London-Edinburgh-London 2005

Picture courtesy of Dennis Sackett at http://www.dgs-photography.co.uk
All other photos come from the Audax UK website

Like all good ideas, it all started in the back of a pub. A group of us were sitting in a bar on George Street, downing a few pints to see off the end of the 2004 season, planning our forthcoming trip to the world road race championships and discussing what targets the new year might bring. For some, it might be holding on to a 1st category road licence, scoring a number of points in the year, or trying to win a particular race or time trial. For myself, I fancied a go at something bigger than previous years (for “bigger”, read “longer”). I knew that in 2005 Audax UK would be running London-Edinburgh-London, the UK’s flagship 1400 km event, which only comes around once every 4 years, but there was also the 24-hour championship to consider – a natural progression from the 12-hour racing I seem to have a natural talent for. I’d already tried to do the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris in 2003, only to be thwarted when I broke my arm halfway through that summer before even getting close to the start line.

I’d had a relatively low-key year in 2004, cruising through the BAR distance events, as well as turning 40 and pitting myself against the VTTA standards, and it was time to look for something new. Chris was convinced I should go for the 24-hour, reminded of when he was supporting me at the national 12-hour in 2001 where I’d been running comfortably in 3rd place before my back gave out at half-distance. I wasn’t convinced, and was sitting on the fence. It wasn’t until a month or so later, in conversation on a club run, that one of the University students put it to me that the 24-hour was “just riding around in circles for a day”, whereas LEL, although not a race, was actually going somewhere (and coming back again!). That was enough for me – LEL it was. More serendipitously, Simon Doughty, who’d coached Sara in the year she won the National road race series, was the event organiser.

Saturday 23rd July
So here I was, starting out from Lea Valley Youth Hostel on a grey morning in July, a day that just happened to be my birthday (not that anyone knew). I was starting in the 3rd “wave” of 50 riders, at 8:30 a.m.; ahead of us two groups were already up the road, and there were a couple more to follow behind us, a total of just over 200 riders. There were also 110 starters from Thorne, Doncaster, who were riding to Edinburgh and back first, before tackling the southern leg. My preparation had been careful, with a large increase in cycling distances in May/June, but still allowing enough time at the weekends to complete three 100s and four 50s for a bit of “speed work”. My longest ride had been down to Devon and back, through some epic thunderstorms and past Glastonbury festival, for a total distance of 665 km. It had gone quite well, although leaving me very tired, and with a tingle in my fingertips and toes – a taste of what was to come.

At the start I found a few familiar faces. I said hello to Simon who was looking a little fraught since he’d been up since 3 a.m., and he jokingly asked me if I’d be finishing in the 2 days suggested in Cycling Weekly – the maximum allowable speed. John Harwood was also there, who organises some local audaxes, and Anton, who works in BikeZone. He’d entered LEL despite only having ridden a couple of 200 km events in the last year! (I’d heard of a couple of entries from riders who’d never ridden an audax before, although they had had some touring experience – one rider assured the controllers that he had actually ridden a bike before.) I also recognised Nick Jackson, from Cambridge CC, who’d recently started the ECCA 100 just a couple of minutes behind me. For the first couple of kilometres we rolled out through Cheshunt very steadily, in true audax style. Well known audaxer Ivo “five languages” Meisen was leading the pack (despite not yet being out of his 30s, he’s famous for some of the truly epic international riding he’s done), calling out the route instructions as we approached each turning. I was finding the pace a little too easy, and although not feeling particularly sharp due to a large intake of carbohydrate over the past week, decided to overtake the bunch and press on through the hills to the first checkpoint. Nick came with me, and kept me company for the first few kilometres. He was unsure of his gearing, as he’d stripped a crank preparing his bike the day before(!) and had only had time to put the spare cranks on from his other bike, with 52/42. He’s a skinny guy, but a bottom gear of 42×23 was going to be hard work up some of the later hills! Hearing my concern, he was debating whether to nip home at Cambridge and change to his “summer” bike, as it had some lower ratios. When I saw him later in the event, near Edinburgh, he was still on the same bike, and so clearly hadn’t bothered.

