London Marathon 3:03:50

The Bank Holiday weekend after the Maidenhead 10 I piled in some more distance work, but it sort-of backfired when I started to come down with the “dead leg” in my right quad again. I’ve battled with it all winter but had to take a week off running completely and missed the White Horse Half the following Sunday which I’d hoped would be a final test of pace before London. Fortunately the rest mostly worked (I did a fair amount of cycling instead) and I was able to have one last “big week” with a 32km long run on the Wednesday morning, 10 days before tapering for London.

The forecast was for a cold overcast day – ideal for long distance running – and in the end it was almost too cold for me. I decided to wear a thin shirt under my OCAC vest so I didn’t feel tempted to race the first half to keep myself warm (and some quad guards to keep the chill off my legs). Two gels in my shorts pocket, and a plan to pick up two more from the gel stations at 13 and 22 miles. My brother Alan was over in London for the FA Cup semi-final and I met him on the train to Maze Hill, and we walked up the hill together to the Green Start for a few photos and a bit of a chat. It took me the best part of 40-50 minutes to queue for the loo and get my bag onto the baggage bus, but the time passed quickly with so many other runners to chat to. I was surprised to find a few first timers on this start as I though everyone was good-for-age with previous experience but it turns out that some gratis club places go on the Green start too.

Off the start it’s a question of weaving past the celebs who start in front of you and then finding a pace and a space in the horde that you’re comfortable with. The Green merges with the Blue after about 1km and then it’s pretty busy. The first 5km passed in a rapid 21:24. I had even splits of 22:00 in mind, but it doesn’t make sense to hold yourself back on the downhill here. The next two splits were 21:47 and 21:48, through the crowds at the Cutty Sark. I was feeling very comfortable and trying not to bounce too much, taking a drink every so often. It was so cold though, that hydration was never a worry  – around Rotherhithe we even had a 30-second flurry of very light snow. I overtook a runner dressed as beer bottle, going for some sort of record but fading already, and heard the words he didn’t want to hear “Ooh look, there’s another beer bottle”. All along here my dodgy old left calf was feeling a bit tight but it was never a problem – that’s the effect of going straight to race speed with no warm-up!

After an hour-and-a-bit I’ve done the first easy 20km, and the route crosses the iconic Tower Bridge. The crowds are once again massive and vocal here, and running across this landmark made me smile from ear to ear. That smile carried me to a 21:41 5km split and then along The Highway was the Fetchpoint crowd, always a big boost (I was wearing a Fetch buff) and then the halfway mark, reached in a comfortable 1:31:23, where I picked up a gel for the tricky Isle of Dogs.

This was where the wheels started to come off in 2014, but this time I was feeling good and running well on the twists and turns, almost racing them at times. I got a little carried away perhaps, with splits of 21:28, 21:31 but was very happy to see the back of this section and back to The Highway, Fetchpoint, and the stretch for home. Along here the “broken” toe on my right foot started to hurt quite a lot – I’ve never really tested it beyond 32km at this pace before – it was painful, but manageable, I just had to make sure I didn’t bounce on it too much.

Through the final run along Tower Hill and Thames Street and the big underpasses, I was just waiting for The Embankment and a sight of the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben). There were runners starting suffer all along here – some walking, some stopping for a stretch. I was weaving between them but a little bit of cramp was creeping in, I could feel the tell-tale twitching in my toes and calves. I was just trying to relax my stride, keep it all together, stick to the blue line, and a little bit of urgency went out my pace now the end was close: a 21:47 split.

Finally we’re on the Embankment, and the last couple of water stations. I took a drink somewhere along here but hardly sipped it, my stomach was also starting to play up a bit. I was thinking all the time of a nice relaxed style, head up, look ahead, keep the cramps at bay, although I’m sure I didn’t look too relaxed at this point. Finally, we turned onto Birdcage Walk. I didn’t have any more to give and stumbled my way through a 22:20 split for that 5km. The final run to the line was hard – my stomach started to cramp up and it was all I could do to hold my head up for the finish gantry photo, much relieved to finish inside my best hope of a 3:05 finish with 3:03 (2456th overall, and 148th in the M50-54 age category, which was won in a frankly ridiculous 2:32!).

Full splits (link to my results HERE, Official photos HERE):


After gathering my wits and getting changed I met my brother – I think he’d struggled to keep pace with me via London Transport ;) but we a had a bit of a chat before he had to head off to Wembley for the cup match (they lost 1-2), and me to Marble Arch and the bus home.


Now that sub-3 hours is so close, I’m starting to wonder if I can do it at Abingdon marathon in October, which I’ve already put an entry in for, although that’s a vastly different event – I’d be running on my own for much of it. There is always, of course, another London Marathon next year, now that I’ve garnered another good-for-age entry time! My 32-year-old 2:45:27 PB still looks a bit out of reach though.


Gloucester 20 – 2:20:39

Back to the Gloucester 20 for the third year in a row. It’s a good little race for preparing for London marathon, but every year seems to mark the point where my right quad fails and the last few weeks go downhill (in fact, after this race last year I decided not to run in London at all). It’s been behaving itself a bit better this year but I was still cautious of it although this year’s Gloucester 20 was further away from London, at 6 weeks, than the 4 or 5 it’s been in the past so perhaps if things went badly there would still be time to turn it around.

After a bit of a jog to warm up (my sore hip seems to have settle down now) I decided to just wear a vest to run in. It was cool and sunny, pretty much ideal conditions, I was feeling pretty good, if a little nervous. Off the start we had a couple of laps of the local business park to run and then out into the countryside. Although I was thinking of a 2:20 finish I didn’t get too carried away with these opening km, they seemed quite brisk enough and it wasn’t until I was coming around to the end of the first of three large laps that I found myself in a smallish group although they soon split up and I was just running with one other guy from Gloucester AC who was getting a lot of cheers from the marshals. We had a bit of a chat – he’d missed quite a bit of training with a bad cold.

Second Lap (Original is here. Photocredit Jemma Mulraney)

I walked through the water stations – the water is handed up in cups at this race which isn’t the easiest to deal with – but I don’t think it was costing me much time. I had a couple of gels tucked into my waistband for the second and third laps and they provided a welcome boost. I was still feeling good coming around the back half of the last large lap so I pressed on a bit here, and kept a slightly faster pace all the way to the finish, catching dying runners all the way to the line. My 10 mile splits were roughly 1:10:34 and 1:10:04.

