows).

Cotswold226_1

Just about to turn around for the final lap (Photo thanks to Keith and Jenny Williams. More photos here: Flickr)

Into the last lap and I knew the guy behind was maybe only a minute behind me now. No more walk breaks, just keep moving, and a podium was in sight. Surely he must be getting as tired as me? Thankfully he was and although I only managed a jog up the finishing straight with arms half-raised he was still 23 seconds behind when I crossed the line.

Aftermath

It took me some minutes to get back to reality and realise that a few weeks after my 50th birthday I’d come third in an iron-distance triathlon. My cycling club president was keen to have a chat and get me some water and a few photos were taken, which was a welcome distraction while I came to my senses. I’d not had the presence of mind to pack a dry bag for transportation to the finish, so had to wait until I got back to my car for a change of kit but to be honest I was beyond caring. I was quite happy to sit and sip water. Eventually I managed to drag myself over to the waiting minibus transit and get a ride back to the start and my car, and bike, and then a steady hour’s drive home for a beer and a pie.

Massive, massive thanks to Graeme and the 113 crew who put on a great event, and to the marshals who stood out on the course in some quite frankly ridiculous weather. I tried to thank everyone as I rode round.

Race splits:
Swim 59:42
T1 3:38
Bike 5:17:08
T2 2:49
Run 3:20:59 (run short at 24.2 miles)

Total 9:44:16.6, 3rd overall, 1st +50 vet (full results here: DBmax)

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What next?

Obviously with splits like that, a few people have pointed out I would be fairly certain of an IM Kona slot in the M50 age group – that would be quite a dream. However getting to Kona seems to cost most people something around the £5k mark – burning up a lot of my savings, scary (but then, what are savings for? *evil grin*). IM Frankfurt would be a good place to start (they have five M50 slots, so that would leave a bit of breathing space in case, say, I punctured on the bike or had a meltdown on the run), but it’s sold out for 2015. There are still places left at IM UK 2015, but there they only have three M50 slots, and the first one will certainly go to Roger Canham, who’s a much better runner than me (although marginally slower in the swim and bike). Next year’s IM UK is likely to clash with the Mersey 24-hour, which is always good prep for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Complicating things is that I’m likely to be made redundant in February next year, that’s tricky and I ought not to be too distracted from finding gainful re-employment. 2015 is, of course, a Paris-Brest-Paris year, and I loved that last time around so ought to make the effort to do it again, meaning it’s likely I’ll do a low-key iron-distance race in the summer of 2015 (Forestman?) and then go for the whole M-dot ironman championships thing in 2016, and try to get a Kona slot for when I’m 52. I’ve just got to hope I don’t slow down too much in the next two years!

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Shaftesbury 50-mile TT E2/50c 1:47:23

I’d had few steady weeks. Some intervals, a club TT, a ride in the Hampshire 50 to an uneventful 1:54 which’d got me a ride in today’s TT. More importantly, I’d bought a brace for my ankle to wear at night and keep my achilles straight. Suddenly I was back in the running game and, having missed the English half-iron champs at Grafman because of a stupid achilles strain, was looking like I might be able to do Cotswold226 after all.

In the meantime, I was chasing a fast 50 to back up my 3:56 100-mile time and the Newbury 12-hour. The forecast was looking a bit dodgy – very hot, but with thunderstorms bubbling up all over the south of England. I took a punt that we’d still be racing – with being back into my running the training log was looking nice and full so even if today was a no-show, I still had the miles in the bank and a rest day to boot.

As it turned out we escaped the thunder, but the weather was very, very warm. I untaped the vents in my aero helmet for all the good it’d do, and set off at the same sort of power as I’d ridden the (much, much cooler) Hampshire 50 a few weeks previously. The first 25-miles went OK, and then the heat came down. I finished my bottle way before 35 miles, and the last 12 or so were just purgatory. I knew though, that with heat and low pressure the air would be thin and however weak I’d be feeling, I’d still be travelling quickly. And so it proved. Despite my power dropping off a cliff in the last 10-miles – although not as badly as some – I managed to hang on for a bit of a kick in the last 5 miles and record a 12-second PB (beating the time I’d set in timetrial.co.uk colours on the old A34 course in 2002). A new OCRC club record too.

At 25-miles and starting to feel the heat:

OCROrange250 (thanks to Davey Jones for the photo)

Everyone was gasping at the finish – I should’ve carried a spare bottle to the finish, rather than having to ride back to my car for a drink, but no matter, I was very, very pleased with that ride!

Garmin Connect data. Results available from the Shaftesbury CC website (I was 14th – it was won in 1:39:45). Only provisional, as there was a report of “company riding” under investigation.

Club TT H10/17R. 23:10

Just to show that I was living on borrowed time with the races of the past week, I went out and rode this club TT on Wednesday night and had a poor ride. It didn’t help that I was on fixed gear – I’d upped the gear a bit to 48×13 (99.7) from my usual 50×14 (96.4), knowing that my form was good, but on the night didn’t have the strength to turn it! The whole ride was a nightmare of breathlessness from start to finish. I was trying out a few aero things – new GB skinsuit + long socks, slightly different tribar position – so the whole evening wasn’t completely wasted.

ClubTT_2 ClubTT_1

Photos from Paul Hardy on Flickr

Garmin connect data. Full results.