 Ivo Meisen  Jack Eason

On the approach to the first checkpoint I was starting to reel in the earlier starters, and a few recumbents, including the editor of the “Oxford Cyclist”, Pat Hurt, on his low-rider 3-wheeler. I also overtook audax legend Jack Eason, of Willesden CC, cruising steadily up the hills here. At this point I also caught, but couldn’t quite get past, Mel Kirkland, his strong riding style belying the tale he’d told me at the start about having missed quite a bit of training this year. I’d only caught him because he’d already had a puncture and gone off course once, in true Kirkland style. I didn’t linger long at the first checkpoint, enough to get my brevet card stamped, say hello to Simon who’d come along to keep an eye on proceedings, and stash my armwarmers in my saddlebag. It was starting to warm up, and with hindsight I should’ve checked the distance to the next checkpoint, as I thought I’d have enough water to last me the distance, but I ran out with some way to go – a mistake I didn’t make twice, always checking the length of the next stage so I could assess how much food/water I’d need before setting out. Onwards through St Neots, and I was beginning to reel in some of the faster riders from the earlier packs, including Chris Avery. At about 100 km, I caught the welcome sight of Dennis Sackett’s yellow BMW, situated at the top of a nasty drag. I forgot to smile for his picture, as I was concentrating too hard on making a good showing up the drag itself!

 Mel Kirkland

This part of the route was on nice rolling roads through to Thurlby, before descending to the flat lands of Lincolnshire. There was a not unhelpful easterly breeze blowing, which was keeping the temperatures down. A hare kept me company along one of the lanes, bounding just ahead of me before bouncing up over the verge and into a field. At Thurlby a real feast of pasties and fruit etc. had been laid out. I got my stamp, topped up my bottles and grabbed a couple of pasties to eat outside in the sunshine while I texted Sara to keep her informed of my progress. There was a group of German riders moving quickly through at this point, and the fast Italian contingent were shovelling pasta into their faces, unmistakable with their deep tans and sporting brightly-coloured racing tops and bandanas. Four years previously, I’d heard they’d set off on the ride as though it was a one-day “Grand Fondo”, burning up the early kilometres before fading badly on days two and three. This time they appeared to be taking it a little more steadily!

The next leg to Lincoln started in some little lanes, before opening out onto some long flat stretches, with Lincoln cathedral coming into view. I could see a German 2-up ahead, and was very slowly reeling them in, but didn’t catch them before we came into Lincoln and the little Youth Hostel there. Here I also caught up with the front pair from the first bunch at London, Mike Pain (always a strong rider) and Robert Fry (1991 Audax champion), sitting down for a feed. They caught me up after I did a little backtracking to find the correct turning from an unclear routesheet instruction out of Lincoln, and fuelled by their rice pudding, were clearly going a bit better than me. I let them go off at their faster pace, being content to find my own rhythm on these flat roads, past numerous power stations. After an hour or so, however, they were in sight again on the longer straights, and at a set of temporary lights I was right back with them. We rode the last few kilometres together to Thorne.

They stopped for something cooked to eat, but I just had a couple of sandwiches and pressed on, eager to get the last of the flatter sections of the route under my wheels. This leg included a short section of the roads of the 2001 national 12-hour – the only bit of the whole route I’d ridden before – and finished at Hovingham, in the middle of the Howardian Hills, notorious for their unkind gradients. I thanked myself for fitting a 36×26 bottom gear – a real leg saver up steep hills on a long ride like this. With 381 km done I elected to sit down for some of their pasta and bolognese sauce – a welcome change from my diet thus far of sandwiches, malt loaf and energy bars! My “drop bag” was here, and I picked up some fresh measures of carbo powder and energy bars. It was gone 10 o’clock and dark, and I put on my night gear ready for the next leg. At this point I discovered that I’d forgotten my leg-warmers – left on the floor at home – not a good prospect with a cold easterly wind blowing and the night drawing in.

After some more sharp hills, the next leg rolled gently to Eppleby, via Scotch Corner and Thirsk. On the way into Thirsk I passed a Ford Fiesta parked up in a field gateway with some young lads in it up to no good. They soon overtook me, and roared off into the night. I quickly found out where they were going to – on the far side of town there was a terrific gig taking place in a small community hall. As I cycled past I could see though an open door the crowd bouncing up and down to the noise of a band squeezing every last chord from their instruments – a ferocious sound. A few teenagers were hanging around outside smoking cigarettes, cooling off from the heat inside. There was a sweaty, smoky smell in the air, familiar to me from my earlier life as regular gig-goer with Sara. I heard the band sign off just as I was leaving the town. In the far east, the lights of Teeside were punctuated by an airliner taking off from the airport there, its headlights disappearing eerily into the low cloud layer above.