Finish (Original is here. Photocredit Jemma Mulraney)

Very happy with my time, 80th from 500 starters and 6th M50, and my quad was not too bad at all – I managed an easy jog to warm down before climbing into the car for the drive home.

Country to Capital 68km 6:22:54

This ultramarathon has been on my list of races to do for some years, ever since I read about it in James Adam’s blog. It was the first ultra he ran and features the left turn at Bulls Bridge off the Grand Union Canal to Paddington which became so significant for him in later years when he ran in the Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles from Birmingham to London – don’t think I’ll be entering that in a hurry).

After hanging up my wheels at the end of October I’d built my running and joined a Christmas advent running challenge, running at least 8km every day, to a total of 464km in December. Doing quite this much running was tiring, but it had all been just steady, with one hard session a week (a cross country race or orienteering event). I managed to keep the “dead leg” problem I’d had in the past under control, mostly with a lot of stretching in the evenings and wearing compression sleeves while out running. I was managing to get out for a long run most Wednesday mornings, something between 30 and 40km.

The day before the race Ralph Dadswell contacted me (I knew he was running the race too) to say he was heading out at 55min for the first 10km. He had been carrying a small adductor injury but hoped that it wouldn’t be a factor on the day. 5:30/km pace sounded about right for me and it would be good to have some company over the first half, at least. Ralph had been clocking some quick times over shorter distances lately so I wasn’t sure whether he’d outpace me, or whether my distance work would give me an advantage.

There was a short preamble from the race organiser outside the Shoulder of Mutton race HQ and then 300 of us were off down Wendover High Street for the first right turn at a gate at the bottom – traditionally a bit of a sprint for the faster racers but the rest of us were more circumspect. It was sub-zero, and I was wary of ice on the pavements although we didn’t cross any until much later in the day. The opening kilometres climbed up to the Ridgeway – we were soon powerwalking up the first long hill – but we were keen to keep a good pace on the flatter sections, to keep our average up. Although I had the map book we’d all been provided with in my hand it was good to have Ralph along as he knew the twists and turns. After some frosty views across the Chilterns we dropped down to the first checkpoint and there was a photographer to snap our progress. We were laughing because Ralph’s friend had sprinted off the front of our group to get a good photo.

C2C2016 (076)

A quick stop to make sure we’d been registered (my tracker failed though) and then we were off through Chesham and along the Chess Valley Walk. We had a good group here –six or more of us at times, ticking along quite nicely. The route takes a mixture of lanes and footpaths, and there are a few hills to break up the rhythm, now we were following the Chiltern Way. After the CP2 we started to split up a bit and then ran past Elstree Aerodrome. The route dropped down towards Denham and the Grand Union Canal and it was still very sunny, if a little cool.

Around here Ralph started to find the pace a little too much and he waved us on. I was left with a runner in an orange jacket who was metronomic in his pacing once we hit the towpath. I ran with him for about 5km but started to find it a bit much and shortly before CP3 dropped off the pace too. I stopped a bit longer here to re-fill my camelback (and made a bit of a mess of it to be honest), picking up some more GU gels (although I didn’t really like them much –they were a bit gloopy and didn’t seem very digestible).

The rest of the route was all along the canal towpath, very straightforward. I was picking off slower runners every so often, which was a confidence boost, but looking at my heart rate files in retrospect I was probably working a bit too hard here. When I got to the famous left turn at Bulls Bridge I was very relieved – only 13½ miles (22km) left to run. It didn’t seem too much but I was getting tired now and didn’t seem to be passing anyone. The guy in orange eventually disappeared out of sight on a long straight – he finished 17 minutes in front of me in the end but I later found out he ran 7500km last year so I don’t feel too bad about that!

I pulled into CP4, with only 17km left, feeling distinctly jaded. Ralph’s partner Lorraine was here with his two boys. He’d get a change of shoes, but I lingered only enough to dump old gel wrappers and pick up fresh supplies. The canal was getting monotonous now, and I was starting to find myself annoyed with fresh looking joggers out for their afternoon run, although a few of them offered words of encouragement. I was quite relieved to see the last checkpoint come into view. I didn’t really stop – although I’d already had a couple of short walk breaks I thought I’d seize up if I stayed for long, just wanting to get it over with. My quads were dead and my stomach was quite sore and I really needed to get some more energy inside me but it was all I could do to sip my drink. Despite the sunshine we were running on the shady side of the towpath and it was cold.

The last 9km featured quite a few walk breaks. I would manage to shuffle along for a kilometre or so and then be defeated by a shallow bridge over a tributary or a patch of rough ground. I caught and passed one more runner going even more slowly than me but I was in turn being passed by faster finishers. Finally, Paddington Basin came into view. I managed to raise my hands a bit for the camera and it was all over.


Ralph came in only 5 minutes behind me after a strong finish. We shook hands and I attempted to get changed into some clean kit for a shuffle to Marylebone station and the train back to my car in Wendover.

It looks like I got through the race relatively unscathed – a small blister and some stiff hamstrings. I’m expecting to be tired for a week or so and then I’ll crack on with training for London Marathon, 14 weeks away.

Full results HERE

Oxford half marathon 1:31:00

Recent running had tended to suggest that while I was carrying good fitness from PBP, I was feeling a good 2 or 3 kg overweight. Didn’t feel too bad warming up though, and it was a nice day for October – hardly any wind and cool.

After a delayed start due to travel problems for some people arriving by train, I was off to a steady start, and thinking that maybe my target of 1:31 was perhaps too ambitious. Certainly the open kilometres up through Summertown and back felt a bit harder than perhaps they should, but then on the leg to Marston, an old friend from my rowing club days, Julian, passed me. I thought that would be the last I saw of him, but coming back out of Marston I started to pick up some form and caught him on the twisty bit back through the Parks in into town. My feet were getting pretty sore but I surprised myself by having enough left in the tank for a speedy last kilometre and hit the finish line exactly in 1:31:00.

Running back through the parks, about to catch Julian

Running back through the parks, about to catch Julian [thanks to Barry Cornelius for the photo]

Henley Hilly 100

A good hilly test for the Dartmoor Devil to follow in a month’s time, this audax seems to becoming a bit of a fixture in my calendar. It used to be that I’d ride the 100km Ted Friend/Kevin Hickman audax out of Charlbury at the end of September, usually riding there and back to make a day of it and often in the company of a few guys from the local TT scene, but that audax died out some years ago.