Sunday 24th July
At 2 o’clock in the morning, Eppleby Village Hall was an oasis in amongst the quiet lanes. I was the first visitor at this time of night, the Thorne starters having long gone. I stopped for a quick chat, a coffee and a sandwich before pressing on to my next target – the climb of Yad Moss. The controller warned me to look out for sheep on the descent – hitting one in the dark at 50 kph could have serious consequences! This was the start of the real hills of the route. At one point along here, a badger waddled down the road in front of me, seemingly oblivious to my approach.

As I left Barnard Castle en route to Yad Moss, setting out on the B-road that leads up over the Pennines, a lad was standing by the side of the road shouting into his mobile phone. He took one look at me, stopped mid-sentence, and then I heard him say “this bloke’s just ridden past me on a bike, all lit up”. At least I was visible, then! I was becoming aware of a stiffness in my achilles tendons, particularly my left one – the cold was seeping through my legs, and I didn’t have any way of keeping them warm.

From the south side, the climb is quite steady, passing such notable landmarks as the High Force waterfalls. I was able to measure out my effort steadily to the highest point of the route, 598 m up. It was getting colder and a drizzle was falling (either that, or I was riding into a cloud!), but the climbing was keeping me warm. I passed by the Youth hostel at Langdon Beck, an optional checkpoint. It was marked out by a flashing light, and there was a marshal standing out in the road (at 4 o’clock in the morning!), but I indicated I was going to press on to the next control at Alston. As I went over the top of the climb it was just starting to get light and I discovered that the major hazard wasn’t sheep – they were all asleep in the fields – it was the suicidal rabbits I was having problems with. They darted left and right, occasionally just stopping and cowering right in front of me! After a couple of kilometres of “dodge-the-bunny”, I was getting very cold, and stopped to put on another jacket for the rest of the descent, although the antics of the rabbits weren’t allowing me much opportunity to twirl my 50×13 top gear. A beautiful white owl flew alongside me for a few hundred metres too, seemingly just keeping a watchful eye on me as I left the moor. I plummeted down the cobbled hill in Alston, and was quickly into the (thankfully very warm) Youth Hostel there. The helpers were just getting up, washing and showering, having been warned of my approach. I got a toasted sandwich and a warming cuppa, before pressing on to the next section, an undulating road that was thankfully more down than up.

I rode this next bit on autopilot, the sun was coming up and warming me through, although the air was still quite cold. The navigation was very straightforward and there was an option to take the A7 for a short section, which I did, as at this time of the day it was completely devoid of traffic. In fact most of the major roads up here were much quieter than some of the minor ones I train on at home after work. My achilles was creaking quite badly in the cold, and I swallowed a couple of ibuprofen to ward off the worst of it. I got to the Canonbie community hall feeling a little spaced out, and realised that I needed a bit of break before tackling the next very hilly section to Edinburgh. On all overnight rides, I find the few hours after dawn the most taxing, and always enjoy a short nap. This was to be no exception, and I set my alarm and put my head down on a table for a 40 minute nap. I’d been really well rested from the week before, and didn’t feel too tired at all by this point – the excitement of the ride, and the overnight cold had kept me awake up to now – a short nap was all I needed in order to prepare myself for the coming hills. As I was getting ready to leave the Canonbie control I bumped into a very enthusiastic chap who insisted on being remembered to Gordon Hinder. If you’re reading this Gordon, I think this was a chap called “Scouser” Michael McGeever, and he was in Oxford to work at the Cowley car plant at the time that he rode for Oxford City.

I set off just after 8 o’clock in the morning, well fed by some Scottish porridge, tea, a banana and a flapjack, and keen to get the return trip over the hills to Edinburgh and back done in daylight, if possible. It wasn’t long after I left the Hall that I started to meet the first of the Thorne starters coming back from the far turn – they’d been out on this section for over 12 hours and had most likely taken a rest at Edinburgh – that gave me a target time to aim for. The hills came thick and fast, and the first few to Eskdalemuir had some steep sections in them. Once past the Tibetan temple, the hills became steadier, if somewhat longer. There was a small rest stop part way along this leg at Ettrick, and I took the opportunity to down a coke and a couple of their delicious cookies.

The next section was a never-ending roller-coaster of steady hills to be tackled in 36×17 (or lower), winching myself up against the occasional headwind, and over a couple of 450 m high passes. The descents, in contrast to the climbs, were a real delight, and I was glad to be able to zoom down them in daylight. All along here I was seeing Thorne riders returning from Edinburgh, and I was starting to catch a few of the backmarkers, still on their way north and already running close to the time limit. Several times, Scouser Mick caught me up in his van and leapt out to take my picture, before disappearing off up the road to do the same thing 10 miles later. Eventually he tired of that game, and zoomed off to the rugby club in Edinburgh. It was with some relief that I crested the last hill, and Edinburgh was laid out before me: Arthur’s Seat, the Castle, the Firth of Forth in the distance, and the famous iron bridge beyond. It was strange to think that the last time I’d been here I’d flown in. Just to set the scene still further, a light drizzle set in as I descended to the city and the warm welcome at Dalkeith Rugby Club.

My game plan called for a decent break here, whatever, and it wasn’t long after I’d parked up that I found myself a camp bed, set my alarm, and stretched out for a good 2 hour kip. The beds were in the same bar area as the food was being served and where people were standing about chatting, but I had no problem getting off to sleep. Somewhat surprisingly, I awoke early and feeling refreshed, after only an hour and half, so I got up and had some tuna pasta and a swiss roll dessert washed down with some welcome coffee. My achilles wasn’t feeling too bad after the rest, although I was still worried about what effect the cold of the next night to come might have. I asked the controllers if anyone had any spare legwarmers, but drew a blank. There was a bike shop in Innerleithen apparently, some 35km to the south, but it was unlikely I’d make it there before they closed. Simon Doughty had driven all the way up here, and we had a brief chat about how much rest I was getting and what sort of pace I was setting – he seemed to concur with my ideas, which was good, as he’s quite an authority on long-distance cycling.

So it was back out into the damp and a cold easterly breeze, to tackle the first long climb, up 450 m over the first of the Moorcroft Hills. It wasn’t long before I was reeling in more Thorne starters, including the push-me-pull-you back-to-back tandem recumbent – it’s a bizarre sight as the rear rider faces backwards and appears to be backing up the hills (which, in a way, I suppose they are). As I winched myself up yet another climb, I realised the next rider I was slowly gaining on wasn’t in the event, but someone out training from Edinburgh – I was hoping to use them to pace me over the top, but a clonk of my gear shifter gave me away and they pressed on the pedals a little harder to get away. With over 700 km in my legs and the added handicap of a saddlebag and mudguards, I couldn’t live with their increased pace for long and had to let them go. At this point the first of the London groups chasing behind me to Edinburgh came into view, freewheeling down the hill towards me. They were led by a group of fast Germans, some of whom I’d last seen at Lincoln, and followed in quick succession by Mike Pain and Robert Fry, with Mel Kirkland and Nick Jackson in groups not much further behind.

 The Tandem Recumbent

I took another quick stop at Ettrick. There were quite a few tired bodies here, taking naps and girding themselves for the last few climbs. Then it was onwards, past the Tibetan temple at Eskdalemuir, to return to Canonbie. I rolled into the community hall a few minutes before 8 p.m., so including my sleep at Dalkeith, I’d made the return trip within my target time of 12 hours. I took the opportunity to stuff down some cheesy pasta and tea and bananas, and pick up some energy bars, along with a bottle of very sweet “isotonic” drink they were handing out. There were a large number of Thorne riders here, resting, eating or showering, ready for the coming evening. The next London starters were to pass through here in the early hous of Monday morning.