The day started very very cold, 0°C was recorded at Benson as I rode through there from home. I wore some plastic gloves under my track mitts but they didn’t do much good really and I was frozen by the time I rolled into the village hall HQ. After a few cups of tea in an attempt to warm up, we were off. The sun was occasionally peeking through the clouds but it took me some time to get going. After about 30km or so I started to reel in the faster starters, but even so, one rider remained ahead. I just didn’t seem to have the legs for the climbing today – that cold start had really had an effect on me and I was happy just to get round in reasonable time and then plod home for a warm bath, 174km clocked up for the day.

Paris-Brest-Paris 2015. 50:55:10


So, here we go, another PBP. I’d always wanted to return after my flawed ride in 2011 (a bad saddle sore after the Mersey 24 had kept my mileage down in the weeks beforehand and a crash in the first stage badly affected the rest of my ride), and revisit some of the sights and sounds of this historic audax. A good amount of training in the spring and some decent qualifier riders had brought me into form at the beginning of June but I’d had a bit of achilles tendonitis and some fatigue after completing my 600k ride and took a few weeks easy. I missed the Newbury 12-hour as a result and didn’t enter the Mersey 24-hour as I didn’t feel quite ready for it.

By July I was almost clear of any achilles pain and ramped up the training – every weekend would see me heading out the door for a 300 or 400km ride. Just a little interval work and club TTs to fill in the weeks. The last week I just did some steady riding and then my favourite taster turbo session – 8x3min(with 3min recovery) – done nearly flat out and feeling pretty good. Time to go.


Bike + kit

Riding my Carbonzone bike earlier this year I had a puncture not too far from home but couldn’t pump up the spare tube because my minipump failed. This made me think about why I carry a minipump (the frame has curved tubes and any other type wouldn’t fit), when for long rides I use my winter bike, simply because a Zefal HPX high-pressure pump fits it so nicely. So I kept an eye out on eBay for nice frames with straight tubes and ended up buying a 2010 Trek Madone frame for not very much at all and then managing to get hold of a nearly-new Ultegra 11-speed groupset to go on it. I built it up 3 weeks before PBP and apart from having to change the handlebars (the first set I bought for the bike were an odd shape and gave me numb hands after an hour or two) it rode well, and more importantly, I could get a decent frame-fit pump on it, my Zefal. It might seem a bit bizarre to ride PBP on a practically new machine, but I was able to fit it exactly to the dimensions of my old bikes and I had 3 weeks to iron out any glitches. PBP was forecast to be dry, so I didn’t need the extra encumbrance of a mudguard-equipped bike. A last minute change of bar-tape, and fitting the 25c fat race tyres I’d had maturing in the shed for two seasons, and we were good to go. I had a slight wobble in the last week as to whether I’d ditch the dynohub and go for battery-powered lights and GPS but thought better of it – it might have 5W of drag, but the peace of mind was more than worth it.


Other kit that I’d saved/bought specifically for this event were: (i) Bontrager track mitts I found in an outdoor shop about 3 years ago  – they have a shape I like and they stopped making them (I trashed my first pair in a 2011 road race spill),  (ii) Giordana Silverline bibshorts – once I found these, lightweight, a thin breathable seatpad and minimal seams – I bought a second pair and always knew they were going to be my PBP shorts so I used them sparingly this year, (iii) an Ortleib saddlebag – not the biggest, at just less than 2 litres, but nice and light with enough space for spares and a loop where I could tie an emergency waterproof, (iv) socks – longer than my usual ones, to give my achilles a bit of compression, and very thin, to allow my feet to expand in my shoes and stave off the worst of Hot Foot, (v) Nike Poggio shoes – my favourite long-distance shoes, I’ve done all my long rides in these since LEL 2005), (vi) an Aspide Arrowhead saddle – not a modern classic, but it works for me, this is the same model I rode in LEL 2005, but a newer one, it most often resides on my TT bike but got swapped for this ride.


Saturday check-in

I arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday and after checking in at my motel, rode over to the fancy new National velodrome for the bike check and registration. All went OK, apart from my emergency front light not working (I have a little Smart light spare which runs off 2xAA cells)  – I forgot I’d loaded the batteries the wrong way round so it didn’t turn on accidentally on the drive over. I faffed about a bit, said hello to a few fellow Auks, collected my brevet card and chip and my PBP reflective gilet (a bit of a big medium size) and then rode back to the motel via the town centre where I ran into a few other Auk stalwarts, just tucking  into the first beer of the afternoon(!)

In the evening I took a stroll to the centre of St Cyr, where I was staying, and found a decent brasserie that served me spaghetti carbonara and a crème brûlée dessert. I washed it down with a couple of beers and watched riders spinning past, returning from their bike checks.


Sunday – start

I managed a reasonable night’s sleep (in comparison to 2011 where I hardly slept at all the night before with too many nerves) and after a leisurely breakfast drove over to the long-term multi-story car park we were using for “free” and then biked over to the velodrome. I’d paid for a lunch, but by the time it came for me to eat it I was hardly hungry, having eaten quite a bit in the last few days and not done much exercise. It was good to catch up with a few other auks though. I hear other riders were not as restrained as me, quelle surprise, and the buffet ran out before the last riders arrived for their meal later in the day. Then I went back to the car, unpacked my bike and gear, pumped up the tyres, oiled the chain, filled my bidons and set off back for the start queues.

Waiting for the start

Audax UK waiting for the start


Queuing for my start pen, modelling the new design black/grey Audax UK jersey and carrying my extra water in a plastic bag. Timing chip attached to my shoe strap. (Photo credit: Adam Young)

I still had a couple of hours before my start time, so I lazed around on the grass while the PA wittered away. Remembering how hot it’d been in 2011, I had an extra water bottle to sip while I waited. Eventually it was time for the B wave to go to the starting pen. Once there, I took a selfie and had a bit of a chat with Alan Parkinson (SWRC – we’d ridden the first part of the Brevet Cymru 400 together), and we could hear the countdown as the A wave set off, with typical French unprecision, at 16:00:55. We rolled up to the start, and I dumped my spare water with a marshal, ready to go at 16:15:55.