I was quickly back out on to the road, and the next leg was a likely to be bit of a tester, slowly rolling upwards into the wind towards Alston, via Brampton (the town sign of which was graffitied with “welcome to hell on earth”, and bit further along, a large marquee had been set up from which a very bad pub singer was bellowing out – Brampton, you have my sympathies). As I struggled up the high street my attire was evidently a source of some amusement to a very drunk girl and her boyfriend at the side of the road. I couldn’t quite work out what they thought was funnier – what I was wearing, or whether I had apparently come from Oxford, as my shirt proclaimed. I moved swiftly on, to tackle the sharp hills to Alston, highest town in England. There were some testing ascents, something I didn’t recall as descents from the journey north, into the wind on this stage, and it was getting distinctly cold as night was falling. Once I got to the control at Alston they appeared to be running a competition to see how many audaxers they could cram into the smallest space. There was a bit of bike maintenance going on in the hallway, mainly involving a large number of zip ties, and many tables packed with tired and hungry riders preparing to bed down for the night. I quickly got myself some beans on toast, and headed back out into the cold.

The cobbled climb out of the town didn’t seem as brutal as I was fearing (I rode up the deserted pavement), and I was able to tackle it in bottom gear without too many problems. A heavy drizzle started to fall as I got on to the main climb of Yad Moss, the water droplets dancing in the light of my head-torch. The climb is much steeper from this side and the last couple of kilometres tested my resilience (as well as my legs!). I was also surprised by the same white owl as on the previous night, swooping down into my lights and I guess warning me off its territory. At this time of night and with the drizzle turning to rain, even the rabbits weren’t coming out to play. As I crested the climb I put on my last jacket and prepared to get very cold on the way down. I sped past Langdon Beck and down into the valley below, once more past the rushing waters of High Force. Once I’d reached Barnard Castle at the foot of the descent, I’d managed to warm up a bit over a few of the undulations, and was looking forward to the run in to Eppleby. My dynamo bulb blew a few kilometres from Eppleby, probably having shaken itself to bits on the tar-and-chipping roads, so I switched over to my backup halogen for the last bit to the village hall.

Eppleby Village Hall was as quiet as ever, a young lad holding fort. This was another quite small control, and not many people were overnighting here. One rider was just getting up, and we had a coffee together. I munched on a couple of cheese rolls while I fitted a replacement bulb to my dyno-light. I learnt that Jack Eason had packed here earlier in the night, already running close to the time limit, and seemingly quite confused about the route ahead. He was sleeping over at someone’s house before planning an escape back south the next day.

Monday 25th July
It was about 2 a.m. and I was still feeling pretty good, so I headed back out into the night for the next long leg to Hovingham. It seemed to be warmer “down south”, something that was making my achilles a lot more comfortable. I enjoyed this return leg at night, the roads were familiar from the ride up and empty of cars, and the wind dropped completely. The only sting in the tail were the very tricky hills south of Thirsk, the first few climbs of the Howardian Hills – 36×26 got used a fair few times. As dawn broke I saw another owl, a small brown one this time. He swooped low over me before being content to watch me pass from a safe perch on the branch of a nearby tree.

It was with some relief that I freewheeled into Hovingham at 5:30 a.m. I was greeted by a sleepy Mike Sadler, and told there were quite a few bodies sleeping in the hall who’d be rising at 7 a.m. I told him I wanted to get a good couple of hours sleep here, so I was shown to a small side room that would be away from the noise of people rising in the main hall. I was quickly asleep, and took some time to wake up when my alarm went off 2 hours later. Breakfast was already in full swing, and I got myself some coffee and a bacon sandwich. I emptied the last contents of my drop bag (more carbo, another malt loaf, and some energy bars), and as I knew I’d get back to Lea Valley before the drop bags were returned, stuffed the empty bag into my saddlebag as well, as I wanted to keep it as a souvenir. I’d left some spare batteries in there too, which I put in my Halogen light to replace those that were fading from the section to Eppleby.

 Mike Sadler with an Italian rider

It was a group from VC167 who’d overnighted here, and they left a few minutes before me, but it didn’t take me long over the next few hills to reel them in. We rode together for a while, and as I stopped to take off a jacket, a motorcycle marshal came by to ask if I was OK, before I re-joined them a short while later, just as they were also stopping to take off layers and somewhat optimistically apply sunscreen (the early morning sun we caught here was the last we were to see of it all day). I was starting to pick up a nice tailwind, so I was able to push on quite rapidly to Thorne. Simon Doughty popped up here again, and I also bumped into Peter Coulson, whose “Midlands Mesh” and “Middle Road” permanents I ride. He was just rushing off to carry out an errand, but had time to say he was pleased to see me making such good progress and said he now understood how it was that I once finished a 200 km perm on the fastest time limit. I got a ham sandwich here and a quick refill of bottles before heading back out the door for the long flat leg to Lincoln. It was 11 o’clock in the morning and I had 300 km left to ride – with a favourable wind there was a real possibility I could finish before the end of Monday.

 VC167 bunch at Castle Howard  VC167 tandem climbing

Twenty minutes down the road at a small village, I came across some road works about to be set up, and a sign saying the bridge here would be closed for repairs during the day. I wondered whether this would have an impact on the route, so rang up Simon to warn him of possible trouble here. He thanked me and said he’d get someone to organise a detour if necessary.

There were a few inconsistencies in the route sheet on the way into Lincoln, but I remembered most of it from the journey out and didn’t get lost. I caught up with a German woman, Astrid, at a roundabout. She was about to take the wrong exit, but she turned and followed me to the Youth Hostel. I had another quick stop here – I just took on a little water, as I still had quite a large part of my remaining malt loaf left to eat, and was beginning to get tired of stuffing down food. As I left, Astrid and another German rider, Manuel, latched on to me – they seemed to think that as I was English, and despite this only being the second time I’d been there (the first being two days previously) I must know the way out of Lincoln – I think they had both got lost on their way into the city. Manuel also thought I was some sort of superhuman, as I’d got a good reception at Lincoln from making such a good pace, so after I’d taken the front for the first 5 km he proceeded to take over and race along through the flatlands. Although we had a tailwind, his 36 kph pace was almost too much for me. Astrid was hanging on behind us. Eventually, after a couple of hesitations at junctions (he had photocopied the route sheet on to tiny laminated cards, and was having some difficulty reading them), he slowed to a conversational pace which was, by contrast, too slow! At the first hill he waited for Astrid and I waved goodbye and pressed on at my steadier pace through the twists and turns to Thurlby.

 Astrid (left) at Castle Howard

I had another plate of beans on toast washed down with tea at Thurlby, but didn’t linger too long – there was “only” 152 km to go and I was keen to get back to London. The roads from here were fairly straightforward, although the tar-and-chipping surface was starting to play havoc with my backside, and I could feel a sore spot developing. Heading further south, I encountered quite a bit of commuter traffic heading out of Peterborough, but it wasn’t long before I was on to quieter roads and passing through St Neots to Gamlingay.

A few kilometres north of Gamlingay, I was met by one of the controllers (Gordon Hart) who’d ridden out to meet me. He was wearing an Icknield RC top, and jokingly offered me an entry to the Icknield 12-hour later in the year – I politely declined for the moment. It was nice to have a bit of company through the last few lanes into the village, although by now my sore backside was giving me problems in holding a steady pace with my companion on the flatter sections.

I had a brief stop to get my card stamped, swallow some coke and put on my night gear, before heading back out into the dusk and the last 65 km to Lea Valley. I was told that there was one other Thorne starter out in front of me, also on his way to Lea Valley. I was now in some pain when I sat down on the saddle, as a rather large blister had made an unwelcome appearance on one cheek, but this stage was largely up and down small hills with very little flat, so I was able to stand up out of the saddle on the way up the hills, and freewheel down them standing up too. As night fell my navigation got slower and slower through the little lanes around Hertford and Cheshunt, and I wondered how long it was going to take me to finish – I was hoping I’d get back to Lea Valley before the bar shut! With a few km to go, I crossed paths with the Thorne rider, already on his way back to Gamlingay for the night. We shouted out a brief hullo to each other. Then, out of Hertford, I there were a couple of nasty little climbs to get over before the final drop into Cheshunt, and the finish line at the Youth Hostel. I had a minute’s wait for a train at the level crossing just outside it before rolling in through the foyer, 62 hours and 39 minutes after I’d started.