Riding into the start pen. I'm handing my spare water to a marshal (Photocredit: Adam Young)

Riding into the start pen. I’m handing my spare water to a marshal (Photo credit: Adam Young)



Like 2011, those audaxers who’d ridden longer brevets the year before got priority on registration, however what not many of us had bargained-for was that we’d have priority on choosing which wave we started in (in previous years, all the 80-hour riders “Vedettes” have had to jostle their way to get into a particular wave – I’d started in the third one because I don’t have very sharp elbows). So if you’d done a 400k ride or longer, you could choose pretty much any wave. I picked B, because I didn’t want to get caught up in the madness of the first wave but what I hadn’t bargained for was that many, many strong riders were also in this wave as they’d missed all the slots in A due to not having ridden a long brevet in 2014. The B wave proved to be the fastest starting of them all – there were riders there only too keen to catch up with the A wave, 15 minutes in front, and they averaged +35km/h for the first 220km!

Waiting on the

Waiting on the “B” start. Nearer the camera, with an orange cap under his white helmet, is B011, Marko Baloh, the Slovenian RAAM winner. (Photo credit: unknown, I found this photo online, can’t remember where now.)

Off the start we were flying along, through broad streets at first and then into the suburbs of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. I was maybe 40th or 50th wheel, trying to keep up near the front and avoiding the accelerations and decelerations that always happen around roundabouts and corners when you’re further back in the bunch (“getting caught in the slinky”). My road racing experience was helping here. I had a slight slide on one roundabout – my tyres were a bit dusty from the start pens – but not too bad. After about 15km a rider about 10 places in front of me let the wheel in front go, he’d had enough already. I went through-and-off with a few others, although with the twists and turns it was tricky to get a good rhythm going. But it was hopeless, the strong group had gone. I’d been working over threshold for the first half hour and knew I had nothing to gain by continuing to do so. Half a km/h gained here would come back to bite me on the second day, so I sat in, shamelessly sucked the wheels ahead and took it easy. I ended up riding next to Mike Henley for a while – he’d ridden quite a bit of the Beast from the East 600k with me earlier in the year. We had a bit of a chat about how it was going – I warned him not to get too carried away in these open stages.

First stage. In the bunch, chatting to Mike H

First stage. In the bunch, chatting to Mike H (photo credit: Maindru)

Our group was riding well, not too fast, and it was easy to keep up near the front without getting in the way of the really keen guys. Then, about 3 hours in, there was a rush of wheels down the outside – the fastest C riders had caught us. Mayhem broke out – we had twice as many riders in the bunch than the road would easily accommodate and when a car came the other way there were quite a few nasty squeezes. I heard a touch of wheels and a crash right behind me at one point but didn’t look around. Eventually I managed to find a bit of clear air and did a couple of jumps up the field, nearer the front and a comfier ride. We were really flying though – some of the small hills were costing me a lot of needless effort – but it was important to stay with this group as overall my power was staying nicely under control.

As we rolled into the first village and feed station, Mortagne-au-Perche, supported riders peeled off left and right to their campervans and by the time I’d got to the actual control I was about 5th in line from that group! I desperately needed a pee and a top up of my bottles, and I stopped to buy a couple of energy bars from the Overstims stall before donning my reflective gilet and armwarmers, switching on my lights, and heading back out on the road 6:40 later (It was a big help to be able to remember the layout of the controls from 2011 to get through them in the most efficient manner. The Tandem Things have done a blog post of exactly that). Just as I was leaving, Mike Henley rolled in, he must’ve got caught behind the crash I’d heard.


Sunday night – racing

I worked hard out of the Mortagne control – I could see bunches of riders ahead, and wanted to team up with them. This was a pattern for the first night – I’d lose time to supported riders in the controls and then have to work hard for 15 minutes to get back to a good working group. Sometimes I’d ride past a little group of three or four riders but if they looked like they weren’t going well I’d drop them and work my way up to the next. Sometimes it can just suck your energy and motivation to have two or three guys twiddling along in your slipstream.

Into the first night, on the road to Fougeres

Into the first night, on the road to Fougeres. Coke and water in the bidons (Photo credit: Maindru)

I soon found myself in a group with Paul O’Donoghue from Ireland. He was trying to get the guys to go through and off, and for a while we were doing a pretty good job, but then with about an hour left to the next control we got buzzed by about 20 fast riders from the D wave and from then on we just sat in while they powered along. A few kilometres before Villaines, we passed a massive illuminated blue-and-red Carrefour sign, in the distance off to the left. Up until this point I’d completely forgotten it from 4 years ago, but now it came back to me, weird how your memory works.

The next couple of controls went in much the same pattern – work hard out of the control, get into a group (usually with Paul O’D) – until I got to Tinteniac (363km). By then the groups were thinning out, riders were getting tired already. In 2011 I got to Tinteniac in the early morning light, this time it was still 5am and dark (I had my 2011 schedule taped to the top tube). I teamed up with a South African rider here. He was riding a bit too strongly for me but up the long climb to Bécherel (we caught a French rider her who assured us the that top was only 200m further, but of course, the real summit is beyond the village) and beyond on the way through Quedillac (389km) we scooped up a few more riders so we had a group about a dozen strong. There’s a left turn on to a main road not long afterwards and as we were at the front of the group we got across OK but the others were held up by a bit of traffic. One guy jumped across (he barely had any visible lights – just a couple of tiny elastic-band city lights – how did he get through the bike check like that?), but as we were the three strongest from that groupetto we were always going to pull away from them.

Leading a small group througha village on the run to Loudeac. Cold early morning air. The two Spanish guys I'd ride with later are at the back, wearing orange sleeves, full thermals.

Leading a small group through a village on the run to Loudeac in the cold early morning air. The two Spanish guys I’d ride with later, through Carhaix, are at the back, wearing orange sleeves, full thermals for them!, which they left with their campervan support in Loudeac. (Photo credit: Maindru)

The SA guy was concerned that we still had nearly 55km left to ride to Loudeac as a 2- or maybe 3-up but I told him not to panic. We rode steadily and with about 15km left on the stage caught a sizeable group. It was good to sit-in for a bit before taking a few turns on the front. I led us into Loudeac, a rambling control, at 448km.


Monday – a mostly solo effort to Brest

The next stage has got some tricky climbs and twists and turns its way to Carhaix. I’d lost all my company now and just rode steadily, not wanting to overexert myself on the climbs (and keeping half an eye on my powermeter readout). I was mostly passing individual riders who’d overcooked it on the first night, although I was in turn passed by a strong rider with an “E” start number but he was one of very few. I found myself in a better little group after a while and we stopped at a “secret” control at St Nicholas du Pelem for 3 minutes before riding onwards. There were a couple of little Spanish guys here who were going well on the lumps and bumps. I think I was going through a bit of a low patch but after a longer stop at Carhaix for rice puddings (the younger Spanish guy rode past me as I walked back to my bike with my bidons, saying, half-jokingly “hurry up, we’re leaving”, I guess he thought me a bit of a wheelsucker.),  I felt much better after the stop and caught them soon after the control, and the boot was soon on the other foot as I towed them up the first 15km of the climb through Huelgoat, a nice steady 200-220W showing on my powermeter.

They fell off the pace towards the top, and all the way over the Roc Trevezel and down the other side I was feeling good. Riding steadily and passing riders – I still wasn’t finding anyone here who wasn’t a bit blown by the early pace. There were groups of two or three, trundling along with A or B numbers on their bikes but none strong enough to form a good partnership with. I cheered the lone leader coming back the other way, up the long climb. About 10 minutes behind him was a large group of chasers, he was going to have a hard time holding them off (but of course, he did, amazingly – see the link towards the end of this blog).

I eventually caught about half a dozen riders with about 15km to go to Brest and decided to sit in with them for a bit. A couple of the riders I’d previously passed caught us, and one of them, Axel, a German with an old SRM powermeter on his bike, told me I was stronger than them and should go ahead but I was quite happy to bide my time. Before he was dropped, he rode up alongside me, slapped me on the back and said “friend, you are riding too strongly for me, I have to let you go, good luck with your PBP”. (I later realised that this Axel is the same guy who set up this comprehensive PBP results website:, and finished in 49:30, so he found some serious speed in the second half of the ride: looks like he was behind me to Tinteniac and then picked up the fast John Barkman train home that I missed while I was napping.)

Although the ride to the new control in Brest (614km) was much more straightforward than last time’s meander through the docks (I was nearly 2 hours up on my past schedule at 22h54) the control itself was still rambling, like 2011. I couldn’t face tottering to the restaurant on my cleated shoes for food and just bought some energy bars and topped up one bottle with emergency carbo drink for the energy before heading back out 11 minutes later. I jumped past a 4-up of Seattle Randonneurs and then back out into the country, to face the long climb through Sizun and up to Roc Trevezel again. In Sizun I picked up a cooked French guy. He stuck to my wheel for maybe 5km before blowing up – and further up the climb I passed another four riders being paced up the climb by a French guy in the same jersey as one of his followers, but who was clearly not a PBP rider (tut tut). One or two of them jumped on to my wheel and at the top I gathered a couple more wheelsuckers. On the descent we caught a German guy and then another Seattle Randonneur, so I had about six riders on my wheel. I didn’t mind, I was feeling good. The American and the German occasionally took turns, all good.

As we rolled back into Carhaix, one of them (an Italian) thanked me for the tow. The canteen here was in full swing, ready to cater for the bulk of 90-hour riders still on their way out to Brest. They had some tempting looking spaghetti bolognese and I was hungry after bouncing the previous control so I stopped for a feed. A couple of Brits had a little chat with me before I headed back out (sorry, I forgot your names if you’re reading this, one of you had a Kingston Wheelers jersey on).

Not long afterwards, there was another “secret” control, and here I was surprised to find Matt Scholes who I know from having ridden quite a few UK audaxes with:

Getting my brevet stamp at the Mael-Carhaix secret control (photo credit: Matt Scholes)

Getting my brevet stamp at the Mael-Carhaix secret control (photo credit: Matt Scholes)

He said he was cooked from the pace of the A wave, and I was happy to take it easy along this stretch so we rode together, through St Nicholas du Pelem (no control stamp this time), and back over the climbs to Loudeac (780km), past a bit of a party going on at St Martin du Pres. It was getting dark and about 20km out from Loudeac we stopped to put on our reflective gear and armwarmers and turn on our lights. It was quite tricky to ride this narrow lane with the bright lights of the 90-hour group coming towards us so it was nice to get to the wider roads on the run into the control. Oddly we didn’t see any other riders going in our direction on this stage – they were either ahead, powering along in groups, or behind, cooked, I guess. It was around here in 2011 that my ride went off the rails, so from now on the schedule taped to my top tube was going to be pretty much useless. I was trying to guess how long I could keep pushing, and whether I’d suffer from not stopping (many times, a brief stop will revive your pace and you’ll finish faster than if you’d struggled on – it does depend how close you are to your personal sleep deficit limit though). Was 54 hours (or less) possible?

Riding into the second night, near Corlay (photo credit Matt Scholes. Matt took a few other photos of me: here, here and here, but this is the one that captures it for me)

Riding into the second night, near Corlay (photo credit Matt Scholes)


Monday night – a mad group, a nap and then more solo

At Loudeac Matt said he’d try to get a rest. It was absolutely rammed with 90-hour riders heading out to Brest though, so I jumped the queue for coffees, bought two and quickly downed them. There was no chance of any real, quick, food here, so another carbo sachet went in a bottle and I picked up a few energy bars from the Overstims man at the exit. They’re not the greatest bars, but they would do (I discovered that the Salée cereal bar is a bit salty in taste – this is a good thing on a ride of this distance, it keeps my taste buds refreshed and makes me a little thirsty).

On the ride out of town I picked up a couple of riders in the dark. We rode along together for a kilometre or two and then a group of five German and Swedish riders came sweeping past. There was a scrabble for wheels. They were absolutely flying and must’ve had a longer, more refreshing break at Loudeac than me where I’d leapfrogged them! Me and a Spanish guy were hanging on by our coat-tails. We passed a few bedraggled ones and twos, but no one else had the legs to jump in. Eventually, somewhere near Illifaut I let them go. At the time it felt like I’d ridden longer with them, but perhaps it was only 15km. The Spanish guy on my wheel failed to jump around me and I think he was a bit pissed off with me for letting that train go but I was getting tired and didn’t want to be dangerous to this group – my concentration was not so good, even if my legs were still OK. That fast group eventually swept up John Barkman along this stretch, and he rode to a storming finish with the remains of it. Had I started with the A wave, I’d have been in a position to follow those wheels. Lesson learnt.