 Rocco Richardson and a motorcycle marshall at Lea Valley

Suddenly, there was a whole group of people wanting to stamp my brevet card, take my picture and ask me how it went. Although it was just after 11 o’clock, the bar was re-opened and a bottle of beer procured for me to sip from an official LEL souvenir mug – it tasted great. Rocco Richardson, ex-president of Audax UK, and in charge of the Lea Valley control, was very impressed with my ride and quickly worked out what it meant in terms of Paris-Brest-Paris: about 52 hours was his verdict. Straight away he was talking me up for that event, and saying that I’d be “their man” for it. He was also very impressed by the basic appearance of my bike – a steel frame fitted with mudguards and a saddlebag, and not looking at all like some of the racier titanium and carbon confections that had lined up at the start 3 days earlier. He took several pictures of me with it. Simon was raised on the phone, and I had a short chat with him – he was very impressed by my time and promised me a special prize. Then it was time to wind down, pack the bike away, have a shower and some tea and marmite toast, and off to bed for a fitful night’s sleep.

Tuesday 26th July
When I awoke the next morning, I was very sore, but happy. I had very numb fingers and toes, a feeling that was to persist for a month or more after the ride. In the night a few riders from Thorne had passed through this southernmost checkpoint, but the second finishers from London were still some way off. The fast tandem from VC167 was there at breakfast, just replenishing their energy levels before heading out, and the rider I had seen getting up at Eppleby the night before was looking for a shower and a few hours kip before setting off again. Astrid was lost in the lanes outside Cheshunt after checking through Lea Valley, and Rocco and Liz Creese had to go out to find her and put her on the right road back to Gamlingay. I don’t think she’d eaten or slept much – a recipe for disaster. Eventually, after my fourth slice of toast and numerous cups of coffee, I felt ready for the drive home and to do battle with the traffic on the M25. It was time to bid farewell to the controllers at the Lea Valley Youth Hostel.

One of the strangest things I noticed was that, after 4 days I’d expected to have to shave at least my beard, if not my legs, but the hair on neither had grown at all. It took six days before I was able to sit properly on a bike saddle again – my sit bones were very bruised. My fingers and toes still had a slight tingle, and my left achilles tendon was still a bit sore, but slowly responded to treatment – I needed to get it straightened out for the national 12-hour I was planning on riding in a couple of weeks time!

Links to: Equipment liststage timings, and Stage profiles here (external link)

Pictures at the finish from Helen Deborah Vecht

 Walking through the door at Lea Valley
 Signing my Brevet card
 On the ‘phone to Sara
 Welcome drink – beer in the official LEL mug

15th August. Postscript
After a 5-day recovery period, I wanted to get back on the bike but struggled to get any decent training done. Every time I did something hard, my achilles problem would flare up and I’d have to take a day or two off again – for me, not an ideal build up to the National 12-hour. The Saturday before, and two weeks after LEL, I did manage to ride a good 30 mile TT, followed by a pleasant 4 hour ride to Winslow with Sara on the Sunday, but then had to take another 2 days off before a 2-up 10-mile TT with Mark Jones on Wednesday evening. I found that my old Shimano shoes lessened the aggravation quite a lot, although they were quite tight, and wearing them for the full 12 hours was going to be taxing if the weather was hot. The day after the 2-up I managed to complete a decent set of 3-minute intervals on the turbo (almost my best ever set), which made me decide to go for it on the Sunday.

On the day of the 12, the temperature wasn’t a problem (the strong wind, and rain in the morning, were the main features of the weather), and although my shoes were tight, they weren’t too uncomfortable. My achilles didn’t give me any trouble apart from on the 30-mile section back to the finishing circuit. This included a few short climbs, some roundabouts and a couple of sets of traffic lights, sprinting out of which seemed to wind it up a bit. My right hamstring tightened up over the last two hours, but I managed to keep a fairly steady pace throughout the event. (Pace/effort judgement was made very difficult by the strong northerly wind.) Provisionally I finished with 256.24 miles which was good enough for 7th, behind Michael Hutchinson’s awesome 285 mile total, and gives me a respectable average for the BAR. Results here

The Monday after, my left achilles and right hamstrings were so stiff and sore I could hardly walk. My hands and feet were also very tingly again. I was hoping to do a few late season 25s and the odd road race or two, but it looks like the end of my racing for the moment. Time to put my feet up, rest, and take stock for next year!

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