It was getting very cold in the dips along here, and I was starting to feel dozy – I’d been on the move for 36 hours. The Spanish guy wasn’t much help, he was pulling a bit on the flats but as soon as we hit any sort of drag I was towing him along. (Looking at the results later, he was on the “E” wave start, so he must’ve caned it to catch me up, no wonder he had nothing left.) We skipped the sleep/food stop at Quedillac – it’s not a control and for a fast time it’s only worth stopping if you’re getting your card stamped at the same time – which was where John B got picked up by the fast group I think, and after the slog up to the transmitter mast outside Bécherel – even in the night you can see it’s red twinkling lights for kilometres away, taunting you – rolled into Tinteniac (867km). It was 2:10am. John was just preparing to leave. I said hi, although he was busy gathering the group together I think. He was chewing some gum; I was envious of that, it’s a good way to keep you awake, gives you something to do. Looking at the time splits later I noticed that Rimas Grigenas, who I know well from rides in the south east (“ZigZag” on the forums, we’d done a large part of the Beast from the East 600k together), was also passing through Tinteniac around here although I never saw him. Riding in his native Lithuanian colours he finished in 49:36.

I bought another ham baguette and a couple of coffees before donning my waterproof jacket, for warmth. I couldn’t find a dorm to sleep in, so I set my alarm for 20 minutes and dozed in the marquee, under a space heater. When I came to, surprisingly I didn’t feel too bad. I swapped my rear light for a fresh spare as the batteries were going in the first one, and headed out into the night – a short 54km leg to Fougeres.

I could see the lights and reflective jackets of a little group ahead and pressed on to join them. They were going OK, but after 5km I realised I was doing most of the work. I was feeling good after my nap and I jumped away. Another half hour passed and then I caught another group. I went through them pretty quickly too. One guy stuck to my wheel for a short while but then I lost him through a twisty down-and-up and not long afterwards the lights of Fougeres (921km) were in view.

At the checkpoint the “bar” was closed, so after getting my card stamped I rode over to the canteen for some coffees and a croissant or three. Through the window I could see the groups I’d passed earlier rolling in but I didn’t wait too long. I took off my jacket and quickly headed out. I caught up with two riders here on the twists and turns out of town. One was riding very smoothly, but the other taller rider was doing that pedal, pedal, stand …  thing that meant he was surely too saddle-sore to do much seated cycling (and with +300km still to go, poor guy). He was riding a really nice bike with some carbon Zipp wheels, and yet, was carrying a rucksack, which is such a no-no at this distance: let the bike do the carrying. He did a sort of exaggerated swing over to the centre of the road so he could eyeball me. “Yeah, whatever”, I thought. I just tagged along behind for a kilometre or two, feeling my way.


Tuesday morning – quiet riding, warming up

The smaller, smoother rider stopped at the side of the road to adjust something as we were leaving town, and then I was left with Mr Zipps. We did a bit of easy through and off, I was sure the smoother rider would catch us again but he never did. We got to a long drag, and sure enough, Zipp’s pedalling style couldn’t cope and I just pulled away. After ten minutes I looked over my shoulder on a long straight and couldn’t see either of them behind.

The next 70km are along the D33. It’s just gently rolling and rather straight. The sun was coming up behind some low cloud and I was starting to warm through. I felt like I was going pretty well along here, I guess I was doing about 26km/h on the flat, not too bad. At one point I glanced over my shoulder and could see a bright light cresting a rise behind me. At first I thought it was the two riders I’d dropped earlier but about a minute later a white velomobile screamed past, going about twice my speed. The road passes the infamous roadside stall at La Tanniere, but of course, at this time of the morning and only Vedettes on the road, it was firmly shut. A few trucks passed me at speed, but they gave me a wide berth, thankfully.

The last 20km to Villaines-la-Juhel are not so nice. The route takes a dogleg to the south, so that we can cross the busy N12 at the Le Ribay crossroads. The roads around here are roughly surfaced and constantly up and down. Each village church spire marks another little “peak” before you descend again. Wind turbines in the distance seem to take an age to get closer. I passed the Spanish guy from Tinteniac here – he’d stopped in a verge for a quick nap and made the international signal for “knackered” to me as I rode past. At Le Ribay the marshals were mostly asleep, there was just one interested local to snap my picture as I rode up, so I made the crossing myself. It was pretty quiet at 9am. I stopped for a pee and to take off my jacket shortly afterwards, and then here was just one more long climb to Hardanges and a few little rollers into Villaines (1009km).

Villaines was very quiet – even the tannoyed announcer had little to say (this is a town that loves PBP, they even have a dedicated website). I had a little stop for a custard tart and some pastries and some more coffee in the canteen (in the two PBPs I have ridden I have yet to walk across the lane where we park our bikes and visit the cyclist’s restaurant). There were a few riders faffing about here who’d clearly abandoned and I overtook two more abandonees shortly after leaving the control. I didn’t really have much energy left now, but wasn’t riding so badly. The sun was out, although it wasn’t too fierce, ideal conditions really. The first 20km or so are gently rolling and then there’s a sharp corner in Fresney-sur-Sarthe (we short-cut it on the way out) and on to the very straight D310 towards Mamers. The road climbs slowly here before the fast descent into Mamers itself. Right in the middle of town there was an impromptu feed-stop. It sort of looked official, so I asked if it was a “secret” and I should get a stamp? Turned out, no, the guys were just handing out free food, I thanked them but I didn’t really need to stop here.

On the steep climb out of town I could see another rider in a red jersey ahead. He was riding steadily and I never really got up to him before we got to the climb up to Mortagne-au-Perche. The last 150m to the control required bottom gear, just about the only time I used it.


Tuesday afternoon – a 2-up to the finish

Another top up of bottles and I propped up the bar while I stopped for yet more coffee, croissants and a banana. I didn’t want to sit down for fear I might find it too comfortable. As I was leaving, an Austrian rider in the red jersey that I’d spotted earlier was just leaving his supporter and joked with me that we’d better get moving. His name was Gerd and I ended up riding the last 140km with him. I remembered this section from 2011 – night had just fallen that time and the first half of this road has a number of longish climbs through wooded hillsides, which was a bit demoralising. In daylight they were not so forbidding. Gerd said he’d take the lead on the climbs as he had a powermeter (a powertap hub) to pace us, although I pointed out to him that I had one too! It was funny, but whatever power Gerd had self-selected for climbing seemed to produce the same uphill speed as my self-selected limit of 200W (Gerd was a bit taller than me so I guess a little stronger).

We ended up doing a rather informal 2-up, sometimes riding alongside each other, chatting about other long cycling events and ironman triathlons and so on. Eventually we topped out on the last climb and then the rest of this stage was a gentle descent into the Seine valley. There are a few twists and turns through some little villages but this part is pretty straightforward. Some of the road surfaces are rough tar-and-chip again, a bit hard on your contact points after 1100km in the saddle, I was thankful for my fat tyres. There was a much better stretch of road into Dreux this year though. I was feeling good and the draw of the last control was getting to me so I did a long, steady turn on the front here into a slight headwind and then we were soon into the last couple of bike path twists to the control. Gerd said he’d just stop for a pee and a coke, and I agreed the same. I had one energy bar left and could eat that if I felt hungry.


Last stage – a chase for sub-51

I got to the canteen first and bought us a couple of ice-cold cokes (and a pain chocolate for me). Man, they tasted great. When we returned to our bikes there was a little crowd around them – the marshals wanted to know all about the gear we were using, but we had to go – the last stage was waiting for us. Gerd thought we’d take two hours for the 65km (optimistic!), but I can remember doing a death crawl along this stretch last time with a little Italian guy – it took us over three hours. I compromised and said I though maybe 2½ hours this time?

The first 10 or 15 km are quite twisty and up and down, it’s hard to get a rhythm going, but then the roads open out and you’re back onto the plains we rode from Paris two days previously, dotted with the odd village or two. I started to do some maths in my head – we had about 50km to go and maybe I could nip under 51 hours with a solid 2-hour effort? Conditions were still good, there was hardly any wind. Gerd was not so keen as he’d started in the wave 15-minutes ahead of mine and 51 hours would require a superhuman effort. Nevertheless I started to push on a bit. We did less chatting and more through-and-off. I was riding the flats better, but Gerd was good on the climbs. Every time I tucked down on the drops though, I was going slightly cross-eyed with the fatigue and effort. It wasn’t so bad if I sat up on the hoods, but I wasn’t going to hit my target riding like that.

Somewhere on the road through Gambaiseuil we passed a flagging French rider with a “B” number. Although we didn’t say anything we both had the thought to burn him off and did a couple of hard turns up a long climb – no passengers here, thank you. But we didn’t make it stick and the French guy revived enough to get back on to our wheels on the next steady descent, unlike a couple of other “dead” riders we passed here.

He yo-yoed off the back of our 2-up for the next 10km or so until we were well past the “10km to the finish” sign (I’d forgotten there were countdown markers). Once we were into the city limits he started to take a few turns, hallelujah. Gerd had a little chat to him: turned out he knew the final route back to the Velodrome OK. He was, like me, keen to get under 51 hours and we raced though the streets of St Quentin, jumping amber lights, overtaking buses and getting frustrated by red lights. I could barely look straight ahead now – every time I tried hard I’d go really badly cross-eyed, and a number of times I was only able to judge gaps in the traffic, or the pace of our 3-up, by closing one eye.

We hit the last roundabout and were directed off towards the velodrome. There was a frantic last 2km sprint along the access road – the velodrome just wouldn’t come fast enough – I had no idea how much time we had in hand, I just went as hard as I could. I still lost the wheels in front here, but the other two were only ever 100m ahead. And then one last turn and we were onto the gravel track back to the check-in and across the timing mat! We freewheeled around the corner to the secure bike park, and then I remembered to stop my Garmin. I’d nipped under 51 hours by 5 minutes, official time 50:55:10. (2nd Brit home; Matt Scholes would later roll in in 53:30 to be the 3rd.)



Gerd and I were very happy. In 2011 he’d also been a 58-hour finisher, like me. This time we’d sliced a huge margin off that result, finishing in daylight on Tuesday rather than the middle of the night. It felt like a proper arrivée. Gerd’s supporters were there and took my photo, I remembered to take a selfie, very tired but happy.

Finish and start selfies (they should be the other way around but my phone didn't want to put them like that!)

Finish (a bit sunburnt and tired) and start selfies. They should be the other way around but my phone didn’t want to put them like that.

Eventually I managed to walk to the velodrome where I could get my final validation stamp, hand in my timing chip and have a bit of a sit down, but not before I bumped into John Barkman again, just as he was leaving with a team-mate. He’d done a fantastic 48:51, fastest UK rider ever (and unsupported)! It turned out that the benign conditions had also produced the fastest modern time for PBP, broken by one rider coming in at 42:26, holding off a strong pack of 16 riders almost an hour behind. (I later found out this rider, Björn Lenhard, was also unsupported – a truly phenomenal performance. His account is here, he had it translated into English and posted on YACF, worth a read!)

After I collected my bike and topped up my bottles with some water I still had enough energy to ride very slowly back to my car, parked about 2km away. It was 8pm and I needed to find a place to stay (originally I was just going to camp out at the velodrome – they had showers and a quiet room there). Back at the car park a guy came up to me to ask me how I’d got on and I explained that I’d been riding day and night for 51 hours. I don’t think he believed me.

I drove back to the motel I’d stayed in three nights before and got a room there. It was nice to have somewhere to shower, and quiet and comfortable to sleep, and while I caught up with the news on my mobile phone I sipped a few beers I’d bought from the garage outside although it wasn’t long before I was fast asleep! Next day I rearranged my Eurotunnel crossing and then had a steady drive home, getting back to the UK before the evening rush hour on the M25. It was raining hard when I turned back into my street, welcome home to Oxford.


Total distance/time: 1232km/50:55:10 (24.2km/h).

Position: 69th/5844 (at the moment, provisional results and stage splits are here:, 2nd Brit home, probably in the top-5 fastest UK riders ever.

Time at controls = 4:20:30 (including a 20-minute nap at Tinteniac on the way back)

Time moving between controls = 46:34:40 (26.5km/h)

Heart rate = average 115, max 168

Average power = 127W
(for reference, my Strava data is here, including heart rate and power. My Garmin 810 was set to record laps at 100km but suffered three “freezes” en route which I managed to reset on the move so the data is compete. I sat-in for the first 100km, saving a lot of energy, and worked hardest in the second and third 100km sections – see the “laps“. There is also an obvious increase in effort in the sections over the Roc Trevezel, both out and back, where I was feeling good, and a bit of extra effort in the last 50km when I knew the finish line was in sight.)

TSS = 1692 (this is fairly massive (!) and would be higher if I’d adjusted my FTP as I went along, as it effectively drops as you get more fatigued, but I left it at 270W for the ride)

UK stats HERE (provisional), and official tracking:


More photographs:

There is a really good photoblog from Jered and Ashley Gruber on Strava Stories here.

For a flavour of the event, just search Flickr for Paris Brest 2015.

Matt Scholes’ excellent photos are here: Flickr. (Matt took a few other photos of me: here, here and here, but this is the one that really captures it for me. His whole photo album in Flickr is worth a look, he’s really good at capturing the whole ride, and on the move too!)

Jenny Oh Hatfield (I don’t know who that is) seems to have logged some good pictures here: Flickr.

And this flickr account seems to have some official photos from the start and finish, a list of albums is here: agglosqy.



Amazingly, no saddle soreness. I wore just one pair of very comfortable bibshorts and regularly re-applied chamois creme which did the trick, plus the odd ibruprofen or two to stave off any aches (I got through six tablets in the final 24 hours). My sit bones were a little bit bruised for the following week, that’s all.

My fingertips went very numb. That’s as much to do with two cold nights’ riding as much as two days in the saddle. Two weeks later they’re still not quite right, but getting there.

Cracked lips. 36 hours after I got back my lips completely cracked up – bloody and sore. Too much exposure, they took a week to heal up. I got some strange looks at work, and eating and drinking was hard for a few days.

Fatigue. I was constantly tired and hungry for a week and it wasn’t until the second weekend following that I felt I’d caught up on lost sleep. However, I found that my ability to push hard on the pedals returned quickly and I seem to be as strong now, 2 weeks later, as I was before.

Audax UK National 400k. Dingwall

Every year, Audax UK throws its weight behind a “National 400k”. It started about 20 years ago, and I’m not sure why the 400km distance was selected, although it’s a good test of your average audaxer, requiring some night riding and possibly an overnight rest stop. There was one year recently where we had a whole range of “National” rides: 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k, but the 400 has always been the main one. This year it was an event out of Dingwall, near Inverness, taking in some of the most scenic roads in the very north of Scotland. It was scheduled for the end of July, so an ideal time for me to be testing myself and my PBP kit and also a good way to celebrate my 51st birthday just a few days before.

Work had gone a bit crazy lately and I couldn’t take much time off so I drove up on the Friday to a Youth Hostel in Inverness. A long drive, which I wasn’t looking forward to on the Sunday later.

Audax bike ready to go, complete with new Ortlieb lightweight saddlebag

Audax bike ready to go, complete with new Ortlieb lightweight saddlebag

Saturday dawned clear and crisp and while the rest of the country was battling storms and rain we were blessed with fine weather, albeit a little chilly – I had long sleeve tops on and legwarmers, in July. Some riders were only in jerseys and shorts but maybe they were a bit hardier than me and I was certainly not keen to have my achilles tendons twanging in the cold air. Off the 10am start I had a leisurely hour or so, jumping through a few groups and chatting to some familiar faces. We had a bit of a shower along here, the only rain we had all weekend, and then to the first control at Lairg. After that the roads quickly became even more rural – single track, snaking between magnificent hills and mountains. We were climbing and descending, but mainly following the valleys and the lochs. You’d often go an hour or more without seeing anything more than the odd isolated farmhouse or two. I saw a couple of snow patches up high too – a sign that this hasn’t been the best Scottish summer this year.

After the next control at Achfary, our route took us on a long excursion around the north-west coast, through some spectacular coastal scenery and on to the rollercoaster road to Tongue where I stopped for a hot plate of pasta and Bolognese. The catering on this event was second-to none. We’d paid a bit more than the usual Audax entry fee, and everything was thrown in – I didn’t spend a penny all ride:

The extensive menu

The extensive menu

As I was sitting down to eat my meal, four or five other riders rolled in. I was keen to keep moving and although the next section was constantly up and down and quite wearing, the views across sandy beaches and headlands more than made up for it.

Eventually, after another control at Strathy where I was surprised to find Phil Dyson (from just down the road from me in Didcot but here in Scotland on holiday) ready to stamp my brevet card, we turned inland, across shallow moorland territory. The sun was setting and adding vibrant colour to the sky and the land. Deer scampered across the road in front of me and others watched my passing from high on hilltops around. There was quite a bit of standing water here and I was aware that midges were in the air all around me – I’d better not tarry too long (although I had a midge net in my saddlebag in case I needed to stop)!

I rolled into the hall at Kildonan, and quickly scarpered inside – midges were everywhere. It was nice to stop for a cuppa and some delicious trifle before heading out to tackle the hard climb, south out of the control. This climb, over a place called Glen Loth I think, was the hardest of the route (it’s the spike at 300k on the map profile) and it was good to be able to tackle it in a little bit of daylight to be able to see the rough surface although by the time I struggled to the very top it was dark. The descent on the other side was also uneven, and covered in sheep! I couldn’t afford to take too many risks, they can be unpredictable beasts. Eventually the lane popped out on to the main A9 and I had a smoother passage through Brora (a fair was still going strong) and then Golspie (where I had to put on a bit of a sprint to avoid being snared by the drunks turning out of the pubs).

The route took a right turn shortly after on to the A839, back to Lairg. This road was coated in the roughest tar-and-chip surface I’ve ridden in a long time, and it just sapped all your speed, so I was very happy when I eventually made it to the last little descent into Lairg and a welcome cuppa, at about 12:30am. I didn’t wait too long here, ready to nip outside with an extra layer on for the cold night ride to come. That last section, back to Bonar Bridge and over the Struie, was freezing cold. Rain had clearly fallen earlier and now it was rising from the road in great swathes of fog and mist. My headlight was just reflecting back. It wasn’t until I was on the lower road and heading for Dingwall that I started to feel more comfortable.

I rolled into the finish hall just before 3:30am, to a welcome cuppa and a bacon sandwich. After getting changed I headed upstairs to the quiet room to get a few hours kip before the long drive home. It’d been quite a ride – some amazing views and some fantastic roads. I hope it won’t be too long before I return (and hopefully just as lucky with the weather!).

Strava data is HERE, map of the route and altitude profile: